As we head into Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher’s first offseason at the helm of the club, we’ll take a look at just what he could have up his sleeve in order to put his stamp on the roster.
Fletcher’s predecessor, Ron Hextall, did leave the Flyers’ new boss a pretty well stocked cupboard full of prospects and draft picks in addition to an intriguing roster of veterans and youngsters at his disposal.
With the above in mind, it’s easy to see that Fletcher’s easiest path to putting his stamp and/or improving the Flyers going into next season will be via the trade market. While there are plenty of players across the league that should be available via trade, and Jason has looked all around the league at those, Fletcher also has some players on his roster than could very well be on the trade block themselves.
First up: Shayne Gostisbehere.
Gostisbehere is one of the most dynamic defenseman in the NHL offensively, and has been since breaking onto the scene in 2015 with 17 goals and 46 points in 64 games during his rookie season.
The former third-round pick in 2012 has amassed 187 points in 298 career games for the Orange and Black to date as an undersized (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) defender, but one capable of quarterbacking a top-10 power play in addition to providing ample offense at even strength. And while Ghost certainly won’t be mistaken for Chris Pronger anytime soon, the diminutive defenseman has proven to be far from a liability on defense despite his size.
But despite his undeniable talents, it was a tough season for Gostisbehere across the board in 2018-19. Playing in a career-high 78 games, Ghost posted his lowest point total (37) in four full seasons while scoring nine goals after potting 13 a season ago.
Just two seasons ago Gostisbehere formed the Flyers’ top defense pair for the bulk of the season while playing alongside Ivan Provorov. The pair wasn’t put together at the start of the season, but ended up becoming the Flyers’ only reliable pair during the 2017-18 campaign, outscoring opponents by eight goals at 5-on-5. Ghost excelled with Provorov, tallying a career-best 32 points at even strength in addition to stellar work on the power play as usual.
With Provorov turning in a wonderful second season alongside Gostisbehere, it appeared as though the Flyers had found at worst a top four defense pair that they could count on going forward. But of course when they ran the pair back to start this season, the found results went in other direction to the tune of a minus-nine goal differential at 5-on-5. Neither player started the season well and each had issues all over the place and they got burned nearly every night they spent together.
Then-coach Dave Hakstol broke the pair up, but Gostisbehere’s season didn’t take off after leaving Provorov’s side. He spent the rest of the season on mostly failed pairings with Andrew MacDonald, Philippe Myers, and Robert Hagg. He did return to more respectable hockey down the stretch with the likes of Travis Sanheim and Radko Gudas.
Just when Gostisbehere was headed for a total loss of season, and one that could have sparked a potential sell low trade in the offseason, he picked things up in the second half. Before the All-Star break he had just 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 48 games, but after the break he enjoyed a resurgence with 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 30 games.
Given the Flyers’ change in leadership with Fletcher coming aboard, it was crucial that Gostisbehere close the season strong in order to avoid what could have been a really bad knee-jerk trade from the new boss after a nightmare campaign from a player with loads of value.
The Flyers are a much better hockey team when Ghost is on his game, but while he has immense value to the Flyers, there’s also no doubt he has great value around the league.
Not only is Gostisbehere a proven top-four NHL defender, power play quarterback, and general play driver, he’s also on one of the most friendly contracts in the league. He’s signed through the 2022-23 season with a cap hit of $4.5 million, an incredible number for a player of his caliber and production to date. At his very best, Gostisbehere is worth nearly double the amount he makes against the cap and at his very worst (think last October) he’s still worth more than what he makes.
Fletcher didn’t really have ample time for any major changes around the trade deadline, but he’s now had enough time to assess which players he could move around and feel comfortable in doing so, but few would have more value than Gostisbehere should he choose to.
Gostisbehere brings a lot to the table, and teams hunting for offense on the blue line won’t do much better. The Flyers still have a massive hole down the middle after Sean Couturier, if Fletcher doesn’t dip into free agency (Matt Duchene anyone?) to fill the gap, he could use Gostisbehere as a trade chip to try and fly one in as the Flyers would still have Provorov, Myers, and Sanheim as young core pieces on the backend.
Perhaps the Predators could covet him as a means of improving their historically bad power play, and one that likely cost them a series against the Stars. There have been rumblings that they could be looking to move on from the PK Subban era, perhaps Gostisbehere could replace him.
Could Fletcher look to his old team —the Wild— for a deal to bring in one of “his guys” in Jared Spurgeon to shake up the Flyers blue line. Paul Fenton has made some questionable deals already as Fletcher’s replacement, and maybe the Flyers’ new boss can jump in line and grab an asset or two he values more than Fenton for cheap.
Shayne Gostisbehere is an extremely valuable piece to the Flyers, and replacing him would be difficult as nobody on the current roster or in their pipeline can come close to what he brings to the table offensively from the backend.
While the Flyers could conceivably get by with the likes of a Sanheim or Myers quarterbacking their power play, it would be a serious downgrade in the immediate future, putting even more pressure on guys like Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and James van Riemsdyk to pick up the slack. Neither Sanheim, Myers, or Provorov have shown the ability to provide consistent offense from the blue line at 5-on-5, either. That would leave the Flyers with limited upside offensively on the blue line, where they’ve needed every ounce of it in the past few seasons with inconsistent scoring up front.
Combine his on-ice value with his price tag, and it’s going to be hard to get fair value in any realistic deal for Gostisbehere —especially coming off of a down year. The only deal that the Flyers could make involving Gostisbehere to really move the needle would be landing a legitimate NHL second line center. Those guys aren’t easy to find (Flyers have been looking for a few years now), and they’re even harder to trade for. Fletcher would be wise to invest some of that ballooning cap space on one of Duchene or even Kevin Hayes before moving Gostisbehere and more for one.
There are a bunch of ways that Chuck Fletcher could improve the Flyers in his first offseason at the helm of the team, but trading Shayne Gostisbehere would more than likely be a mistake that he’d end up regretting.