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2018-19 Player Review: Will the real Shayne Gostisbehere please stand up?

We’re gonna have a problem here.

NHL: New York Islanders at Philadelphia Flyers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

If history tells us anything, an uneven 2018-19 season from Shayne Gostisbehere will lead to a massive 2019-20 campaign for the dynamic defender.

But therein lies the main problem with the man they call Ghost to date in his NHL career: consistency.

Since breaking in with the Flyers full-time in the 2015-16 season, Gostisbehere has posted point totals of 46, 39, 65, and 37. While the biggest gap in production has been his 2017-18 and this past season, it highlights just how dynamic Gostisbehere can be and among of of the NHL’s best offensive defenders while this past season was essentially a disaster for the 26-year-old.

Though Ghost has potential to net 60+ points a season given his elite presence on the power play, his production realistically falls in-between his epic 65-point season and his rolling average of 40 points per season in his other full NHL campaigns. Getting 45-50 points from Ghost a season should be the norm given his usage (61% offensive zone start in career) and his presence on the Flyers’ top power play unit.

But for whatever reason (He wasn’t hurt), Ghost just wasn’t that player last season, and it wasn’t hard to see. He —like most of the Flyers— was awful in October, and never really seemed to get back on the rails fully. Unlike his former teammate Radko Gudas, Ghost seemed to struggle getting pucks on net with 41 less shots on target than a year ago, and 18 fewer shots than his tough seven-goal 2016-17 season where he shot just 3.5%.

There was also the struggle of finding someone to play with, with Ghost playing a bunch of minutes with just about every other Flyer on defense to wildly varying results. We’ll get into that in a minute, but the Flyers thought they had a top pair set to begin the season after Ivan Provorov and Ghost were so good together a year ago, but that flopped early and forced a turnstile of sorts on the back end that never got sorted out and surely hurt Ghosts’ prospects.

By The Numbers

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
78 9 28 37 22 180 5%

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
0.83 0.52 5.22 0.22

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
Score-Adjusted Corsi For % SA-Corsi Relative Score Adjusted-Expected Goals For SA-Expected Goals Relative Goals For % PDO
49.35% 2.37% 42.15 0.18 41.66% 97.19

As we mentioned earlier it wasn’t a banner season from Gostisbehere production-wise, but his metrics ended up being a touch better than expected. Ghost still drove play at 5-on-5 and posted possession numbers better than his teammates. But while he was driving play, he wasn’t producing goals, with his goals for and expected goals for percentages way down.

We talked about his pairing with Provorov being a bust, and while they fared tough competition and broke even with a 50% Corsi-For at even strength, their 32% Goals For percentage was just awful. Ghost was at his best with Gudas (62% CF), which figures now that he’s no longer an option next season by virtue of the Matt Niskanen for Gudas swap a few days ago. A pairing with Travis Sanheim showed some positive results in limited time (108 minutes together per NaturalStatTrick) to the tune of a 53% Corsi-For and plus-five goal differential at 5-on-5. Perhaps the Flyers could run that pairing back next season as it’s the best returning partner for Gostisbehere.

(Sixers, also run it back please thank you)

Perhaps Niskanen could be the stabilizing veteran presence to allow Ghost to reach his full potential. The Stanley Cup champion is very strong exiting his own zone and defending the blue line, which could allow for some easy rush opportunities for Gostisbehere cut down on the time he spends in his own zone and get him putting pressure on opposing defenses.

Gostisbehere can very much be a boom-or-bust player night-to-night, and we’ve seen him at his worst —turnovers literally right in his own crease— but we’ve also seen a dynamic defender that can be a true difference maker offensively when he’s on his game.

He’s a really, really, good player, just inconsistent at times. Finding him a true defensive partner would go a long way in unlocking just how good Ghost can be, and that might solve some of the inconsistencies in his game as well. Always rumored on the trade block, trading Gostisbehere had better fetch a massive haul, because selling low on a guy with 50+ point potential on the blue line making $4.5 million against the cap would be a big mistake.

Three Burning Questions

Did this player live up to our expectations for this season?

No, but in fairness they were very lofty expectations. A year removed from a 65-point season, we figured we could pencil Ghost in for 50+ points and at least 10 or more goals. We also expected him to captain one of the NHL’s best power plays and yet it finished 23rd overall. Nothing went right production-wise, and that wasn’t enough to cover for Gostisbehere’s usual defensive shortcomings.

Gostisbehere went into the season as a top pair defenseman and gave the Flyers No. 4 play and production. That’s pretty much what he gets paid as, but we’ve seen Ghost have the ability to play far above that and has to this point of his career..just not in 2018-19.

What do we expect from this player next season?

Historically Ghost has bounced back from down seasons, and responded with a massive campaign a year ago. Coming off a 37-point season, we can expect a big bounce back season from Gostisbehere provided he’s still on the team. The Flyers’ power play will be markedly better next season with James van Riemsdyk operating with the first team the while time, and GM Chuck Fletcher has already added a solid veteran defender than could very well be the man to play alongside Ghost.

He’s gonna be in for a big season, we just hope that either A) he’s around here for it to happen or B) the haul that Fletcher gets for him is so massive and good that it’s stupid.

What would we like to see this player improve on?

When he’s on his game Gostisbehere is one of the NHL’s most dynamic defenders, but the issue is that can differ from night to night. Consistency is what separates the Erik Karlsson’s of the world from Ghost.

You may see a Karlsson gaff once very few months of a handful times a year. Ghost makes head-scratchers an every other game deal. Cutting down the self-inflicted mistakes and errors will take his game to new heights if he can do it.

Gostisbehere is a dangerous weapon, and we’ve only seen a taste of just how good he can be.

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