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2019-20 Player Review: Shayne Gostisbehere almost lost his job

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The mobile defenseman moved further and further down the depth chart this season, but might be leaned on heavily in the future.

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Two Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers player that had the most whirlwind of a season was probably defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. It was just a couple years ago when he was slotted into the top pairing for eternity, after his fabled 65-point season. Since then, he has been sloshed around, in and out of the lineup, and his reputation has hit a low point.

Even within the postseason quarantined bubble, head coach Alain Vigneault could not resist the temptation to scratch him in some of their most important games of the season. I might be biased, having already defended the player and argued that he should have a bigger role on this team, so let’s dive into why he was left off the lineup.

By The Numbers

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIMs Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage Average Time on Ice
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIMs Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage Average Time on Ice
42 5 7 12 20 73 6.8 18:18

One thing that significantly stands out is his total point production. A defenseman that the Flyers have leaned on for some goals and helpers — enough to earn himself several Norris Trophy votes — Gostisbehere just wasn’t able to put up those numbers.

It certainly wasn’t a change of scenery. Gostisbehere still spent the most time on the ice with the Flyers’ top forwards last season at 5-on-5, with Kevin Hayes, James van Reimsdyk and Claude Giroux topping that list. Even on the power play, he averaged the sixth-most time on the man advantage amongst all his teammates.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but something must have dropped off if his situation on the ice barely changed from previous seasons.

5v5 Individual Stats

Goals/60 Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
Goals/60 Points/60 Shot Attempts/60 Expected Goals/60
0.19 0.49 8.95 0.18

Diving deeper into some of Gostisbehere’s contributions, it’s some more of the same. His individual shot attempt rate has been steadily decreasing for the past couple years, going from 13.8 per hour in the 2016-17 season, dropping a couple each season until the 8.95 last year.

It’s harder to determine the meaningfulness of expected goals for defensemen — unless they’re rushing up the ice like a Thomas Chabot or Roman Josi — so for Gostisbehere to drop in that category as well, it might not mean a whole lot. While other seasons certainly were better, his forwards in front of him vastly improved with the key acquisition of Hayes and the renaissance of Giroux, so he wasn’t leaned on to get those pucks towards the net and score off of his stick.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

Corsi For% Corsi For% Rel. Expected Goals For% Expected Goals For% Rel. Goals For% PDO
Corsi For% Corsi For% Rel. Expected Goals For% Expected Goals For% Rel. Goals For% PDO
52.01 0.61 46.96 -4.66 47.73 99.1

A fairly middle-of-the-road player when it comes to controlling possession and determining which team is scoring the goals while he’s on the ice, Gostisbehere’s underlying on-ice metrics really take a turn while looking at the expected goals. When the still-young defensemen is out there, the opposing team is getting a significant amount of the high-quality chances, especially when comparing that number to his teammates.

Previously, it might have seemed that his basic stats were a victim to a low PDO, either from a historically low shooting percentage or the opposing goaltenders always turning into prime Dominik Hasek whenever Gostisbehere shot a puck their way. But his PDO of 99.1 tells the story that neither really happened, it’s slightly below the 100 threshold, but not enough to swing any counting stats either way.

All in all, Gostisbhere’s statistics from last season spell out the story of a player in decline, that can still ride some mediocre wave as a depth defenseman.

Three Burning Questions

Did this player live up to expectations this season?

We were all well aware of Gostisbhere eventual decline into a depth defenseman this season. With sprinkles of healthy scratches last year and losing some grip on the depth chart, this season was sort of inevitable. Maybe not to this extent though.

No one really could have predicted the defenseman being up in the press box when the Flyers made their first substantial postseason run in several years. Or barely any points coming off his stick this season. It might have been beaten into the ground by now, but Gostisbehere was a disappointment.

What do we expect from this player next season?

I’m going to stay optimistic — as uncharacteristic that might be when talking about Philadelphia sports — and say that Gostisbehere will bounce back. Without expecting the player to increase his production and underlying numbers, we can still hope for a general return to his usual self from past seasons.

But if we’re trying to stay realistic, I am really just expecting him to play well enough to not be a healthy scratch.

What would we like to see this player improve on?

Improving as a defenseman in your late-20s might only be reserved for the Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn-types, so if Gostisbehere just had a bit of a time machine effect and went back to his performance in his mid-20s — tell me about it, right folks? — he might see his reputation improve.

There was something just off about Gostisbehere this season. Whether it’s a general change of scenery that’s needed or a bigger role on this team to really boost his confidence, the blueliner can still produce for the Flyers and be a part of a team that wins more than they lose. It’s the small things to ask for, but if Erik Gustafsson doesn’t live up to his one-year deal and Justin Braun takes a step back, there will be some holes to fill in the top-4 that a former top-tier defenseman can insert himself into.