Our look at feasible targets for the Seattle Kraken in this month’s expansion draft began with James van Riemsdyk, and today we’ll continue by looking into a slightly less costly option for the NHL’s newest club.
2021 Statistical Overview: 9 G, 11 A in 41 GP | 19.56 TOI/G | 50.83 5-on-5 xGF%
Contract: Signed through 2022-23 at $4,500,000 per year
Current Player Evaluation
Since breaking onto the NHL scene in 2015-16 with 17 goals and 46 points in his age-22 rookie campaign, Gostisbehere has turned into a tough evaluation as he crosses into age-28 season.
After racking up 187 points in 296 games from 2016 through 2019, Ghost has notched just 32 points in his last 83 games over the past two (shortened) seasons. He’s spent time in head coach Alain Vigneault’s doghouse in that time and has been forced in and out of the lineup frequently in favor of other options.
Having said that, Ghost bounced back in a nice way this past year, topping Flyers defenders in goals for percentage (51.8%) at 5-on-5 and generating more points that anyone not named Ivan Provorov.
But defensive gaffes and inconsistent coverage marred the Flyers’ blue line this past season and Ghost was no exception. Too frequently he was catching up on a puck fumble at one of the blue lines that directly ended up in a scoring chance that Flyers goaltenders — largely unable to stop a beach ball — couldn’t come up with. Also telling is that the player went unclaimed through waivers in late March, though a good bulk was tied to other NHL clubs’ lack of finances and not necessarily roundly performance-based. Teams didn’t exactly have to move mountains to add him into the fold, but none chose to even check the hills.
While most of the defense was embarrassing in regards to their positional roles, perhaps only Philippe Myers suffered a similar amount of high-profile and glaring mistakes to those suffered by Gostisbehere.
Long-Term Player Evaluation
Short answer: who the heck even knows at this point? There was improvement in his game this past year, but was it truly enough to cement his place in the eyes of Vigneault and the coaching staff? And also while there was improvement at least in terms of metrics and production — does that outweigh the defensive issues that still exist in his game night-in and night-out?
Ghost’s injury history has likely sapped some of the quickness in his legs, and there’s been a trickle down effect in the totality of his game ever since. He isn’t quick enough on the puck anymore to really create the plus-plus chances in the offensive zone as consistently as he once did with regularity, and the lost step has caused him to alter his defensive approach to avoid being beat regularly with pure speed.
If he’s treading water at 5-on-5 and hs to be sheltered minutes-wise to avoid a big workload, you’re talking about a third-pairing guy giving you the business on the power play. Ghost added a healthy five power play goals in 41 games last year, so if he’s able to reassume his role as a power play quarterback and bomber then you’re in business over the next two years of his contract.
But given his shortcomings defensively, he’s got to give that plus value offensively and on the power play in order to make it work down the line if the Flyers — as expected — add to the top end of their blue line via the trade market or free agency.
The Flyers own worse contracts than Ghost, but a couple that provide more value for sure. If Ghost plays to his early career potential then yes, $4.5 million is a great number for a top four defender and quarterbacking a good power play.
But Ghost hasn’t been consistent enough to show that he thrives in that top four role, even as a power play driver, to warrant locking him into that spot on a regular basis. So even after a more improved season — and given the flat-cap nature of the league — his contract isn’t considered the steal it once was.
Potential Value to Seattle
Gostisbehere’s value to Seattle is pretty close to what it is for the Flyers — if he’s the guy he once was then he’s an impact defender at a manageable cap number.
But if he’s what he’s been — more off than on — over the past three seasons than he’s not a lock to be anything more than a frustrating question mark on a nightly basis, capable of providing both incredible highs and incredible lows in seemingly equal fashion.
Potential Losses for Philadelphia
So this one is interesting because GM Chuck Fletcher has unofficially, officially made it known that he’s out to improve the Flyers’ defense this offseason.
Gostisbehere graded out as one of the Flyers’ better defenders last season — albeit in a very weak class. If the Flyers lose Ghost to Seattle and go the Matt Niskanen route of “everything’s fine,” than yeah, losing him will create deeper issues if guys like Sanheim and Myers don’t figure it out and other youngsters don’t take giant leaps into meaningful roles (thinking: Cam York, Egor Zamula).
But if Fletcher is able to swing for the fences and really overhaul his defensive group, in which he likely needs at least two top four defensemen to field a true contender — moving out the inconsistent Ghost and using his cap hit elsewhere is intriguing...especially if York and/or Zamula look like they can handle regular time next season as cheap options for minutes in support of bigger fish coming in the door.
So we’re, like, pretty sure that inaugural Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol and Gostisbehere hate each other right?
Between the early-career press box trips and the player’s generally wildly inconsistent play, it’s fair to say that captain wakeboard will at least not be pounding the table for Ghost.
Look, capable defensemen with reasonable price tags are really, really hard to find and usually come at a premium — but Ghost isn’t exactly one of them given his past few seasons and evidence by the league passing on him on waivers during the season.
That said, Ghost did play better this season and did put up solid point production through March, April and May while playing 20 minutes a night. There are obvious flaws to his game, but with just $9 million total owed over the next two years, he could be a worthy gamble for Seattle looking to both fill out a roster and add a potential lottery pick in terms of value.
If we’re handicapping this one, we would put Ghost’s chances of getting selected if exposed at 30%.
Statistics in this article courtesy of Evolving Hockey and Hockey-Reference unless otherwise noted.