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2020-21 Player Review: Shayne Gostisbehere’s finale brought more highs, and more lows

The former third-round pick finished up his final season in Philadelphia trending up, but not enough to prevent him from being dealt away as part of a defensive overhaul.

Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

After the Flyers failed to quality for the 2020-21 Stanley Cup playoffs, GM Chuck Fletcher set out to overhaul a underperforming defensive group — one that had included Shayne Gostisbehere for the better part six-plus seasons.

The 28-year-old, who narrowly lost out on the Calder Trophy back in a breakout 2015-16 season, was no longer in Fletcher’s plans moving forward on defense and was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes for the low price of second and seventh-round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.

Fletcher having to include future assets to move off of a contract still carrying two more seasons at $4.5 million wasn’t ideal — and the return listed on Hockey Reference to the Flyers as “unknown compensation” really hammers it home as a straight salary dump. None of that was all too surprising given that the Flyers had placed Gostisbehere on waivers during the season in an attempt to clear cap space after trade opportunities never materialized.

But what is somewhat surprising is that Ghost isn’t coming off of a total dumpster fire of a season like you’d expect when you’re having to attach those kind of assets to move a player or contract.

And after you look into his season a bit more, it’s becomes even more clear that Gostisbehere clearly didn’t fit into the Flyers’ plans — almost no matter what he did on the ice.

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
41 9 11 20 6 85 11%

After spending 2019-20 in new head coach Alain Vigneault’s doghouse and failing to crack the regular top-six, Ghost improved his production markedly this past season.

Ghost piled up nine goals and 11 helpers for 20 points in 41 games in 2020-21 after posting just five goals, and seven assists in 42 games two seasons ago, Some of that was buoyed a high shooting percentage (11%, 6.6% career) by five power play goals — he managed just one in 2019-20 — but it also came with an increase in time on ice per game and his highest percentage of defensive zone starts in his career.

5v5 0n-Ice Stats

Corsi For % Corsi For Relative GF% Expected Goals For % PDO
Corsi For % Corsi For Relative GF% Expected Goals For % PDO
52.23 -0.65 52.24 52.34 1

When Ghost first burst onto the scene out of Union College he was a tone setter on a Flyers defense that seriously lacked puck movement and play driving ability from their blue liners — and it showed with Gostisbehere consistency posting possession metrics far and away ahead of those of his teammates.

Those metrics have dipped over the last few years, and in the last couple in particular, as Ghost has come down off of his early career success. The past two years included play driving rates just below the average of his teammates, though inflated somewhat by starting more than 55% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

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
0.82 1.2 4.45 2.19

Part of the reason Gostisbehere was often yo-yoed between the lineup and the press box was due to unforced errors and turnovers that too often ended up costing the Flyers directly on the scoreboard. This past season saw every Flyers defender struggle in their own zone — and with turnovers in particular — and Ghost continued his personal trend of coughing up the puck too much.

Gostisbehere gave away the puck 1.91 times per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 last year, the third-worst mark among Flyers regulars — only Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg were worse. He was at 2.16 two seasons ago, and the number still ranged in the 2’s at all strengths, even during power play time when the puck shouldn’t be handed over.

But despite the turnovers, Ghost was able to produce positive goal differential numbers in 2020-21. Even with an added boost on the power play, he was able to remain on the right side of the number at 5-on-5, too, with 35 goals for and 32 against. Like his former teammates Hagg, who was often on the wrong side of the play driving numbers, Ghost found himself on the right side of the most important metric in the end.

In the end a bounce back season didn’t do enough to move the needle in Ghost’s favor in Fletcher’s eyes, but as the Flyers’ lead decision maker has stated since the end of the season: he was going to overhaul the defense, full stop.

Ghost was part of that overhaul, despite a solid season that might not have flashed — or been worth his price tag — but one that certainly was better than some of those his teammates turned in.

Three Questions

Did they live up to our expectations?

Expectations weren’t particularly high for Ghost going into 2020-21 as we really weren’t sure what to expect after a couple of inconsistent seasons since his initial breakout. Even with expectations somewhat low, Ghost delivered a solid season that even put him in the firm discussion for the Barry Ashbee Trophy — albeit it a dumb class.

It was nice to see Ghost find success on the power play with his booming shot again, but the Flyers’ power play didn’t return to its initial success it enjoyed with No. 53 a few years ago. And while playable at 5-on-5, Ghost continued to merely break even for the most part despite more favorable opportunity and matchups.

There was some good, and some bad — but overall more average play from a player making more than average money. While some of that can be attributed to health, too, as Ghost clearly has been slowed a bit by injuries over the last few years as well, it’s clear that he’s not the player he once was and the Flyers could no longer wait for him to reach those heights again.

What do we/can we expect next season?

We can expect Ghost to greet the Flyers with at least a pair of goals and like five-to-six points in the pair of games they play against him.

How would you grade their 2020-21 season?

Overall, we’d give Gostisbehere a B- for his work during the 2020-21 season. His production was up and he wasn’t the Flyers’ worst defender during a season in which they almost all took turns one-upping each other at times in that respect.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference unless otherwise noted.

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