News: Shayne Gostisbehere is a healthy scratch tonight for the first time in his career, this on the day he was named Philly Sports Athlete of the Year.
Everyone is freaking out about Dave Hakstol scratching Ghost, especially in favor of Andrew FUCKING MacDonald, and rightfully so. The Flyers’ team defense has been an issue all season long, and while Gostisbehere’s play in his own zone clearly is not his biggest strength, I often think it’s vastly overstated as a weakness. Besides, the best defense is having the puck, and that’s where he excels. Gostisbehere hasn’t been the flashy, dynamic offensive force to this point like he was when taking the league by storm as a rookie. There’s been something of a sophomore slump, but that’s only in comparison to expectations since he spoiled us last season. He’s still the highest-scoring defenseman and fourth-leading scorer on the team. Additionally, his possession metrics through 17 games are actually better (62.7% Corsi, which is 14.2% better relative to his teammates) than last season (59.4%, 12.1%). The fact that his PDO (team’s on-ice shooting percentage + save percentage) is four points lower than last season (98.9% vs 103.0%) in part because of atrocious goaltending certainly doesn’t help his perceived performance.
If Gostisbehere was so clearly struggling and actively hurting the team on the ice night in and night out, I’d have more understanding of the motivation to sit him for a game so he can watch from above, see things differently and evaluate the parts of his game that Hakstol believes are lacking. Don’t even get me started on replacing him with MacDonald, who’s going to be directly responsible for at least three goals tonight against the Jets.
Here’s how Hakstol explained the decision:
Dave Hakstol explaining why Shayne Gostisbehere is being scratched tonight vs. Jets pic.twitter.com/gG6OhsP4NS
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) November 17, 2016
Lots of word diarrhea but let’s focus on “growth,” “development,” and “accountability.” I’d like to see Hakstol apply these terms to himself. My biggest gripe with Hakstol over this move is that I think it perfectly reflects the troubling nature of what we’re seeing emerge with regard to his being as a coach. He institutes excellent systems and is a legitimately sharp tactician. However, where he’s majorly deficient is in overall player treatment and personnel usage, which have run the gamut from uneven, to mystifying, to downright incompetent. Is this a product of working with teenagers for 20 years and never having to worry about coaching them for more than four years at most? Of consistently recruiting and icing superior talent while going against a diluted pool of competition? Regardless of how many former players, coaches and hockey people vouch for him on the topic, I don’t think this is a criticism that can simply be waved away as a lazy generalization. We saw this fundamental disconnect with Chip Kelly in the NFL and how his totalitarian style that succeeded in the college environment rubbed his adult players the wrong way.
Anyway, back to the problem of player treatment and personnel usage. It took literally the worst game of Andrew MacDonald’s pathetic career for Hakstol to finally relent and make him a healthy scratch. Even then, he couldn’t wait to get him back in the lineup. Meanwhile, Nick Cousins and Michael Raffl are scapegoated while Chris Vandevelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are beyond reproach and incapable of being scratched even though they’re useless (I don’t want to hear about important they are to a penalty kill that, oh by the way, ranks 25th). Remember how Craig Berube refused to hold Nicklas Grossmann responsible for his poor play no matter how overmatched he was and never made him a healthy scratch, yet had a different set of expectations for other guys? Every coach has this issue to a certain extent and plays favorites with skaters of middling-to-no skill because he feels they add a necessary element to some underexposed, underappreciated facet of the game. That doesn’t make it any more acceptable.
If I felt Hakstol was fair and objective in his treatment of players and held everyone to the same standard, perhaps I’d be more on board and willing to see his side here. But we’re talking about someone who willfully puts MacDonald and Bellemare on the ice in 3-on-3 overtime, then has the audacity to suggest that Travis Konecny, a player of incredible skill who’s easily been one of the team’s best three forwards for the first five weeks of the season, hasn’t earned the right to show what he can do in the game’s biggest moments. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Hakstol is not running a meritocracy, at the expense of putting the lineup on the ice that gives his team the best chance to win games. And for what? To teach a lesson that doesn’t even make any sense?
— Joe Rider (@jride442) November 17, 2016
It’s staring everyone right in the face that the Flyers have the talent to compete with the top teams, as well as rostering players on the Phantoms who should be in the bottom-six forward group over current regulars. The goaltending can’t possibly continue to be this putrid, and the team’s positive underlying microstats signal that a dramatic improvement in results should be on the horizon. Maybe this will end up being a “lose the battle to win the war” type of move and Gostisbehere responds — because the “lesson” better not last more than one fucking game. Even if that’s the case, Hakstol’s negative trend with personnel makes me pessimistic that he’s going to ever be able to fully accentuate his best traits as a coach at this level.