A Ghost of a Chance - On Shayne Gostisbehere and Likely the Last Opportunity to Prove Himself
A couple of weeks ago, Shayne Gostisbehere and Alain Vigneault sat down for a chat.
They both had things they wanted to get off their chest about how the 2019-20 season went.
Gostisbehere was frustrated, of course. Not only was he trying to battle through injuries, but he was the subject of constant trade rumors and he was in and out of the lineup, seemingly not able to get into the coaching staff’s good graces despite all his efforts.
Vigneault wasn’t worried about frustration. He was more worried about performance, execution, and consistency – three areas of the game where Gostisbehere came up short last season, despite excelling in them earlier in his career.
Gostisbehere had become a bit of an enigma. An uber-talented defenseman who the team couldn’t figure out, nor could Gostisbehere himself.
But, the COVID-19 pandemic may have given Gostisbehere one more chance than anyone could have expected to become that top-end talent he seemed so destined to be as recently as three seasons ago.
The pandemic cost NHL teams a lot of money. It’s why you are seeing advertisements on helmets this year and now the divisions are being sponsored (the Flyers are playing in the MassMutual East Division – get ready to hear Jim Jackson say that a lot).
As such, with the salary cap flattened – for multiple years – and with teams bereft of space or the money necessary to spend close to it, it was likely too hard for Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher to move Gostisbehere and the three years and $13.5 million in cap hits ($4.5 each season).
So, he’s back – one more time – even though many writers, including yours truly, had him being traded away as far back as 2018.
“I had a very good meeting with Shayne prior to camp,” Vigneault said. “We both expressed ourselves. He’s a very smart young man. He wants to play and wants to help this team win. He’s going to get an opportunity.”
“He’s got to prove himself obviously. I think for the first time since I’ve been here, he’s 100 percent healthy, which is real positive for him. He’s coming in here with a real good attitude. Obviously, no exhibition games, but we’re paying a lot of attention to the scrimmages. We’ve got that intersquad game on the 10th. We’ll see what happens, how well he plays and how well he can help contribute to us winning some games.”
It wasn’t a ringing endorsement. It wasn’t the coach guaranteeing Gostisbehere will be in the top six. Heck, it wasn’t even a lock he’d be in the top seven among defensemen.
“Are we going to keep seven? Are we going to keep eight?” Vigneault asked rhetorically. “What are we going to do with eighth or ninth? Are they going in the taxi squads or if they are younger players, are they better off going into the American League? Those are all the things that are going to go into our decision-making. At the end of the day, we’re working on keeping the best seven, eight guys that are here at camp for the start of the season.”
With the retirement of Matt Niskanen, it would seem Gostisbehere should be in that mix. After all, he was one of the Flyers’ top seven guys last season. But, considering the Flyers signed Erik Gustafsson to a one-year contract, a player who has an almost identical skill set to Gostisbehere, and one has to wonder, where does Shayne fit?
“It’s definitely tough,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve dealt through injuries a pretty good part of my career and obviously, when you sprinkle some trade rumors on top of that and not playing and you can’t get in the line-up, it’s definitely tough mentally.”
“I think for myself, this break… I just worked on doing what is in my control. I can’t control what is going to happen. I can’t control where I am going to go. The only thing I can control is getting healthy and becoming the best player I can be.”
Gostisbehere: "I switched it up training aspect wise. I did it for more of a body development and doing what I can do. I can’t do things I used to do when I was younger. I think I’m in a very good place mentally because I am healthy. That goes a long way with my play." pic.twitter.com/bjOCfD6cQK
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) January 5, 2021
Gostisbehere was refreshingly honest about hearing his name crop up in trade rumors. We were considered to be pushing that agenda here on Crossing Broad at the end of 2018-19, but then his name was popping up on trade lists compiled by the big NHL insiders from Canada. He was atop many boards, not just during the offseasons, but at each of the past two trade deadlines.
Most guys will tell you they don’t pay attention to that stuff. Gostisbehere refused to put up that façade.
“I’m getting pretty used to it now,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s been a couple of seasons now going. Obviously, I pay attention to it because it’s my life and I’ve built a life here in Philly. Obviously, I am going to pay attention. It’s definitely not the best when you hear your name in trade rumors, but nothing happened, and I am happy to be here and help my team do the best.”
He’s hoping that, although this is likely his last chance to stick in Philadelphia, that his return to health after such a long layoff, will allow him to simply focus on the game, and not have to worry about when the next pain is gonna sprout up or the next tweak is coming.
It’s a long way from where he was in 2017-18 when he posted a career-best 65 points. But there remains a glimmer of hope. He was paired with Phil Myers on day one of practice. He was with Robert Hagg on day two. It’s not like he’s being forced to partner up with AHL-caliber defensemen. Vigneault is giving him a clean slate and another chance.
And by this time next week, we’ll know what Gostisbehere did with that chance.
Bulked up Beezer
Joel Farabee talked about adding about 10 pounds of weight in the offseason to make himself a bigger and stronger player and to help him be a better finisher at the NHL level.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 5, 2021
While it’s only two days, Farabee does look a little more confident and stronger on the puck in the scrimmages – and Vigneault has taken notice.
“I have taken notice of that,” Vigneault said. “I have taken notice of his protection skills and his one-on-one battles where he has been involved. There’s no doubt that’s going to be beneficial to him. He’s come here extremely prepared. He’s got almost a full year of experience with him starting last year in the minors, getting called up and obviously the stoppage of play. He’s a good young player who’s in his learning curve. He hasn’t reached his full potential yet, but he’s working real hard. I do think that extra muscle is going to help him moving forward here.”
It’s why he was allowed to shed his training camp number that he wore all of last season – No. 49 – and replace it with a personal favorite – No. 86.
He said that was the number he wore as a kid and that it’s his favorite number. He’ll be the first Flyer to wear it in a game.
And when he scores a game-winning goal, all of us in this reporting biz who think we’re really crafty with the English language will write headlines saying the Flyers opponent was 86’d.
The suddenly important shootout
If there is a question NHL coaches hate being asked more than any other, it might be, “why don’t you practice the shootout more?”
In reality, players at the NHL level have been practicing breakaways since they were four. They have a complete toolbox of moves and shots that they can turn to. Even guys who aren’t considered skill players probably have one or two moves they could pull out in case of emergency.
As such, working on the shootout isn’t usually a regular part of the practice schedule.
But this is a completely different hockey season.
With every one of the 56 games on the schedule coming against a divisional opponent, those bonus points awarded for games still tied after overtime are going to be as valuable as hand sanitizer and toilet paper were (are?) during the pandemic.
Which is why Vigneault has changed things up a bit this season.
“That is one area that I wanted to jump on right at the beginning,” Vigneault said. “That’s why we started yesterday and we’re going to continue every day at the end of practices. We’re going to work on shootouts.
“Our division being so tight and so competitive, there might be that opportunity to get more shootouts. We want our guys to be on top. I want our guys to be confident. At the same time, our goaltenders like to have that type of work. We’re doing everything we can to be prepared for the start of the season. That’s a facet that’s become very important and hopefully we’ll be ready.”
— Snow The Goalie: A Flyers Podcast (@SnowTheGoalie) January 5, 2021
An assist from Mr. Playoffs?
The Flyers are pulling out all the stops in trying to help Sam Morin. He’s been working really hard with assistant coach Ian Laperriere trying to transition from defenseman to left wing. He knows it’s a long shot. So does the team. But everyone is pulling for him.
The team is trying to help him in any way possible. They even had Danny Briere work with Morin for a bit to get used to the kind of skating he has to do as a forward, which is a lot different than the kind of skating you do as a defenseman.
I reached out to Briere and asked what that’s like working with Morin.
“I’ve just been trying to share ideas with him on how to adjust to a new position,” Briere said. “He has tools like his skating, size and grit that are above average, so we have to figure out how to maximize them so he can be effective. He deserves a lot of credit for his attitude and willingness to make it work.”
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) January 5, 2021
His time is limited though. Unless the Flyers can find a way to carry him as the 23rd player for a bit, or get him onto the Taxi Squad, he’ll be exposed to waivers, and there’s a belief that another team might take a flier and claim him.
The clock is ticking, and Morin knows his time is short.
“Danny B is great,” he said. “He is such a good person. The advice he gave me was… when you are a big guy, people notice you right? So, you notice if you stop moving your feet. It is really important for me to always move my feet and stay in movement.
“That is hard right now, because it is a hard camp conditioning wise. It’s not fun. My legs are burning. My stamina, it’s hard. But with Danny B we work on moving my feet all the time.”
Quick Hitters from Day Two of Training Camp
- The Flyers played a 40-minute scrimmage against themselves and it ended in a 1-1 tie. Kevin Hayes scored for Team Orange while Gustafsson scored for Team Black from the slot off a nifty pass from Claude Giroux.
- Michael Raffl set up Hayes’ goal with a pretty pass. It was mere seconds after Raffl made another beauty of a pass to Hayes on a breakaway only to be stopped by Brian Elliott. Raffl has been slowed a little by a lot of his injuries, but he’s still a useful player and will likely make the team as a fourth liner.
- Morgan Frost has looked really good in drills, but in the scrimmages, seems to disappear. He might still need a little more time. He played today with Farabee and James van Riemsdyk and the wingers were noticeable while Frost wasn’t so much.
- 2020 draft pick Zayde Wisdom made his debut in camp. He played on a line with Raffl and Hayes. He’s obviously raw for the NHL, but he does have a lot of jump in his skates and he’s got good size already. Fans should be excited for him in the future.
- The scrimmage on day 2 was a lot more physical than day 1. There were even a couple of big hits, none bigger than Sean Couturier leveling Travis Konecny in open ice. Vigneault said it was a message he delivered to the team prior to taking the ice today. “It’s one thing that we talked to our team this morning prior to our video meeting… the best way to prepare ourselves is when you’re doing a drill or you’re scrimmaging right now, if you have an opportunity to finish your check, finish your check.” Vigneault said. “It’s good for you and it’s also good for your teammate. We talked about that today. Players have been scrimmaging for weeks now, but when they’re scrimmaging and playing pond hockey, it is exactly that, it’s pond hockey. This is about us getting ready for the 13th of January. When it is time to finish a play, stick on puck, or take your man out of the equation, you have to do that. We talked about it. I was happy to see the guys follow up with it during the practice and the scrimmage.”