Flyers training camp doesn’t officially start for another week, but many players on the team are already in Voorhees, starting to take the ice for informal practices. One player who spend a large portion of the summer in the area is Shayne Gostisbehere.
It’s been another interesting summer for Gostisbehere. Last season, fresh off a 65-point career year, he watched his production decline again. Gostisbehere followed up a season with 13 goals and 52 assists in 2017-18 with nine goals and 28 assists for 37 points, the lowest total of his career. That kept his name in the rumor mill for most of the offseason as the Flyers starting making changes to try to shape their blue line.
Gostisbehere had openly admitted that last season was the toughest of his career so far. It’s not hard to see why.
For many of the Flyers, the 2018-19 season was one to forget, and not just for the way things were on the ice. Off the ice, the general manager was fired in late November. The assistant coach in charge of the defense was let go just days later. The head coach was fired in mid-December. The team had to endure goaltending injury woes that forced them to use eight different starting goalies.
Gostisbehere seemed to have all the confidence in the world entering last season following his 65-point effort, only to have it shattered in his fourth season. In a year where the 25-year-old was going to be viewed as a blueline veteran -- he entered the season with more experience than every defenseman except Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas and Christian Folin -- Gostisbehere was enduring the same kind of struggles that any young player would.
It was another season in what has been a roller-coaster career for Gostisbehere. His rookie campaign was sensational, featuring a run at a Calder Trophy and a rookie record 15-game points streak. His second season was more of a disappointment, scoring seven goals and 39 points in 12 more games than his rookie season. His third season saw him return to offensive production that ranks among the elite defensemen in the NHL. Last season was the worst offensive season of his career.
So the question arises again: which version of Shayne Gostisbehere will the Flyers get this season?
Gostisbehere is at his best when he gets to play his game, having the offensive freedom to get creative on defensive breakouts and potentially lead the rush up ice, or to jump into the play and be an offensive threat. It became difficult to do last season. The coaching staff seemed to frown upon the aggressive nature of Gostisbehere’s offensive game, the same style that got him 65 points in a playoff season. Gostisbehere experienced a lot of the same struggles that the entire power play did as well. He went from a season with 33 power-play points to just 14 the next. It just wasn’t characteristic of his game.
Gostisbehere’s early arrival would indicate a desire to put the question to rest and prove that he is the offensive defenseman that the Flyers can use on the power play and at even strength. The Flyers have also potentially set him up for some success in that area as well.
Gostisbehere is never going to be the shining star on defense, though in a season where the offensive production is up and confidence is higher, he certainly can be a better defender as well. What the Flyers did in the offseason by acquiring Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun is add two veterans that can take some of the pressure off. Gostisbehere is no longer going to be playing on the top pairing at even strength. Instead, he should be placed in much more of a specialist’s role, on the third pairing at even strength while still getting the power play time where he can be dangerous.
The Flyers also have an entirely new group behind the bench. The new head coach is Alain Vigneault. Mike Yeo is going to run the defense. Both are surely aware of Gostisbehere’s offensive talents and what he can do on the power play. They can also allow him to play on his natural side defensively alongside a more defensive-minded defenseman like Phil Myers or Sam Morin.
For the Flyers to be a successful team, they need several things. Improved special teams play is one, and Gostisbehere is certainly a factor there. But overall defensive play is going to be important as well, and if Gostisbehere ends up in a situation where he gets more ice time on the power play or in late-game situations when offense is needed and spends his even strength time next to a steadier, stay-at-home guy, it can potentially help keep the puck out of the net more.
An odd year has meant big success for Gostisbehere so far in his career. Year five will certainly be different, but in a year where he is searching for more consistency, he seems to have a lot of things on his side to get the confidence seen two seasons ago back again.