Should the Flyers Move On from Shayne Gostisbehere?

I believe there is a long and short answer to this question.

THE SHORT ANSWER:
What, are you dense? Of course not.

THE LONG ANSWER:
Okay, let’s approach this a bit more carefully.

After last season it seemed pretty clear that Ghost was evolving into one of the league’s elite offensive defensemen. It’s remarkable for a defenseman in his third season to produce 63 points over the course of 78 games. Ghost pulled this off at age 25. It’s likely that his best years are still ahead of him.

So, what the hell happened this year?

You don’t have to be a hockey genius to notice that Ghost clearly took several steps backward this year. His point totals are way down, he’s turning the puck over more, and his possession stats are taking hits as well. Through 74 games, Ghost sits at 8 goals and 28 assists, good for 36 points. This is his lowest point total since his rookie season, in which he played 10 fewer games. His adjusted Corsi-For at even strength sits at 49.54%, down from the previous two seasons.

For those who aren’t a fan of numbers and stats, he simply isn’t passing the eye test in a number of scenarios. He’s turning the puck over much more than we’re used to and is getting caught leaving players open in the slot more often. What’s really killing Ghost this year is that more of his turnovers are leading to goals against. This is evidenced by his -12.49 goal differential, the worst on the Flyers this year.

Now before we pull the plug on Ghost, let’s remember one crucial thing about this season.

This team has been quite bad at 5v5 for much of Gordon’s tenure, the defense in particular.

Not a single defenseman on this Flyers team has an adjusted Corsi-For over 50%, meaning they’ve played without the puck for the majority of time at 5v5 and are failing to drive play. This of course does not excuse Ghost for his play this year, but it’s worth noting that the team around him isn’t doing him any favors. Surprisingly enough, Ghost and Gudas currently have the best numbers on the team in this possession metric. Saturday’s game against the Hurricanes, in which Ghost was a healthy scratch, should also serve as a reminder that it’s not just Ghost who’s turning the puck over.

As for his offense, I believe the dip in Ghost’s production can be attributed to two things in particular. One of these being that his shot has been more erratic than normal this year. If Ghost uses this offseason to work on his shot accuracy, that should more than make up for some lost points.

The other, more glaring issue in my opinion, is that the Flyers’ power play as a whole this year has been abysmal. A power play operating at 17% on the year isn’t exactly conducive to Ghost accruing more points. Now, one can certainly make the case that Ghost’s off year is a major factor in the well-below-average power play and I really can’t argue with that. That being said, the Flyers’ power play is more than just Shayne Gostisbehere. There are usually 4 other guys out there that need to give him some help when trying to put the puck in the net. A predictable power play strategy and inconsistent production between the 2 lines only complicates matters.

So let’s say the angry Flyers fans are right and trading Ghost is the right move this offseason… what exactly do we think we’re going to get for him?

If your answer to that question is something along the lines of, “Doesn’t matter, they just need to move on from him,” you are why we can’t have nice things.

Ghost’s season as a whole has been a disappointment and other teams are going to key in on that. Think back to the Simmonds trade. Fans had visions of teams lining up for Simmonds, and guys like Kevin Fiala or Eeli Tolvanen coming back in a return. While I think Hartman has certainly earned himself a spot in the bottom 6 for next year, he isn’t either of those players in terms of raw skill. Teams realized Simmonds’ value was trending downward and reacted accordingly. I have to think the same would happen with Ghost.

The problem with trying to move Ghost is that there are very, very few scenarios in which the team that trades away a defenseman with 70-point potential comes away winning the trade. Those don’t come around too often. And in case anyone hasn’t paid attention for the past 4 years, Ghost has been the only member of the Flyers’ defensive core to even come close to that potential. If they wanna package him for a veteran defenseman this offseason, I want someone who’s been considered for the Norris within the past 3 years. If they’re trading for a 2C, I want a star center. The return for him had better be perfect. Will those actually be the return? I’m skeptical to say the least.

Fans also need to realize that Ghost’s game is going to come with defensive risks. Ghost has always been sold as a puck-moving defenseman with very high offensive upside. In other words, he’s going to control the puck a lot, try to score, and can certainly get caught in the offensive zone or turn the puck over. Just like any other player on the ice. Sanheim, Provorov, Myers, and the rest of the mobile Flyers’ defense are just as prone to these mistakes, and their progress doesn’t necessarily make Ghost expendable. It just means the Flyers have really, really freakin’ good depth on defense. You can have a lot of good defenseman, guys. I promise it’s allowed. Pair him with Morin or Myers next year and let’s reevaluate.

Let’s also consider his contract. Ghost is signed through 2023 with an annual cap hit of $4.5m. When prime Shayne Gostisbehere is back, that contract is going to look like even more of a steal than it already is.

I’m not saying the Flyers shouldn’t listen to a single offer for Ghost. They should do their due diligence and listen to some offers. And then they should promptly laugh at them and move on.

-Brian Adams (@Wx_Adams)

Photo Creds: NBCSports

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