Revisiting Shayne Gostisbehere’s Flyers Career

Apr 10, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (53) passes the puck against the Boston Bruins in the first period at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (53) passes the puck against the Boston Bruins in the first period at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports /

As a history teacher, I often tell my students that sometimes you can’t accurately judge a president or an event until you put some time and distance between the person/event. Likewise, being a fan is a similar thing. A player you may have used to love, you may realize was not as great as you think he was. A player that drove you crazy might not have been as bad as you thought. And being a Flyers fan, we have had several players who fit this bill.

The Flyers have a long and storied history. As part of that history, there have been a lot of fan favorites and a lot of players that drew our ire. Among the most recent of these players was defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. With it being over a year since his trade to Arizona for…..well, nothing, I thought it would be worth examining his career.

Ghost Bear, as he was affectionately called by fans, was a third round pick in 2012. He was a star blueliner for Union College and helped lead them to a national championship. He signed a three-year entry level deal with the Flyers and joined the team on a full time basis in 2015-16.

In his rookie year, he became a surprise for the team. With a new head coach, Dave Hasktol, on the bench, Ghost Bear took off. He was fourth on the team with 17 goals and fifth with 56 points. At the end of the year, he finished second in the Calder Trophy voting to Artemi Panarin. He was named to the NHL All-Rookie team and his future looked bright.

The next season, he revealed that he played during the playoffs with a hip injury. He had offseason surgery to repair the damage. He started off slowly and struggled in both his offensive and defensive games. He still was the top scoring defender for the Flyers, with 39 points, but scored 10 less goals.

He had a rebound year in 2017-18 when paired with Ivan Provorov. He tallied 13 goals and put up career highs in assists (52) and points (65). But as seemed to happen with him, he slumped the following season. A nagging knee injury affected his play, Likewise, Coach Hakstol would call him out on his play at times and made him a healthy scratch.

In need of some cap relief, the Flyers, who had signed him to a six year, $27 million contract in 2017, traded him to Arizona for “future considerations” and a second round pick. Translated, that means Ghost Bear was traded, with a second rounder, for cap relief. The money that was saved was used to trade for Rasmus Ristolainen. Detractors of the trade will say that after Risotlainen re-signed with the Flyers on a five year extension, the Flyers only saved about $500,000 for a player who is about two years younger.

The Risto-Ghost Bear debate will probably continue for a while. It especially didn’t help that Gostisbehere scored 14 goals with 37 assists this season, while posting a career low -23. Meanwhile, Ristolainen scored two goals with 14 assists and was a -9. There are many Flyers fans who miss Gostisbehere’s scoring ability, especially on the power play.

Overall, Ghost Bear’s play on the Flyers was inconsistent. He was the Flyers’ best scoring defender since Kimmo Timmonen had been traded away to the Blackhawks. He had a scoring flair that was fun to watch. However, there were times his reckless play could catch him unaware and a goal could be given up on the back end.

Was part of his problem his defensive partners? Could be. We have seen that with Provorov. Sometimes Provy looks amazing, but sometimes he looks lost. When paired with a defender that can match his abilities, he looks polished. When he is paired with a replacement rookie due to injuries, he gets sloppy. Perhaps Ghost Bear was the same.

Speaking of injuries, we saw what injuries did to players this year. Some players, like Kevin Hayes tried to play through the injuries. When they did, they were not at their top form. There were many times Gostisbehere played with a hip or knee injury. There may have been times he rushed back before he was ready to play as well. This could also have affected his quality of play.

As we have also seen the last few seasons, he may not have clicked with the coaching staff. Coach Hakstol had issues with players on the team and Gostisbehere was benched by him several times. We saw something similar with Alain Vigneault and his relationship with Travis KonecnyTK definitely pouted when he was benched and played better without AV around. Maybe Ghost Bear was similar. Maybe a bruised ego affected his play.

Yes, he could be frustrating at times. However, he was a dynamic player at times as well. Much like looking back at a past relationship, we can’t always look back and wonder “What if….?” It isn’t going to change things as he is a Coyote now.

However, Gostisbehere was very popular here during his tenure as a Flyer. If Ristolainen becomes the defender the Flyers believe he can be, this all becomes a moot point. If he doesn’t, more and more fans will have wished we held onto Ghost Bear. Overall, Gostisbehere had an up and down career as a Flyers defenseman, but it wasn’t a bad one.

History is a funny thing. Our experiences in the present can color how we view the past. Right now, many Flyers fans are saying that Ghost Bear on the blue line looks pretty darn good. Let’s hope this year can bring some much needed changes to our team’s defense so we can start living in the present and looking forward.