Meltzer's Musings: Gostisbehere at a Crossroads
Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere celebrates his 26th birthday today. Next season will be his fifth in the NHL and sixth year as a pro. Last September, I wrote an article for the Flyers official website on what has set Ghost apart
from other playes from the time he was drafted by Philadelphia in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft.
At the time I wrote it, I fully expected Gostisbehere to have a monster season in 2018-19. He shot the lights out during the preseason, and he was coming off an excellent 2017-18 regular season (although a disappointing playoff series against Pittsburgh). He had seemingly made significant strides in his all-around the previous season, had a good thing going in a pairing with Ivan Provorov and his confidence and conditioning were at high levels.
I never would have predicted that Gostisbehere's subsequent season would, by his own admission, fall far short of his self-expectations as well as those of the team for him.
"Definitely the toughest season I’ve been personally in my four years. It’s tough for sure," Gostisbehere said on April 7. "I’m not an excuse guy. I mean, I didn’t have the best season, obviously, and I felt I could’ve helped my teammates a lot more. It’s a grind. It was a mental grind this year."
Gostisbehere regressed in his play without the puck but his number one asset -- his work on the power play -- suffered as well. In terms of statistical 5-on-5 offensive production, he wasn't horrifically far off the mark from what he had done the previous season (5 goals, 18 assists, 23 points at 5-on-5 in 2018-19 compared to 6 goals, 26 assists, 32 points). On the whole, however, Gostisbehere's season a step backward for him even as he seemed well set up heading in to have a second straight strong season. The player's confidence dropped as the season progressed.
"You do the same thing and you expect same results and when it doesn’t happen it’s hard. Go back to mental thing you got to stick with it again I’m going to do the same thing this summer I'm going to train the same way and I’m going to have the same mentality going into camp, I want to get better as a player, I want to be a staple point as a defenseman in this league, one of the better ones not just one who is looked at offensively so it tough when you start a season and you see that net filling up and you see 7 goals against every other game and obviously change has happened. It's tough for sure, it was a tough season in general but again you just got to stick with it and remember what got you there," Gostisbehere said.
At times, Gostisbehere even found himself lacking confidence in what had been his bread-and-butter offensive situations.
"You have to do different things making plays, just like quarterbacks. You do the same thing, teams are going to pick up on it. I still have certain moves that I do every game and they still work but for me it’s a mental thing when a guy is coming at me and I'm, like, 'Will he fall for my fake? Probably not.' You've got have the confidence to just do it and go with it, that’s a huge part of my game just deception and fakes and my movement with the puck so obviously for me it’s just instilling that confidence in myself and going out there and doing it every night."
While Travis Sanheim took the ball and ran with it after the changeover from Dave Hakstol and Gord Murphy to Scott Gordon and Rick Wilson, Gostisbehere continued to struggle and ended up in a reduced role (eventually on the third pair and then as a healthy scratch in the game where the Flyers were mathematically eliminated). For a time, he was even taken off the top power play unit by assistant coach Kris Knoblauch and Gordon.
"With Rick coming in and different coaches and what not they tweak the style of not just me personally but how he wants the defense to play so I think I wouldn’t say they put handcuffs on me or anything but I’d say they pulled the range back quite a bit just in what they wanted us to do collectively [in terms of carrying the puck] as a D-corps," Gostisbehere said.
Gostisbehere's name has come up frequently in trade rumors. He has said that he tries to block that sort of thing out, and focus on what he can control: his own preparations.
Two summers ago, Gostisbehere tweaked his summer training routine. After his big 2017-18 campaign, he did almost the exact same routine last summer. Looking for any one percent or two percent boosts he can find, he plans some small adjustments this summer.
"I'm going to do some different things. Maybe skate a little earlier to get my body right and you know I think just little tweaks just here and there with skating and taking care of myself," Gostisbehere said.
Gostisbehere said that he dealt with a nagging knee issue this past season that affected his skating to some degree.
"I didn’t have the best pop in my step. It was tough for me. I mean you think about it, too. It’s a pain that its going to happen. You’re going to feel the pain but it is what it is. It was earlier in the season when I got hit in the knee, took the puck. Not in warm-ups. It was [during a game] against Colorado, it was a long time ago. It was a home game. I took a puck in the knee and it lingered. Nothing with the hip or nothing structural or anything like that. It’s just something you deal with. Like I said, it's not an excuse," he said.
Prior to the Flyers hiring Alain Vigneault as head coach, Gostisbehere was one of the many Flyers players who said he enjoyed his brief time with Gordon overall; especially Gordon's communication style.
"It was cool. It was different; a little different then Hak, for sure. He talks a little more and system wise when he comes in the room it’s all systems and different face-off plays. He really comes up to you. He talk. He’s a normal guy. I’m not saying Hak wasn’t but as you [media] guys can tell, they’re a little different. He was a great coach," Gostisbehere said.
"Mostly it was positive with Gordo. If I make a mistake and a coach comes up to me on a bench and tells me about the mistake it's like, 'No shit. I just made the mistake. I know.' I don’t really like that, but who would? Sometimes you need that kick in the ass so I think for us, Gordo was a little animated at times but he just wanted you to be your best player. Again, mostly it was positive stuff."
Vigneault's coaching style and interaction methods
are different than either Gordon or Hakstol. He tends to be less vocal and animated than Gordon, at least on the bench.
Quick Hits: April 20, 2019
1) The season wrapup/ offseason preview edition of the Broadcasters' Roundtable postcast with Tim Saunders, Jim Jackson, Steve Coates, Chris Therien and me on Flyers Radio 24/7 is now available for download at your convenience. For access, click here
2) Game Two of the OHL Western Conference Final series between the Guelph Storm and Saginaw Spirit is on Saturday evening in Saginaw. The Spirit lead the series, 1-0. Flyers prospect Isaac Ratcliffe opened the scoring in Game 1 on a stuff-in play, but it was one of few highlights for Guelph, which overcame a three games to zero deficit to win its second-round series.
3) Flyers goaltending prospect Samuel Ersson, who is slated next season to move up from the minor league Allsvenskan level (where he was Rookie of the Year in 2018-19) to rejoin Brynäs IF Gävle in the Swedish Hockey League, has also been honored with his first men's national team selection after a strong World Junior Championships. He has already made his debut and was selected for the Tre Kronor roster for a two-game set against Finland on April 25-26 as the national teams gradually gear up for the IIHF World Championships. This is, to some degree, an apprenticeship for potentially taking on a role for Tre Kronor down the line as he continues his development path.