Making Sense of the Flyers’ Decision to Waive Gostisbehere

The 2020-21 season has been a rollercoaster for defender Shayne Gostisbehere. He got his first taste of action part-way through January after missing the first six games of the season due to COVID protocol. Then after finding his groove offensively, playing on the top-pairing, he was made a healthy scratch on multiple occasions by head coach Alain Vigneault during a disastrous month of March that saw the Philadelphia Flyers go 6-10-1.

The latest twist in Ghost’s story saw him placed on waivers, a shocking move that sent the Flyers’ fandom into a frenzy. The ever-controversial defender is the sixth-longest tenured player on the team’s roster and a homegrown commodity that fans have watched rise through the Flyers’ system after being drafted in 2012.

Shayne Gostisbehere
Shayne Gostisbehere (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The move fueled plenty of debate, which is only natural. Waiving a blue-chip player with Gostisbehere’s offensive pedigree is always going to be a controversial choice, but now that he’s cleared, the team’s decision to waive him may be beneficial in the long run.

Roster Flexibility

With Robert Hagg set to return from injury in the near future, and Sam Morin shifting back to playing defense, there are now eight players vying for a spot in the Flyers’ top-six. Now that Gostisbhere has cleared waivers and has been assigned to the taxi squad, the Flyers have a little bit more flexibility with their defensive personnel.

Nate Prosser and Morin are in a similar position to Gostisbehere, having also cleared waivers back in January. Like Prosser and Morin, he can now move back and forth between the taxi squad, the AHL, and the main roster, although he will need to clear waivers again if he spends 30 days on the Flyers roster or plays 10 games with the NHL squad. (from ‘Your guide to the NHL taxi squad,’ Montreal Gazette, 01/04/2021)

Samuel Morin during Flyers development camp. [photo: Amy Irvin]

This newfound roster fluidity has allowed the Flyers to carry three goaltenders, giving Carter Hart the opportunity to get the extra practice time he needs to get his A-game back, without having to worry about getting called upon mid-game if backup Brian Elliott falters. It also allows Vigneault to rest Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick, who have both missed significant time over the past two years, suffering from Ewing sarcoma and chronic migraines respectively. The condensed schedule has been especially tough on the two young players, and some occasional time off may do them a world of good. With Ghost now eligible to be assigned to the taxi squad, calling up temporary replacements for Patrick and Lindblom is much less of a hassle.

Another factor to consider is that the Flyers are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race, and after a disastrous March, it may be too little too late for a playoff push. As the season progresses, Vigneault and general manager Chuck Fletcher may want to give young defenders such as Yegor Zamula and Cam York, who just signed his entry-level contract, a brief look at the NHL level. The flexibility granted by having three defenders that have passed through waivers will make this a lot easier to do.

Cam York Flyers Draft
Cam York, Philadelphia Flyers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

While it may seem odd for a player who has arguably been the team’s second-best defenceman this season to be in the same spot as a 26-year-old rookie (Morin) and a defender that didn’t see NHL time at all in 2019-20 (Prosser), the choice to waive Ghost was ultimately an understandable one. The only other logical option would have been Erik Gustafsson, but a player like him with offensive upside and an expiring contract would have almost certainly have been snatched up by another team. His contract carries a $4.5M cap-hit for another two seasons, which made it unlikely that he would be claimed. In a flat cap league, not many teams are willing to take a chance on a player having a hot-and-cold season with a contract like his.

Salary Cap and Trade Implications

In addition to roster flexibility, assigning Ghost to the taxi squad also gives the Flyers a little bit more flexibility with the salary cap. With the way the team is playing, it seems unlikely that they’ll make a significant addition to improve the team before the trade deadline. But if they manage to turn things around, they now have a little bit more room to do so. The move frees up $1.075M in cap space, which may not seem like a significant amount at first, but it more than doubles the space that the Flyers previously had to work with.

Shayne Gostisbehere
Shayne Gostisbehere (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flyers will likely explore trade options for Gostisbehere, who has long been the focus of rumors. And while nobody wanted to bite when he was placed on waivers, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned that teams may be interested in bringing him in if the Flyers were to sweeten the pot or take back some salary in return (from ‘31 Thoughts: The Podcast – 02/04/21). It’s also possible that the flexibility to send him back and forth between the taxi squad and NHL roster may be appealing to a team looking to buy low. He has proven to be useful in the correct role and could serve as a bottom-four power-play specialist on a team looking to make a playoff push, and if things don’t work out, he can always be re-assigned to free up a roster spot.

Moving Forward

It might be too late for the Flyers to salvage their season as they trudge on into April, but hopefully, this decision to waive Ghost can serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the team. He has been around a long time and is by all accounts very well-liked in the locker room. A move like this shows that players will be held accountable for their shortcomings and may light a fire under other underachieving players, and under Gostisbehere himself. At the same time, there is a risk that this will have a negative effect on the locker room, preventing players from getting comfortable out of fear that making a mistake will result in them being scratched or waived.

While the decision to waive Gostisbehere was a controversial one, there are plenty of potential benefits for the Flyers to reap now that he has cleared. How he and his teammates will react to the move with their on-ice play remains to be seen.

Sign up for our regular 'Flyers Newsletter' for all the latest.