Shayne Gostisbehere is part of what Philadelphia Flyers fans and pundits call “the core four.” It refers to a group of four young defenders that represent the Flyers’ future on the blue line. With all due respect to Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, it seems that the future is now in Philadelphia.
Or at least it should be.
Despite Gostisbehere’s high level of play since being recalled in mid-November, the Flyers may be forced to demote him to the AHL once Mark Streit is activated off of long-term injured reserve. The team is expected to make this move next Sunday, according to Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
When that happens, the team would need to clear $855,000 in cap space to keep Gostisbehere in Philadelphia.
It was an injury to Streit that allowed “Ghost” to squeeze in some time at the NHL level in the first place, but no one was expecting 14 points in 18 games. This was supposed to be a let’s see what we have here injury recall. Instead, Gostisbehere has scored his way into the Calder Trophy discussion over the last month and change and has been called one of the most exciting young Flyers ever.
Which puts the organization in tight spot.
General manager Ron Hextall has not been shy about his desire to take the long road with his prospects. He doesn’t want to rush any individual to the NHL, and he certainly isn’t about to risk stunting a player’s growth just to fill a roster spot. The members of the Core Four will need to play their way through the system, eating monster minutes and playing in all situations in the AHL before cementing a spot on the Flyers roster.
That approach makes sense in general, but it would be foolish to demote Gostisbehere at this point. Especially when you consider how well the Flyers have played since his arrival. The team is 9-3-3 over their last 15 games, and that hot streak kicked off three games into the defender’s stint in Philadelphia. It’s also worth noting that Gostisbehere has scored three overtime goals in his 18 games so far.
Shayne Gostisbehere is the first rookie defenseman in NHL history to score three OT goals in a season.
— Flyers Nation (@FlyersNation) December 16, 2015
We can’t pin the turnaround on just one player, but this was a 2-7-5 squad at the end of October. The rebuild under Hextall seemed to truly be underway, and fans were bracing for a tough season. Now the Flyers are in the thick of the playoff hunt, sitting just two points outside of the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Gostisbehere has proven to be a dynamic defenseman at the NHL level, plain and simple. He’s been spectacular on the power play, he’s making great plays in his own zone and his skating/outlet passes have changed the way the Flyers play the game. Defenders that can do things like this don’t belong on buses in the AHL, no matter what kind of building philosophy is in place with the Hextall regime.
Shayne Gostisbehere spin-o-rama breakout pic.twitter.com/50THEv4MMD
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 12, 2015
The salary cap forces tough choices for all management teams. This is a great problem for the Flyers to have though. The team’s blue line has been a smorgasbord of has-beens and could-have-beens for the last few seasons, but fans knew that the Core Four would start to trickle in and make an impact eventually.
Maybe Hextall and Co. weren’t expecting Gostisbehere to light it up in December of 2015, but that is the hand that has been dealt. And frankly, it’s a hand they can’t afford to play wrong. Consider the repercussions if the Flyers demote the slick-skating defenseman, only to collapse down the standings again.
The negative impact would be twofold. Gostisbehere would lose any momentum that he’s built up while wearing the Flyers uniform. He’d likely say the right things to the press and take the demotion like a professional, but getting sent back to the minors at this point would be a setback for him.
Likewise for the Flyers who have excelled with Gostisbehere in the lineup. He clearly makes the players on the ice with him better, and he’s constantly dangerous with the puck. If Philadelphia needed to clear several million dollars to make room for the defender, then maybe a demotion would be defensible. However, we’re talking about less than $1 million in cap space.
It’s up to Hextall to figure out how to make it work within the confines of the salary cap, but he absolutely has to (and can) do so. It’s not like Gostisbehere is some fresh-faced 19-year-old. He’s 22 and has proven that he can fly in the NHL. The Flyers would be remiss if they willingly played any more games this season without him.