As we approach the last third of the 2019-20 NHL season, there is a great deal to look forward to. Philadelphia Flyers Fans are hopeful that their team can find success in the last 30 games and use that as a springboard into the playoffs. A few key players, who are currently missing from the lineup, are slated to make their returns to the ice, potentially in the next couple of games, which could prove crucial for the Flyers. Shayne Gostisbehere, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after being sidelined on January 8th, is one of those players. His return and subsequent play will be pivotal in how the rest of the season shapes out for the Flyers.
Shayne Gostisbehere was drafted by Philadelphia in the 3rd round (78th overall) of the 2012 NHL draft. The defenseman exploded with 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) in 64 games during his rookie season in 2015-16. He followed that up with a much quieter 39 points (7 goals, 32 assists) in 76 games during the 2016-17 campaign. Gostisbehere had his best offensive season to date in 2017-18 with 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists) and was a legitimate Norris Trophy contender, only to follow that up with another discouraging season (9 goals, 28 assists, 37 points). Just when you thought that the roller coaster might begin to ascend once more this season, the 26-year-old has been mediocre at best with just 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) before he was injured during the Flyers’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on January 7th.
What could be the source of this regression? How could such a talented young player with so much potential fall into such a lengthy rut? Simply analyzing his numbers does not provide the full story.
In November 2016, just months after his remarkable first season and finishing runner-up for the Calder Memorial Trophy, Gostisbehere was healthy scratched by then head coach Dave Hakstol. The Florida native would go on to find himself healthy scratched several times that season.
In 2019-20, with new head coach Alain Vigneault (who has not been afraid to demote veteran players), Gostisbehere started the season with a lot of promise, even playing the point man on the Flyers’ power play before running into more trouble and becoming a healthy scratch just 23 games in. He would go on to sit out three straight games in late November. After an up and down December and January, the blueliner became sidelined with the left knee injury and ensuing arthroscopic surgery.
Back in November of 2019, the defenseman indicated that his issues may at least partially have to do with a lack of confidence. In Bill Meltzer’s tweet shown above, Gostisbehere admitted, “Mentally, when you’re playing with a lot of crap in your mind and you’ve got a lot of confidence issues, it’s harder to make plays and adapt. …I’ve just got to realize how good of a player I am and that players like me don’t grow on trees. I’ve got to get back to that.”
Some can throw around phrases like “growing pains,” “wake-up call,” and “reset” all day long. However, I agree with Shayne. I truly believe it is a confidence issue.
For a player to start off a career in such an extraordinary fashion only to have some bad puck luck, get benched, recover with a Norris Trophy candidate-caliber season and follow that with some more uninspired play and bench time in 2019-20; it is a legitimate possibility. The mental side of the game is one of the most vital parts for any athlete. In this new decade, as mental health (including mental health in sports) does become more mainstream, we still overlook how much pressure these players are under. A professional hockey player’s responsibilities require them to play their absolute best without making mistakes. Ironically, they are not supposed be afraid to make mistakes, either. Make it your profession, throw in millions of dollars, some of the greatest competition in the world and a fanbase that is very passionate about its sports and you have yourself a slight possibility of having some confidence issues. Dare I even mention the increasing discussions about the upcoming trade deadline?
As we near his return at this very critical stage in the Flyers’ season, it becomes a little clearer why Shayne Gostisbehere is so pivotal. Gostisbehere is already sixth on the all-time points list for Flyers defensemen. His next point will be the 200th of his still young career. The Flyers need the star performance that we all know Shayne Gostisbehere is capable of. Hopefully, the time off has given Ghost exactly what he needs to get back on the road to confident play. How he performs in the coming weeks will determine so much for the season, his future and the future of the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
I am rooting for Shayne Gostisbehere.
Mandatory Credit – © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports