On March 30, 2021, Shayne Gostisbehere was waived by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Gostisbehere was in his fourth year of a six-year deal with an AAV of $4.5 million, a deal signed after emerging as one of the league's best offensive defensemen over his first two years in the NHL. But things quickly fell apart in Philadelphia and Gostisbehere found himself in the press box on many occasions. When his offensive wasn't thriving, his defensive game left a lot to be desired, and the Flyers needed to shed some cap space and move on.
Thankfully, the Arizona Coyotes had no intentions of being a competitive team and had the cap room to bring Gostisbehere and his big payday in. And, boy, has it paid off for all parties involved.
Through 34 games, "Ghost Bear", as he's known, has 23 points – good for a .68 points-per-game average. That's the best total since he had 64 points and a .82 PPG in 2017-18 and close to his rookie output when he scored an impressive 46 points in 64 games in 2015-16. And he's doing it on a Coyotes team with just an average of 2.18 goals-per-game – only Montreal is worse at 2.12. His 23 points ties Phil Kessel for second in scoring on Arizona, with Clayton Keller sitting first with 26 amidst trade rumors to many of the team's top players.
"I think a change of scenery, and that's no offense to his old team, and a fresh start can really help you sometimes," Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong said earlier this week. "From the moment the puck was dropped in training camp, Shayne was one of the first guys to kind of buy in to what we were trying to do."
Gostisbehere has stood up to the plate in Jakob Chychrun's injury-related absence. He played 25:57 against Toronto on Wednesday, 27:28 in a wild 8-7 shootout loss to San Jose and 26:39 against his former team on Dec. 12. Ghostisbehere has six points in eight games with Chychrun out while playing a No. 1 defensive role for the first time in years.
Is his play worthy of an all-star game appearance? He's made a strong case on a team with very few true candidates. But for the Coyotes, they've found someone capable of giving the team hope in a season where the only thing they're chasing is an early draft pick.
He's the only Coyote with at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 game action and leads his team's blueline in goals-for percentage of 46.00. For the most part, his defensive statistics are nothing to get overly thrilled about, but he plays for the only Western Conference team with fewer than 10 wins. What do you expect? Relative to the team around him, Gostisbehere has been tremendous.
Ghost Bear needed this type of rebound. After recording 65 points in 2017-18, he followed it up with totals of 37, 12 and 20 while struggling to remain an everyday contributor for the Flyers. The team had been rumored to be in the market to move him ever since 2018 with no luck. The Coyotes, though, wanted to take on some bad contracts, and Gostisbehere's was just good enough for them to actively take on with the confidence to keep him as an active member of the team's blueline. And that confidence has transferred over into Gostisbehere, who's easily playing some of the best hockey of his career.
In moderation, Gostisbehere can be a very serviceable NHL defenseman. Ideally, you've got a more well-rounded blueliner to make up for Gostisbehere's defensive lapses, such as Chychrun. But Chychrun is rumored to be on his way out, and Gostisbehere should be the No. 1 defenseman moving forward if it ends up happening. This could end up being a one-year thing where Gostisbehere ends up boosting his stock and falls again. Or, maybe, the offensive exploits we saw earlier in his career have returned and he can be a good second-pairing defenseman on a contender with a bit of cap space to boot.
Either way, it's great seeing the way he's found a new home in Arizona. For everything that's gone wrong for the Coyotes this year, the low-risk, high-reward pickup of Gostisbehere has been anything but a disaster.