The Flyers placed defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on waivers Tuesday, apparently trying to free cap space to make a major deal.
General manager Chuck Fletcher did not make himself immediately available to comment, but head coach Alain Vigneault said the club expects Gostisbehere to clear waivers.
Vigneault said putting Gostisbehere on waivers gives them more roster flexibility in case they want to put him on the taxi squad and bring up another defender if he is a better matchup against an opponent.
But it seems risky to put a player on waivers -- and losing him for nothing -- just to give you a better matchup. So potentially freeing up cap space for another move makes more sense.
Fletcher has been searching for a defenseman since the offseason, when Matt Niskanen surprisingly retired. Fletcher later signed offensive-minded Erik Gustafsson, a weak defender, and that move has not worked.
Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and Columbus’s David Savard (6-2, 233) are 30-year-old defensemen on the market who would help the Flyers. Ekholm, who is left-handed, has one year left on his deal ($3.75 million cap hit) after this season. Savard, a needed right-hander, can become a free agent after the season.
The Flyers are risking losing a player, Gostisbehere, who has had an elevator ride of a season -- going from top pairing to a healthy scratch, from the top pairing to third pairing, from third pairing to waivers.
Gostisbehere has a $4.5 million cap hit through the end of the 2022-23 season. The Flyers have $2.7 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. That number could grow to around $4.2 million at the April 12 trade deadline, but Fletcher might want to make a deal sooner.
If Gostisbehere is claimed, the Flyers would gain $4.5 million in cap space (prorated); if he goes to the Phantoms or the taxi squad, they would gain $1.075 million in cap space.
Gostisbehere practiced with the team Tuesday in Buffalo.
“It’s tough. You spend a lot of time with that guy. We got drafted together, so I’m pretty close with him,” Scott Laughton said. “You’ve just got to come to work every day. I thought Ghost did a good job of that today. I talked to him a little bit and I’ll probably talk to him more in the afternoon. It [stinks] to see that, but we all know it’s a business and I’ll leave it at that.”
“We handled it as a group,” goalie Brian Elliott said “We all love each other in the locker room and try to be supportive and push each other.”
Ekholm and Savard are perhaps the best defensemen on the trade market. Nashville’s Ryan Ellis, 30, a right-hander who is currently on the injured-reserve list, is also reportedly available. He is signed through the end of 2026-27 (annual cap hit: $6.25 million) and might fit nicely on the Flyers’ top pairing.
Buffalo’s Brandon Montour is among the right-handed defensemen available.
The Flyers had hoped Phil Myers would slide onto the top pairing alongside Ivan Provorov, but Myers has regressed this season. The Flyers have tried numerous defensemen next to Provorov: Myers, Gostisbehere, Justin Braun, and Travis Sanheim. None has come close to matching Niskanen.
As for Gostisbehere, it would not have been surprising if he returned to his South Florida roots. Late Tuesday night, however, a league source said the Florida Panthers did not have interest in the player known as Ghost.
The Panthers need a defenseman to replace minutes-eater Aaron Ekblad (11 goals, 22 points), who had surgery on what the team called a “fracture in his lower extremities.” He is expected to be out for 12 weeks.
That means he wouldn’t be able to return until late June at the earliest, provided the Panthers were still in the playoffs, which start in the second week of May.
Gostisbehere, who turns 28 on April 20, is not an all-around defenseman in Ekblad’s mold, but he can supply offense and run a power play.
But the Panthers are looking elsewhere.
If Gostisbehere is unclaimed by noon on Wednesday, he could stay with the Flyers, be placed on the taxi squad, or be sent to the Phantoms. He almost undoubtedly would remain with the big club.
Gostisbehere has had a decent bounce-back year after an injury-plagued 2019-20 season. Though he was benched for a few games because of his defensive shortcomings, he has five goals, 11 points, and a minus-1 rating in 25 games. In the last three games, he has been with Samuel Morin on the No. 3 pairing.
Gostisbehere had 17 goals in his rookie year in 2015-16, and 65 points in 2017-18.