Ex-Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who returned to Philly with the Coyotes, left a lasting impression with the late Ed Snider
Gostisbehere, who famously burst on the scene in 2015-16, returns to Philadelphia for the first time on Tuesday with winless Arizona.
Shayne Gostisbehere returned to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night with the Arizona Coyotes, and to fully appreciate the impact he made in Philadelphia during the 2015-16 season, you need to know the words once uttered by the late, great Ed Snider.
Snider, a Flyers co-founder, knew he was near death in the spring of 2016. From his bed in his California mansion, frail from a courageous battle with bladder cancer, he leaned toward his son, Jay.
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“I can’t believe,” he said, “I’m not going to see this kid’s career.”
Snider was talking about Gostisbehere, then a 22-year-old defenseman who was having a spectacular rookie season with the Flyers.
Gostisbehere famously burst onto the scene that season, setting an NHL record for a rookie defenseman with a 15-game point streak. After an injury to Mark Streit caused the Flyers to recall Gostisbehere from the AHL’s Phantoms on Nov. 14, 2015, he scored 17 goals — the most ever by a Philadelphia rookie defenseman — and collected 46 points in 64 games, sparking the team to a playoff spot.
“I’m living the dream,” he said at the time.
Some compared him to Bobby Orr because of the way he carried the puck from end to end.
All of which made his exit this past July so shocking. Not because he was traded, but because of the salary-cap-clearing deal’s makeup.
Five years after he was the rookie-of-the-year runner-up to Artemi Panarin, then with Chicago, and three years removed from a 65-point season, Gostisbehere, who was once among the most popular Flyers, was sent to Arizona.
The stunning part was that the Flyers had to give the Coyotes second- and seventh-round draft picks in 2022 to entice them to take him and his $4.5 million cap hit for two seasons. In “real” money, Gostisbehere is owed $3.25 million for each of those seasons.
Gostisbehere, 28, didn’t take the trade happily. An hour after it was made, he hung up on a reporter trying to get his reaction and to talk about his Flyers memories. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe he just needed time to digest the news.
When he finally decided to talk, he mentioned how injuries held him back during the previous three seasons, and “hampered my ability to play the way I play. Last year, I took the next step in leaving those injuries in the past.”
He said he was looking forward to a “fresh start” with the Coyotes.
On Tuesday night, he returned to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since the trade, and a video tribute celebrated some of his best moments with the Flyers. If he was initially miserable about heading west, well, it’s understandable. Arizona took an NHL-worst 0-8-1 record into the game and had been outscored by 25 goals in those nine contests.
Before the game, Gostisbehere smiled as he talked about the “different weather” in Arizona. “Obviously, being here for seven or eight years was awesome, but being somewhere else for the first time in my career is pretty cool.”
The Florida native said it was the first time he was in the Wells Fargo Center’s visiting locker room since he led tiny Union to the NCAA national title in 2014. “Definitely weird coming in this building on the other side,” he said.
Gostisbehere got married in the summer, and his wife, Gina, still works as a nurse at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and she visits Arizona when she can. The defenseman had dinner with several of his former teammates Monday, and also went to the SPCA with the Flyers’ Ivan Provorov. Provorov and his girlfriend will take over the charity work done by Gostisbehere and his wife with the SPCA.
“You get put into a community for so long and do anything to help,’ he said. “Dogs are a big part of my life and my wife’s life; we wanted to do anything we could to give back. It’s been awesome.”
Gostisbehere had no goals, a team-high five points, and a minus-5 rating in his first nine games in the desert. He still has great offensive ability, especially on the power play, and, despite his small stature, isn’t a major liability as a third-pairing defenseman. (With rebuilding Arizona, Gostisbehere is playing on the second pair alongside Anton Strålman.)
That’s why it seemed so odd — even in a flat-cap world — that the Flyers had to include draft picks to move the player they called Ghost, a player who seemed destined for stardom before injuries started to take their toll. He led Flyers defensemen with nine goals last season and collected 20 points while averaging 19 minutes, 56 seconds of ice time in 41 games.
No matter. Seattle and his former coach, Dave Hakstol, bypassed Gostisbehere in the expansion draft, and no team wanted to part with anything to acquire him. One team wanted prospect Cam York in exchange for taking Gostisbehere and his contract. Another team wanted a first-round draft pick to take him.
General manager Chuck Fletcher settled on the “best” deal and shipped Gostisbehere to Arizona.
Somewhere, Ed Snider was probably shaking his head, wondering how the “Ghost” magic had vanished.