THE EAGLES and Sixers take most of the heat in this town for rosters weighed down by highly valued unproductivity, and for good reason. The Sixers have stockpiled big men while trading away guys who might be able to pass it to them. The Eagles have stockpiled running backs while forgetting to add some fresh legs to block for them, and have such continued issues at linebacker that they would probably welcome a player like Jeremiah Trotter, or even Trotter himself should he decide to unretire this week.
OK, slight exaggeration, made to underline how continually frustrating it is to watch shortsighted decisions from the past play out in the present, and hogtie the future.
Which brings us to the plight of defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who in less than a month of NHL play has re-energized the Flyers and their fans, and reminded us what a special player Claude Giroux can be when he has even one soulmate to play with. Watching the two of them communicate with a nod, a quick conversation, watching them move into open spots as if they have been playing together for years, not weeks, is to watch that hard-to-define but easy-to-observe concept of hockey IQ.
And in less than a month from now, the rookie may be in Allentown reminding us what happens when that soulmate isn't there.
More on that later.
"We're just trying to cause confusion out there,'' Gostisbehere said after the Flyers rallied from a goalie-infused early mess to rescue a point in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. "He'll look at me and go like that and it means a roll or some movement...He's such a dynamic player. He makes something happen every shift.''
The same could be said about Gostsibehere, still just 22, who played 24 shifts, logged 19:15 and - in a rarity - did not appear on the scoresheet. It snapped a three-game point streak.
He did, however, play all four minutes of their two power plays, fired 10 shots, none that found the net but many that created the desired confusion. In 12 games since being called up on Nov.14, Gostisbehere has four goals and four assists, including those two early overtime winners on that trademark one-timer of his.
He was also on the ice for the third-period tying goal Tuesday, the first to congratulate Giroux for his blistering shot from above the right circle. It made him plus-6 for the season, a nice indicator that his defensive tutelage is catching up with that wonderfully offensive mind of his.
"He has his head up pretty much the whole game,'' Giroux said. "And you know when you give him the puck you're going to get it back. It's really fun to play with him.''
Now, here's the problem. Gostisbehere joined the Flyers after Mark Streit went on the long-term injured list with what was then described as a pubic plate detachment. (Just saying, typing or even thinking those words is still enough to put you on a long-term injury list, so I promise not to do it again.)
Anyway, Streit is due to come back in about three weeks, and at that point the Flyers once again face some tough choices because of salary-cap constraints. Choices forged by bad contracts issued in their past that continue to short-circuit their present and even threaten to hogtie their future.
Although he is 37 and counts $5.25 million against the cap this season and next, Streit may be, at present, the Flyers' most tradable defenseman. He is also, unfortunately, their best defenseman and one of their bona-fide team leaders, his age, experience and work ethic respected by peers and the team's younger members.
As the Sixers are learning painfully, having a solid veteran around has immeasurable value, even via Sam Hinkie's extensive metrics. Add in that Streit plays the same position that the Flyers' most anticipated prospects play, and it's clear: Of all the defensemen on this roster, Streit is the one this team should hold onto during the imminent transition.
It would be great to place the lockers of Streit and Gostisbehere next to each other, not have one replace the other in the lineup. But unless another defenseman goes down long term or the Flyers are somehow able to convince Vincent Lecavalier that his aching back should be rested until, say, June, their options appear extremely limited.
And time is getting short.
Gostisbehere has said repeatedly that he is not thinking about that day. And really, neither should we. Because as we have seen so often in this game, a lot can happen in three weeks.
Three weeks ago, Shayne Gostisbehere was an injury replacement. Now he is a budding star. Three weeks from now, he might be the leading NHL rookie-of-the year candidate.
Or a shoo-in for AHL MVP.
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