The Ghost has left the building.
After years of speculation surrounding Shayne Gostisbehere’s status, the Flyers finally ended all the rumors on Thursday by trading the defenseman to Arizona.
For what, you ask?
Well, no players in return. In fact, general manager Chuck Fletcher had to toss in two draft picks (second- and seventh-rounders in 2022), just to get the Coyotes to pick up the tab on Gostisbehere’s $4.5-million salary cap hit for the final two years on his contract.
And to think that six years ago, Gostisbehere was runnerup for the Calder Trophy (NHL rookie of the year).
But it’s obvious Fletcher needs cap relief, especially with pending contracts coming for young stars such as restricted free agent goaltender Carter Hart and RFA defenseman Travis Sanheim.
Plus, Fletcher has 2019 first-round draft pick Cam York close to NHL-ready and this past week acquired backliner Ryan Ellis from Nashville in the Philippe Myers-Nolan Patrick deal.
Still, one can only wonder what might have been if the 28-year-old Gostisbehere had not suffered one debilitating knee injury after another.
In a different financial climate, Fletcher might have been able to hang on to Gostisbehere. But with a flat, $81.5-million cap, it just wasn’t possible.
Fletcher basically called around the entire NHL to work the best deal possible but potential takers were few and far between.
So why didn’t it work out here for Ghost?
“Injuries certainly impacted him,’’ Fletcher said during a media Zoom call. “My first season when I came in he wasn’t a hundred percent. This (2021) was the first year he was better, he tried to regain his timing and I think he was playing better.’’
The Pembroke Pines, Fla. native did post nine goals and 20 points in 41 games. Certainly nothing close to his 2015-16 freshman year (17 goals, 46 points) or 2017-18 (13 goals, 65 points), but respectable.
“I think the defense corps (on the Flyers) has probably improved,’’ Fletcher noted. “Some of the young players have emerged and gotten better. But certainly injuries impacted him and now we have the flat salary cap. You’ve seen some movement (of players) through expansion already. . .there’s not a lot of liquidity; I think you will see a lot of moving parts for various reasons. Good players going each way.’’
Fletcher had placed Gostisbehere on waivers last year and while there were no bites, that was an indication the player was not long for these parts.
It should be noted Gostisbehere was not on the protected list for the Seattle expansion draft, either.
The Kraken instead took promising left wing Carsen Twarynski.
“It’s a tough environment out there, it’s tough to move money,’’ Fletcher said. “I had many conversations with (Seattle GM) Ron Francis before. He made clear they wanted to keep their powder dry, cap space is so important. Shayne played really well for us, not just last year, he was a model citizen, he was at the Skate Zone today working out on his own. A true professional, a very good Flyer. I want to thank him for that.’’
Fletcher disclosed one NHL team even wanted the Flyers to throw Cam York into the deal to take Ghost’s contract off his hands.
The GM said Gostisbehere’s reaction to the news was not really one of surprise. With all the rumors over the past two years, and having to answer media questions about a possible trade, it could not have been exactly a shock.
“We just thanked each other,’’ Fletcher said. “I don’t know if it was unexpected. We’ve had a lot of conversations over the years when Shayne wasn’t playing as much, about finding him a better opportunity. He loved it here but I think Arizona is excited to get him. It sounds like he will have a better opportunity to have a bigger role there than potentially he would have had here.’’
Now it appears Fletcher can fill a couple more “holes’’ in his lineup. Obtaining another right-handed defenseman to complement Ellis and Justin Braun might be a starting point.
There’s also free agency starting Wednesday.
“We’re certainly in a better position (money-wise) for ’22 and ’23 with this move today,’’ Fletcher said. “We still have a few more holes to fill.’’
Fletcher also confirmed York’s progression may have played into this trade.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “Both York and (Egor) Zamula are young players that we hope over the next 12 months can push for an NHL roster spot. Certainly that influenced that (Ghost trade) decision.’’
Fletcher said he plans to open significant contract talks with Hart and his agent next week. . .The Flyers also are planning to make a decision on a backup goalie. Brian Elliot has served in that role the past couple seasons. . .Fletcher indicated he could fill some more potential holes both up front and on defense. “What we can get at what price will be a determining factor,’’ he said. “We have a lot of work to do.’’