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Shayne Gostisbehere didn’t need more motivation for the 2021-22 season than the Philadelphia Flyers provided.
“I definitely had a little chip on my shoulder,” the Coyotes defenseman said. “When you get traded for nothing and some picks are tagged along with it, that definitely crushes your soul a little bit.”
That’s what happened when the Flyers sent Gostisbehere, a 2022 second-round pick (Artyom Duda) and 2022 seventh-round pick (traded) to Arizona on July 22, 2021. The Coyotes sent the Flyers nothing in return, repeating the script they had written in the Andrew Ladd trade with the Islanders five days earlier. It was purely a cap dump — $4.5 million AAV for two more years — for Philadelphia, which wanted flexibility because management erroneously believed that the Flyers were anything close to a playoff team.
Gostisbehere had slipped to nine goals and 20 points in 41 games in a diminished role in Philadelphia the previous season. Many analysts believed that injuries had robbed him of that lethal first step. Instead, Gostisbehere worked his way onto the Coyotes’ top defensive pair, he quarterbacked the top power play unit in place of Jakob Chychrun, he had the second-best offensive output of his career with 14 goals and 51 points (tied for 15th among NHL defensemen) and he put the injury bug behind him and played all 82 games for the first time in his career.
Gostisbehere earned so much trust that coach André Tourigny and defense coach Phil Housley put him in a situation to which he was not accustomed; a role to which few analysts believed he was suited. A career-high (by a mile) 48.6 percent of Gostisbehere’s zone starts came in the defensive zone.
“Everybody knows he’s a good puck mover and he can make plays with the puck, but his compete level and his attention to detail every day is really good as well,” Tourigny said. “I did not know the person obviously because I had not coached him, but the other thing that I did not know is how well he defends. That’s not something that gets talked about with Ghost but he takes pride in it and the way he defends allows him to play in those situations.”
The Coyotes had scouted Gostisbehere enough to believe he was still capable of doing the things he had done in his first three to four seasons in Philadelphia. When asked if Gostisbehere had exceeded his expectations, GM Bill Armstrong shook his head.
“Not to me, he didn’t,” he said. “That’s who he is and I think he can do it again. He was dialed in from the get-go and he’s been the same way this year in camp.”
The Coyotes are counting on that sort of continuity, which creates an odd twist to Gostisbehere’s reality. Last summer, he was traded because the Flyers believed his game had diminished. If Gostisbehere turns in another season like last season, he will be moved at the trade deadline because his game has not diminished.
“It doesn’t make sense, but it does make sense,” Gostisbehere said, laughing. “Of course, I would love to stay here but business is business and I know exactly what’s going on here. The Coyotes are trying to build something here and it starts with these couple years, the foundation years to start that rebuild by getting picks and drafting well.
“This just goes back to doing what I can control. Getting traded is not in my control. I don’t have a no-movement clause, I don’t have anything in my contract so I just have to worry about going out and playing good hockey. I’ve been traded before so I know how it goes.”
It helps that Armstrong has also been transparent about his plans.
“I think they know and it’s also the unwritten rule where they also know they’re in a contract year,” Armstrong said. “Sometimes, players can be really tuned in at a different level and kind of elevate their game. Players know that at some point in time, they might get a look at a higher level with a team that’s pushing to go to the playoffs and they’ll get a chance to play in the playoffs.
“Riley Nash did it last year with Tampa Bay where he got a shot to go there and he played really, really well. Ilya Lyubushkin had a heck of a run in Toronto so it’s not that we don’t talk about it. We do talk about it, but at the same time, everybody’s focused on coming to the rink and trying to make this team the best team possible.”
If Gostisbehere has a gripe about his past, it’s that he hasn’t been able to sustain consistency. It may not be a fair gripe given the numbers that he put up in his first few seasons with the Flyers, but Gostisbehere set about changing his perceived shortcoming offseason. He switched trainers to strength and conditioning coach Ben Prentiss, who has been working with professional and Olympic hockey players for almost two decades. As many players do as they age, Gostisbehere, who turned 29 in April, felt that he had to rethink his entire offseason regimen.
“I got a lot stronger this summer, I know that for a fact,” said Gostisbehere, who logged a career-high 22:11 of average ice time last season. “When we had our exit meetings, Bear (Tourigny) told me I had to be in a lot better shape if I’m gonna play those minutes. That’s something I really worked hard on this summer. I changed my training, I changed where I live in the summer and I changed my trainer because Ben is world renowned and he’s trained a lot of guys in the past. We had a great group there this summer.”
Five months from now, Gostisbehere could be introducing himself to a new group of teammates in the midst of a playoff run that he admits he would relish — “everybody wants to win” — but with so many veteran faces having departed Arizona this offseason, Gostisbehere welcomes the idea of a leadership mantle, even if it is temporary.
“I think we were a little spoiled in the sense that we were a young team last year, but we had a group of older guys who were leaders on a team somewhere else and had a lot of success,” he said. “We were lucky to see how it should be done and now it’s our turn to get this team going and be those guys to speak up. Even though they’re your boys, sometimes you’ve gotta have those awkward conversations to get them going and whatnot.
“We’re trying to do something here; rebuild and instill a culture. We’re down to the foundation here, so it starts with these guys who are here today even though, one day when this thing’s up and running, we might not be here. I’m very thankful for my time here with the Coyotes and for the opportunity and the trust that they gave me when other teams would not. Whatever happens at the deadline happens. Business is business, but I plan to enjoy this season and do whatever I can for this team.”