In the wake of Aaron Ekblad undergoing surgery this week after suffering a rather gruesome-looking injury on Sunday, the Florida Panthers are now in the market for a defenseman and Shayne Gostisbehere may well just fall into their laps.
Not for the first time this season we witnessed a huge name hit the waiver wire with the Philadelphia Flyers placing Gostisbehere on waivers on Tuesday, although it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given that the 27-year-old has been subject to trade speculation for a while now.
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After all, the puck-moving blueliner has seen his play fall somewhat off a cliff since putting up 65 points (13 G, 52 A) in 78 games in 2017-18, recording 37 points (9 G, 28 A) the following year and just 12 points (5 G, 7 A) in 42 contests in 2019-20.
Gostisbehere has registered five goals and six assists for 11 points in 25 games so far this season, needing just one more point to match his points total from last year, while he’s a -1 with 28 blocked shots, nine hits and 16 giveaways in 20:01 of average total ice time.
It has been clear for quite some time that the 78th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft would probably benefit from a change of scenery, while the Philadelphia Flyers also need to shake things up having gone 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, needing Overtime to beat the historically bad Buffalo Sabres on Monday and it is possible that they could miss the postseason given how loaded the East Division is.
Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher also needs some flexibility with the Trade Deadline rapidly approaching, with his team strongly linked to Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm, and it is likely that Philadelphia could be one of the busiest teams at the Deadline due to their current struggles.
Therefore, by simply placing Gostisbehere on waivers, the Flyers now have some options given that if the blueliner clears then he can either be sent down to the AHL or placed on their Taxi Squad, with the team then saving $1.075 million of pro-rated cap space each day that he isn’t on the roster.
Alternatively, there is every possibility that some team needing a final piece or two for a postseason run could identify Shayne Gostisbehere as the perfect fit for their team and decide to claim the player off waivers, which would remove his $4.5 million cap hit from the Flyers’ concerns and allow them to make a serious run at Ekholm, or indeed another player, at the Trade Deadline.
And this is where the Florida Panthers come into play…
Florida Panthers should absolutely consider claiming Shayne Gostisbehere off waivers
Everything has been going according to plan for the Florida Panthers so far in 2020-21, who have no doubt been one of the surprise teams in the entire National Hockey League this year with a sparkling 23-9-4 record, putting them right into contention in the Central Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While new General Manager Bill Zito did somewhat retool this roster during the offseason, giving Head Coach Joel Quenneville the pieces needed to make his team tougher to play against on a nightly basis, the Panthers were not expected to be this good and they could well be a real threat for a lot of teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs due to their tough underbelly and their offensive firepower.
However, the Panthers were dealt a major, major blow on Sunday when the cornerstone of both their franchise and their blueline in Aaron Ekblad went down with a horrific leg injury during Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars, with the Florida Alternate Captain being stretched off the ice and later undergoing surgery to “repair a fracture in his lower extremities.”
Now, in the grand scheme of things, a 12-week recovery period doesn’t sound that bad given how horrible the injury looked but, barring a miracle comeback or a deep, deep postseason run by the Panthers, Ekblad is all but done for the year and that is a massive blow for Florida given that the defenseman has averaged a monster 25:05 of total ice time this season in addition to recording 22 points (11 G, 11 A) in 35 games.
As a result, could Panthers GM Bill Zito be tempted to claim Shayne Gostisbehere off waivers by 12:00 p.m. ET today and help to fill some of the void left by Ekblad’s absence?
Granted, Ekblad is a special player so this wouldn’t be a complete like-for-like replacement and the Panthers do have Keith Yandle who can move the puck and chip in with offense, but Gostisbehere has proven that he can operate at a pretty high level as an offensive defenseman, and going to a new situation to play for a team on the rise under a three-time Stanley Cup winner in Joel Quenneville could be what Gostisbehere needs to really rediscover his mojo.
He has been playing much better this season and he could help, along with Yandle, to eat some of the monster minutes that Ekblad was logging in addition to providing an offensive threat from the point at both 5-on-5 and on the power play, where he has seven points (3 G, 4 A) this year.
Gostisbehere could be a nice third or fourth defenseman for the Panthers and he would fit their system well, while he’s capable of logging big minutes, he could man the second power play unit and he can move the puck well and greatly help with the transition game.
The one major caveat to all of this, however, is that Gostisbehere has a cap hit of $4.5 million on a contract that has two years remaining on it, which is a large chunk of change for any team to take on, especially in a flat cap world.
It is even more of a risk considering all of Shayne Gostisbehere’s recent struggles and, while he has been improved this season, he’s hardly playing at a consistent stellar level. With that in mind, the Florida Panthers may well decide to pass and instead target another defenseman via a trade.
If GM Bill Zito feels as though the environment that has been carefully cultivated in Florida under his watch could bring the very best out of Gostisbehere, though, then there is a way in which the Panthers could make this work.
For instance, they currently have $8,879,868 in cap space, according to CapFriendly, and that could rise to $13 million by the time we get to the Trade Deadline, so the Florida Panthers will have the means to claim Shayne Gostisbehere off waivers today as a short-term replacement for Aaron Ekblad if they so wish, leaving them with an asset under control for the next two years that they can either trade in the offseason should he boost his value down the stretch and in the postseason, or they can keep hold of the 27-year-old and try to help him get back to the peak of his powers and give themselves another high-powered weapon on the backend going forward.