Chuck Fletcher didn't wait long to make his next trade once the expansion draft roster freeze was lifted Thursday afternoon.
The Flyers dealt Shayne Gostisbehere to the Coyotes, along with a 2022 second-round pick and the 2022 seventh-round pick acquired in the Erik Gustafsson trade. In return, the Flyers will get the cap relief of $4.5 million this season and next, which is what was left on Gostisbehere's contract.
"This was a difficult decision but one we thought was necessary given the reality of the salary cap," Fletcher, the Flyers' general manager, said in a statement released by the team. "Shayne has been a quality player for this organization since the moment he arrived in Philadelphia and has been a part of many special moments in his seven seasons as a Flyer."
With the acquisition of Ryan Ellis and prospect Cam York in the wings, the likelihood of Gostisbehere being moved became greater, especially after the Flyers did not get cap relief in Wednesday night's expansion draft.
Following the trade of Gostisbehere, the Flyers now have a little under $14 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com. In actuality, that figure is smaller when factoring in the club's restricted free agents who are due new contracts. Carter Hart, Travis Sanheim and Connor Bunnaman are the the Flyers' notable RFAs.
The Flyers' critical offseason with a stagnant NHL salary cap is only picking up. The club has the entry draft Friday and Saturday, while free agency opens next Wednesday. The Flyers pick at 13th overall Friday. Their desire to shed Gostisbehere's cap hit very well could be a sign of more moves to come.
Gostisbehere had seen his name pop up in rumors over the past three NHL trade deadlines and previous two offseasons. In 2020-21, the 28-year-old rebounded from a hellish 2019-20 campaign that was marred by injuries and career lows in goals (five) and points (12). In 41 games this past season, the offensive-minded defenseman had arguably his best season since 2017-18. Gostisbehere played 19:56 minutes per game, led Flyers defensemen in goals with nine and recorded 20 points. His five power play goals were second most on the club, behind only James van Riemsdyk (10).
Despite the improvements, Gostisbehere had gone through the wringer in 2020-21. He missed the Flyers' first six games as he recovered from a bout with COVID-19, he saw three straight healthy scratches, was placed on waivers in March and picked up his first-ever suspension in May.
When Gostisbehere was waived, the Flyers believed he would clear and stay with the team. He did in fact clear waivers and the Flyers were likely confident he would based off of what they had gathered in trade talks: in a flat-cap world, teams are apprehensive to take on any money. It has become increasingly difficult to move players with bigger salaries/cap hits, hence why the Flyers had to include picks and get only cap relief on their side.
Gostisbehere, who was drafted by the Flyers and played six full seasons in Philadelphia, will marry his fiancee Gina Valentine in August. Among defensemen in Flyers history, Gostisbehere ranks fourth in goals with 60 and fifth in points with 219.
"Obviously I want to stay here, I don't know anything else except Philadelphia," Gostisbehere said in May at his end-of-the-season press conference. "I've built a nice life here with my fiancee and obviously I want to be here, but it's a business.
"It weighs on you, it's your life. I've been living here for almost seven years now; just the thought of going somewhere else, it's definitely weird. But I think the positive I'm taking from this season is I feel like I'm back in a sense that I'm making plays again, I've got my confidence and wherever I end up if I do go somewhere, it is what it is. And I've got to do what's in my control and that's playing hockey."
Gostisbehere, one to flash with his impressive mobility and big shot from the point, was the Calder Trophy runner-up in 2015-16 and had a career-high 65-point season in 2017-18. Injuries, particularly knee issues, hampered him in the later years of his Flyers career. A defenseman that fuels on confidence and his elusiveness, Gostisbehere underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in January 2020. He then had the same procedure done on his right knee during last summer prior to the return-to-play 24-team tournament.
"I wasn't here when he first broke in, I certainly remember watching the Flyers play and scouting him," Fletcher, who took over the Flyers in December 2018, said Thursday. "He had some tremendous seasons. Injuries certainly impacted him really since I started here. My first season when I came in, he wasn't 100 percent. Really, the next year, he wasn't 100 percent. This was the first year that he was better and trying to regain his timing and I think he played better."
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