VOORHEES, N.J. — In 2018-19, Shayne Gostisbehere played for two head coaches and two different assistant coaches that oversaw the Flyers' defensemen.
Who knows what the coaching staff will look like next season. A lot can change, just like it did this season when Dave Hakstol and Gord Murphy were fired at separate junctures and Scott Gordon and Rick Wilson were brought on board as replacements.
What's certain is that coaches and their philosophies are crucial to unfurling the best in Gostisbehere. His game is predicated around picking and choosing when to take risks offensively, which requires a freedom and trust from the coaching staff.
Gostisbehere did not have the year anyone expected. After putting up a career-high 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists), good for fourth best among NHL defensemen last season, the 25-year-old took a significant step back with 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists) and a minus-20 mark in 2018-19.
During Sunday's cleanout day at Flyers Skate Zone, Gostisbehere did not blame his production on coaches or being banged up following a puck to the knee in late October.
The Flyers started slow (again). When Hakstol was fired, the team was 12-15-4 and allowing 3.74 goals per game, tied for second most in the NHL. The power play was struggling, ranked third to last in the league at 12.9 percent. Gostisbehere started the season paired with Ivan Provorov. By season's end, his role had changed a bunch, even coming off the top power-play unit for a stretch in January.
That will happen when a season doesn't go as planned for an entire team.
Obviously power play is a big thing, it's a big part of my game, but 5-on-5 play as well, I led the team [with a minus-20] again — that's something I'm not proud of, but you're eating empty nets, it is what it is, it's part of the game. I can do a lot of things. I started the year with Provy and by the end I was on the third pair. For me, I've got to look in the mirror, have a good summer and really bear down and get things going.
I learned a lot about myself mentally, it was a grind this season. Finding that consistency, that sweet spot, it's going to be what I'm going to be searching for this summer. Just being a good teammate, a good guy, even when things aren't going your way, you keep pushing and hopefully you can find that consistency.
However, discovering ways to accentuate Gostisbehere's strengths are important. There's too much ability to not view him as a focal point. It's why general manager Chuck Fletcher's coaching decision will be vital to a player like Gostisbehere, who excels when playing freely and confidently in a position with two sides of the coin.
Did he have the freedom to take chances from start to finish in 2018-19?
"With Hak, a little more probably," Gostisbehere said. "With Rick coming in and different coaches and whatnot, they tweaked the style — not just me personally, but how he wants the defense to play. I wouldn't say they put handcuffs on me or anything, but they pulled the reins back quite a bit just in what they wanted us to do collectively as a D core."
Gostisbehere supported Gordon, who came on in an interim basis.
"It was cool, it was different. A little different than Hak, for sure, he talked a little more," Gostisbehere said of Gordon. "System-wise, when he comes in the room, it's all systems and different faceoff plays. He was a good coach to have, a different coach. He really comes up and he talks, he's a normal guy. Not saying Hak wasn't, but as you guys can tell, they're a little different. He was a great coach."
During a game, Gordon was often seen communicating 1-on-1 with players.
"Mostly it was positive with Gordo. I don't mind it. I mean, if I make a mistake and a coach comes up to me on the bench and tells me about the mistake, like, no s---, I just made the mistake, I know," Gostisbehere said with a smile. "I don't really like that, but who would? But sometimes you need that kick in the ass, so I think for us, Gordo was a little animated at times, but he just wanted you to be your best player."
Getting the best out of Gostisbehere will go a long way for the 2019-20 Flyers.
"I'm going to be a different guy next year," Gostisbehere said. "I'm going to be definitely different in the way that I take my approach to the game and I'm just going to be the best player I can be — whoever the coach is."
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