At some point, the Buffalo Sabres will win a game. And supporters of the losing team will be crushed.
On Monday, Philadelphia Flyers fans went through two periods of torture as the Sabres built a 3-0 lead over their squad. Then, the veterans came through. Kevin Hayes got the comeback rolling at the 1:50 mark of the third. Claude Giroux followed with his ninth of the year, midway through, and with 1:29 left in regulation and the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, Sean Couturier tied the game with his 10th of the season.
Early in overtime, Giroux pressured Rasmus Dahlin into coughing up the puck along the boards, then Travis Konecny swooped in to set up a two-on-one, finished beautifully by the soft hands of Ivan Provorov.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) March 30, 2021
The Sabres picked up their first point since their shootout loss to Philadelphia back on March 4. But their winless streak now stretches to 18 games. And the Flyers can breathe a sigh of relief as they celebrate their first back-to-back wins since late February.
At that time, they beat the Rangers once, then Buffalo twice. They’ll try to replicate that sequence and hand the Sabres their 19th-straight loss at KeyBank Center on Wednesday.
Gostisbehere on Waivers
Despite the win, the general manager made a surprise move on Tuesday morning, putting defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on waivers.
Drafted by the Flyers in the third round back in 2012, the offensive-minded defenseman won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championship and became an NCAA star with Union College. In as a junior in 2014, he was named the MVP of the Frozen Four Tournament as Union took home the trophy.
Three days later, he signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers. He finished out his season playing two games with the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms.
Across the AHL and NHL, Gostisbehere was limited to just seven games in the 2014-15 season. The next year, he made an impressive jump to the NHL, finishing with 17 goals and 46 points in 64 games. He finished in the top 10 in the NHL in points per game by a defenseman and was named runner-up to Artemi Panarin for the 2016 Calder Trophy, as the league’s top-scoring rookie defenseman.
Thinking they’d found their long-term power-play point man, the Flyers signed Gostisbehere to a six-year deal during the summer of 2017. The annual cap hit of $4.5 million was expected to offer good value over the life of the contract. It delivered in a bit way in its first year when Gostisbehere finished fourth in scoring among defensemen with 65 points, including a league-leading 33 power-play points.
Performance Below Expectations
But that number dropped to 37 points in 2018-19, when Ron Hextall was fired in November and the Flyers stumbled to a sixth-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. Last season, injuries became an issue, leading to knee surgery in January of 2020. Gostisbehere returned to action a week before the season was paused due to Covid-19. He played in just five of Philadelphia’s 16 playoff games in the Toronto bubble, recoding two assists.
This season, Gostisbehere skated well in training camp before being sidelined after testing positive for Covid-19. He missed the Flyers’ first six games and subsequently has put up five goals and 11 points in 25 games. In mid-March, Alain Vigneault scratched him for three games after he’d been a combined minus-eight in his previous three outings.
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What’s The Plan?
After practice on Tuesday, Vigneault said that he expects Gostisbehere will not be claimed by another team. The waiver wire has been used plenty this season. With the exception of third-string goalies, claims have been rare.
If Gostisbehere does clear on Wednesday, he can be assigned to the taxi squad or to the AHL. That would result in salary-cap savings of $1.025 million for the Flyers.
Could there be more going on? Maybe.
As an example — last Thursday, the Ottawa Senators placed defenseman Christian Wolanin on waivers. He cleared on Friday and played one game for the AHL Belleville Senators on Saturday. On Monday, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, in exchange for depth forward Mike Amadio. He had gone through the waiver process a week earlier.
By handling waivers before the trade was completed, both teams were guaranteed to receive the player they sought, without the risk of waivers after the deal was completed. That could be what’s happening with Gostisbehere.
Last week, Fletcher admitted that he wanted to try to improve the chemistry on his blue line.
“I think the makeup of our group probably is not right, I think that’s a fair comment,” he said. “I think our back end, like the rest of our team, needs to get better.”
Fletcher may have a tentative deal in place. A trade partner could want the flexibility to put Gostisbehere on the taxi squad or into the minors — and want to shed a contract of its own, rather than plucking a $4.5 million cap hit off the waiver wire. Meanwhile, Fletcher would be taking the first step in tweaking his team chemistry.
If Gostisbehere does clear, that’ll be something to watch between now and April 12.