VOORHEES, N.J. — Shayne Gostisbehere sat at his stall inside the locker room at the Philadelphia Flyers' Skate Zone facility after the team's first practice of the season last Friday.
He had a smile on his face. He looked relaxed and was talking with teammates. It was as if his troubles of the 2018-19 season had been swept away.
After winning the Barry Ashbee Award as the Flyers' top defenseman in the 2017-18 season, Gostisbehere, the former Union College hockey standout, struggled last season. Gostisbehere had a career year in 2017-18, collecting 13 goals and 52 assists. Last season, those numbers dropped to nine goals and 28 assists. Rumors surfaced at the end of the season that the Flyers were considering trading the 26-year-old Gostisbehere, who they selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft.
It was a tumultuous season for not only Gostisbehere, but the Flyers overall. Early in the season, general manager Ron Hextall was fired and replaced by Chuck Fletcher. Then, head coach Dave Hakstol was let go and replaced on an interim basis by Scott Gordon.
Shortly after the season, the Flyers hired Alain Vigneault, who guided the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers to Stanley Cup Final appearances, as its new head coach. Meanwhile, Gordon returned to his role leading the Flyers' AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
"It was a tough season for me personally, and it was a tough season for us all," said Gostisbehere, who led Union to the 2014 NCAA hockey title at Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers play. "Going through a lot of changes throughout the season, a new GM and a new coaching staff and different coaches coming in, it's tough, but a lot of us learned not only on the ice, but mentally off the ice.
"That's what I took away from it. It was, obviously, a down year," continued Gostisbehere, whose team starts its 2019-20 season Oct. 4 against Chicago. "But we have a blank page here. It's exciting. Good things are going to happen around here."
In interviews with the Flyers media after the season, Gostisbehere mentioned that he played most of last season with a knee injury that he suffered blocking a shot in an early-season game against the Colorado Avalanche. That affected his play not only defensively, but quarterbacking the Flyers' first-unit power play. His defensive plus/minus rating went from a +10 in 2017-18 to a -20 last year.
The power-play production also significantly dropped. After collecting seven goals and 26 assists on the power play in 2017-18, Gostisbehere had only four goals and 10 assists with the man advantage last season.
"I don't think he was completely healthy on the year," Fletcher said. "He had an issue with the knee that he seemed to battle with through a lot of the year. I believe we have him in a good place right now.
"He has an opportunity this year to come back and be the player he wants to be, with a new coaching staff and a new set of eyes."
Gostisbehere, who begins his sixth season in the Flyers organization and his fifth in the NHL, will be playing for his third coach with the team. He is looking forward to playing for Vigneault who begins his 17th season as an NHL head coach.
"He comes in here and gives us a blueprint of what our systems are going to be," Gostisbehere said. "Everyone's on the same page pretty early. No knock on the other coaches, [but Vigneault] has a strong game plan and he's looking to execute it."
Whatever happened between Gostisbehere and the previous regime doesn't matter to Vigneault.
"The beauty about being me right now is I wasn't here last year," Vigneault said. "I remember Shayne from my time in New York and him being a real tough defenseman to play against. Good on the breakouts, jumping up on the play at the right time. Being real effective on the [power] play. That's my recollection. I don't know what happened last year. Don't care."
Flyers captain Claude Giroux believes Gostisbehere will be better this season.
"We know what he can do," Giroux said. "Maybe he hasn't had a great year like his rookie year, but he's a great player. He plays the right way. He's got a good stick, and he wants to win. I'm not worried about Ghost."
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