Head coach Alain Vigneault mentioned the word "flexibility" numerous times.
He was discussing the reasoning behind the Flyers' unanticipated decision Tuesday to place Shayne Gostisbehere on waivers.
Vigneault chalked it up to the Flyers simply wanting to attain greater flexibility with their 23-man roster.
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"I go back to the 23-man roster and the flexibility that this permits us to do," Vigneault said Tuesday after the Flyers' practice in Buffalo, New York. "It permits us to play Shayne or it permits us to have him on the taxi squad and maybe have one or two more options up front or on D. Shayne, like the rest of our group, has had some consistency issues — he's not the only one. But this move just permits us to do exactly what I said, it gives us a little bit more flexibility with the personnel that we have here right now."
Contrary to the head coach's expected discreetness, the decision was about more than just that.
It's about flexibility in more ways than one.
General manager Chuck Fletcher said last week that he had "received very few calls" on the trade front. With teams across the NHL up against the stagnant cap, a team adding a player via trade requires cap space to fit the player on its roster.
"It’s been really quiet in terms of receiving calls," Fletcher said last Wednesday. "I’ve made many; I’ve been much more aggressive I think than a lot of people just looking at different options. There doesn’t seem to be many teams out there willing to take on dollars and term at this point in time."
If Fletcher is looking to make acquisitions at the April 12 trade deadline to improve his club's chances in the playoff race, he could be looking to create cap space. He will need to make room. And if the Flyers are having difficulty finding a trade partner in a deal that would include one of their current players to subtract dollars, one way of shedding cap would be to waive a player.
If Gostisbehere is claimed Wednesday at noon ET, the Flyers will lose the 27-year-old defenseman and his $4.5 million cap hit. If he goes unclaimed, the Flyers can place Gostisbehere on their taxi squad and free up $1.075 million in cap space until they add him back to the roster, if/when they decide to do so.
Here's an explanation from PuckPedia.com:
The taxi squad functions just like the minors for cap purposes. The first $1.075M cap hit for any player sent to the minors (or taxi) doesn't count against the cap; anything more than that does. So if Gostisbehere is sent to taxi, the Flyers save $1.075M of his cap hit, but the rest continues to count against their cap.
"I can't speak for the other teams," Vigneault said about the risk of losing Gostisbehere on waivers. "Maybe he is claimed, maybe he isn't. I will say, again, that the purpose of this, obviously Shayne — like the rest of our team, he's not the only one — has had some consistency issues. This does permit us to be flexible and we do believe he's going to clear waivers."
Placing Gostisbehere on waivers could mean Fletcher has something in the works or at least is preparing to make room for a trade acquisition. It's also possible the Flyers have an indication that Gostisbehere will clear waivers based off of the interest level for the puck-moving blueliner on the trade market. If it has dried up and teams are apprehensive about adding dollars, that may be why Vigneault and the Flyers believe Gostisbehere won't be claimed.
"If Shayne clears waivers, then he goes on the taxi squad and we'll have more flexibility as far as the 23-man roster," Vigneault said. "He can still be on the 23-man roster and play. It was just a matter of having a little bit more flexibility."
A train of thought for why the Flyers see Gostisbehere as expendable right now is the aforementioned cap relief and the fact that they have Erik Gustafsson, who has been a healthy scratch and plays a similar role to Gostisbehere. Gustafsson is on a one-year, $3 million deal and the Flyers will likely let him walk in the offseason (if he's not moved at the deadline). If Gostisbehere is lost on waivers or at the trade deadline, followed by Gustafsson's offseason departure, the Flyers would have $7.5 million more in cap space for an important offseason ahead.
Gostisbehere is a player who has grown accustomed to hearing his name pop up in rumors over the past two NHL trade deadlines and offseasons. After learning he was being placed on waivers Tuesday, Gostisbehere practiced, per usual, as the team prepared for its second game in Buffalo, New York. He'll find out Wednesday if he has played his last game as a Flyer. The Flyers face the Sabres later that night at KeyBank Center (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSP).
Gostisbehere, who is under contract for the next two seasons, has looked more like himself offensively through 25 games (five goals, six assists) after experiencing a tough 2019-20 campaign marred by knee injuries. Gostisbehere was selected by the Flyers in the third round of the 2012 draft. He stormed onto the scene in 2015-16 when he scored 17 goals as a rookie and put up a 15-game point streak, the longest ever by a Flyers rookie and first-year NHL defenseman. He delivered 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists) in 2017-18, the fourth most among NHL defensemen that season.
"It's tough," Scott Laughton said Tuesday after practice. "You spend a lot of time with that guy, we got drafted together, so I'm pretty close with him. You've just got to come to work every day and I thought Ghost did a good job of that today. Talked to him a little bit and I'll probably talk to him more here in the afternoon. I mean, yeah, it sucks to see that but we all know it's a business."
Gostisbehere's teammates will learn of his future Wednesday like everyone else. The Flyers have not met expectations thus far in 2020-21. They're 17-13-4 and entered Tuesday allowing the NHL's second-most goals per game at 3.56.
"When you get to this level, winning is expected and it's demanded," Brian Elliott said Tuesday. "Some moves and situations you don't understand quite all the aspects of it. ... We handled it as a group, we all love each other in that locker room. You try to be supportive, try to push each other and get better."
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