Anatomy of a Sophomore Slump

Shayne Gostisbehere had a pretty magical rookie season. Ghost assaulted the records for rookie and defensemen points streaks, not too mention all those OT goals he scored. At the end of the season, he finished with a phenomenal line of 46 points in 64 games. He even had a 100% faceoff win rate (1/1)! To put it simply, the year went perfectly for him.

Seeing this good fortune, and other stats such as a sky-high shooting percentage for a defenseman, the wiser among us saw that he was at high risk of a “sophomore slump,” even if many Flyers fans didn’t want to hear it.

Well, here we are near the end of a season where Gostisbehere’s numbers won’t look nearly so good. He’s currently at 34 points in 70 games, and is -20, clearly worst among all Philadelphia Flyers defensemen this season (he actually has 4 points in 4 games since the time I originally pulled that stat!). He has even been an occasional healthy scratch. Is the magic all gone?

It’s a bit more complicated than that. For one, his stats paint a contradictory picture.

ghost yty

In this chart, it’s obvious that his point production, both goals and assists, has gone off a cliff. At the same time, his overall possession (relative Corsi percentage) and relative chance creation (via corsica.hockey) have significantly improved. Much of the drop in production can be attributed to the fact that last year the Flyers shot 9.57% at 5v5 when he was on the ice. This year it’s 5.05% How much of that is any fault in his play this season?

The only step down in advanced stats is that he’s perhaps allowing a little more defensively, about which there is no convenient excuse.

One could also look at his work on the power play. He’s shooting the puck at about the same rate (30.84 shot attempts per 60 vs. 31.2), although he’s getting the puck on net a little less often (46% vs 37%). The real issue is that, of those shots that do get on net, last year they went in 10.71% of the time; this year it’s 4.08%. I don’t think it would be correct to conclude that his shot has gotten worse, or that his attempts are of lower quality. It’s just not going in for him this year.

Of course he might also be effected by his off-season surgery. It’s impossible to say if, or how much, his recovery is effecting him, but it’s yet another factor in his performance this year. He has been a little less aggressive in breaking up passes, and perhaps a little less explosive in 3v3 situations. It might be coaching, or it might be the injury. Most likely, one feeds of the other.

Overall you see a picture of a player facing a big drop in production, but the underlying numbers say some of that is out of his control. The more likely story is that he wasn’t as good as the shooting percentages propped him up to be last season, and he hasn’t been as bad this season as the shooting percentages are dragging him down this year.

I personally do not see much to worry about long term in Gostisbehere’s performance this season. Perhaps he is getting caught a little defensively too often, but he still can do an awful lot carrying and shooting the puck. Indeed, Sean Tierney ranked the top-60 NHL defensemen on Twitter by his statistical model the other day, and Ghost and Provorov were Flyers only representatives on that list. Clearly he’s still doing something right this year.

So long as Hakstol doesn’t try to clip Ghost’s offensive wings on account of his “sophomore slump,” Ghost’s sophomore season should just be a bump in the road of his career.

Photo Source: Len Redkoles, Getty Images

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