During a time of day where most people were enjoying their morning coffee, the Flyers and Capitals decided it would be appropriate to swap a couple of defensemen. At 8:44 AM, reporter Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) broke the news that a deal was in the works.
13 minutes later, it was official. The Flyers traded Radko Gudas to the Capitals for Matt Niskanen while holding on to 30% of Gudas’ salary.
The deal came as a surprise to fans on both sides of the spectrum. Gudas was arguably the best blueliner for the orange and black last season while Niskanen was viewed as a great locker room presence and a solid top-4 defenseman who simply had a rough year.
Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher made it abundantly clear that his goal was to acquire a top-4 veteran to help out the young guns. After all, a lot of weight was being put on 22-year-old Ivan Provorov’s shoulders and it certainly affected his play. For Capitals GM Brian McLellan, he saw this as an opportunity to keep a solid blue line while creating some extra cap space.
What are the Capitals Getting?
Contrary to popular belief, Gudas is an excellent defenseman. While he might not log as many minutes as Niskanen, he is more than capable of holding his own in the defensive zone and brings a physical style that will make the Capitals that much more intimidating.
One thing that very easy to notice after watching Gudas for four seasons with the Flyers was his ability to get pucks towards the net, almost always from the right point. During his tenure in Philadelphia, Gudas had a 51.9% Corsi For% despite starting in the defensive zone 54.3% of the time, but his good possession metrics could be inflated due to his high volume shooting, especially for a defensive-minded defenseman.
He is very low risk in the offensive zone and isn’t the best puck carrier, which often blundered scoring chances off the rush. While Gudas isn’t overly aggressive offensively, he takes a fair bit of risks in the neutral/defensive zone by trying to deliver crushing hits. This can be seen as a positive and a negative, as Gudas connects more often than he misses, but when he does miss, it’s a guaranteed odd-man rush.
The pros outweigh the cons when it comes to Gudas. I can certainly say that after watching him play for four years, he was a better player than I thought he was when originally acquired back in 2015. He brings a mean game to the ice and can cross the line, but when he is on his game, he can be an extremely effective defender.
What are the Flyers Getting?
The Flyers young blue line has been raved about for years. Provorov is seen as the future franchise defenseman and has already established himself as a top-pair guy, but had a miserable year at both ends of the ice. In his third NHL season, Provorov only registered 26 points and seven goals after putting up an NHL best 17 goals the year before. Although we shouldn’t expect that kind of goal scoring every year, it was a significant drop for a player that averaged 25 minutes a game.
Niskanen is a noted team player and a good guy in the locker room. He knows he isn’t the same player he used to be, but he understands his role and should bring much-needed stability to the back end. He is coming off a down season, but that may be due in large part to the minutes he played throughout the season as well as the Stanley Cup run he was on with the Capitals.
With this trade, the Flyers are hoping to have found a steady partner for the 22-year-old stud. Last season, he spent the bulk of his time with Travis Sanheim, which was a decent pair, but a very inexperienced and risky one. While they did look good at times, the pair struggled mightily, often being outshot, out-chanced, and subsequently, out-scored. But we did see flashes of brilliance from Sanheim, who exploded for nine goals and 35 points.
Niskanen is also noted for playing a pretty tough game, but not on the same level as Gudas.
He is very good at exiting the zone, an area the Flyers desperately needed to improve on and he also good at preventing zone entries. Alongside Provorov, that would be an excellent shutdown unit.
When comparing the players side by side, it’s not a bad trade for either club. The Flyers are getting a veteran top-4 defenseman that can help guide the youth and the Capitals are getting a very good defensive minded defenseman that can slide into their lineup and play exactly where he fits — as a #5 or #6.
Where the trade doesn’t make sense, especially for the Flyers, is money wise. Yes, they are filling a void, but they are taking on an older player, who costs $2.4 million more and they are eating 30% of Gudas’ salary ($1,005,000 per CapFriendly). In total, this is almost a 3.5M swing for Niskanen. That extra cap space will now give the Capitals, a division rival no less, room to make moves and potentially re-sign Carl Hagelin.
The winner of this deal, at least for now, would be the Washington Capitals. They keep a solid blue line while creating cap space by unloading a rather hefty contract with two more years left.
The Flyers should not feel like they got fleeced. After all, they still have $30 million in cap space to work with, but it arguably could have gone elsewhere.
Photos by Kate Frese