Flyers and Capitals Swap Defenseman Radko Gudas and Matt Niskanen
For already the second time in this offseason, it's trade time! At least this deal guarantees we're actually getting someone.
So far, Chuck Fletcher has made six trades as general manager of the Flyers. He dealt Jordan Weal to Arizona, Taylor Leier to Buffalo, and Dale Weise to Montreal, the hockey equivalent of moving deck chairs - it looks like you're doing something, and you are, but it's not going to make a big difference. The Wayne Simmonds deal shook up the core, but it was a long time coming considering the Flyers early struggles and Simmonds' declining numbers and pending UFA status.
His last trade, acquiring Kevin Hayes' rights earlier in the month, could classify as Fletcher's first unique, big move. However, Hayes has still yet to sign with the Flyers, although he was reportedly impressed with Philadelphia after visiting there this week. But on Friday morning, Fletcher officially made his first major mark on the Flyers roster, trading Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Matt Niskanen.
Let's start with the basics here. Both Gudas and Niskanen are right-handed defenseman. Gudas is 29; Niskanen is 32. Radko makes $3.35 million this year, setting up unrestricted free agency next summer. However, the Flyers retained $1.005 million (30%) of Radko's deal. Niskanen is under contract for the next two years at a cap-hit of $5.75 million to go along with a 10-team no-trade clause.
There are a lot of questions surrounding this move. In terms of term and dollars, this move doesn't make much sense. Niskanen is 32 years old and showed signs of decline last year, putting up his lowest point-per-game total since the 2011-12 campaign. His advanced stats also took a dip, as Niskanen did not drive play relative to teammates (47.47% Corsi For, an average of 2.62% less than teammates). For those unfamiliar with Corsi, that means that of all the shots that happened when Niskanen was on the ice, only 47.47% belonged to the Capitals. The rest of the Capitals averaged a 50.09% Corsi For.
The Flyers are taking a bet that Niskanen's 2018-19 was a blip on the radar rather than a sign of things to come. His Corsi and Expected Goals For were both over 50% (which is considered average) and higher than his average teammate each of the last two seasons. Niskanen also had a string of four straight 30+ point seasons from 2013-2017, and would've hit the mark in the 2017-18 season had he not missed 14 games due to injury (he had 29 points that year, an average of 35 points in 82 games).
However, at 32 years old, there's a decent chance that father time is starting to catch up to Niskanen. He could bounce back and provide stability to the Flyers top-four on the right side. It's been a long time since the Flyers have had a top notch right-handed defenseman, and while Niskanen isn't that, he is still a solid player. He will help the Flyers breakout improve and has better puck skills than Gudas. Niskanen also brings a lot of experience to the table, entering his 13th season, two removed from winning the Cup with Washington.
This trade may have more implications than the on-ice product. For starters, the Flyers added nearly $3.5 million in salary, giving Fletcher just a hair over $30 million to sign RFAs Konecny, Provorov, Sanheim, Laughton, and Hartman, not to mention Kevin Hayes, and any other potential upgrades Fletcher has in mind. Looking ahead, Niskanen's contract expires after the 2020-21 season. Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom will need new deals next summer, but Niskanen will not require automatic protection in the Seattle expansion draft, because he will be a pending UFA, rendering his modified NTC useless.
On the surface, this is not a bad trade. It is not a good trade, either. Niskanen has a higher ceiling than Gudas, who was a physical, advanced analytics darling on the Flyers second and third pairs (but never higher in the lineup than a number four) for four seasons. Originally acquired as seemingly a throw-in as part of the Braydon Coburn trade, Gudas defied most of our expectations and became a quality defenseman, albeit one who still crosses the line a bit too much with his physical play.
Acquiring Niskanen, though it costs the Flyers Gudas and some precious cap space, isn't too far off what I was suggesting the Flyers do with pending UFA blueliners Alex Edler and Anton Stralman. Both are veterans with solid track records, but are starting to get up there in age. The only major difference is Stralman seemed to fall off for the first time last year, whereas Edler had been in years prior only to bounce back big time in the 2018-19 campaign.
What I suggested the Flyers do with both is take a look to see if they are still quality NHL defenseman that could handle a top-four role, or if father time was going to hit them hard. If the former was true, either could have been a perfect candidate for Philadelphia. The same principle holds true for Niskanen. It's a gamble by Fletcher, but if he's right, Niskanen could be a solid upgrade to a Flyers defensive core desperately in need of one.