Philadelphia Flyers offseason overhaul, part two: Acquiring Matt Niskanen

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 06: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 06, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MARCH 06: Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 06, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Flyers made a straight swap of defensemen with a division rival, so what does the move say about the team’s blueline going forward?

The Radko Gudas era came to an end in the City of Brotherly Love on Friday, as the Philadelphia Flyers sent him to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Matt Niskanen.

Right away, this seems like a move that came at a fairly hefty cost for the Flyers, but that I believe will turn out to be a helpful one for a club desperate to get back to some semblance of being relevant in this town.

Though any assessment of how the two players stack up against one another is a subjective one, Niskanen does seem to still be the better player at this point in time.

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But it is worth pointing out that he is a few years older than Gudas and has gone through the rigors of several hundred more NHL games, so that could turn out to be a factor as soon as this upcoming season.

In addition, it was widely acknowledged that Niskanen had a “down year” in 2018-19.

With this in mind, there certainly seems to be an element of risk for GM Chuck Fletcher and the Flyers taking on his $5.75 million salary for the next two years as well as eating 30 percent of Gudas’ salary for this coming season, the final one on his deal.

In speaking to a friend of mine about the trade, he was fairly outraged that the Flyers agreed to such a deal that would give salary cap help to a division rival.

Now, while I should point out that this friend of mine is negative about literally 100 percent of the moves the Flyers make, his concerns are not unfounded.

If the Capitals are going to have trouble re-signing their own players, why help them out by relieving them of a high-dollar player for two years while also footing the bill for a decent enough replacement?

For Fletcher and the Flyers, this likely all comes down to Niskanen’s experience and pedigree, as well as the team’s views on its remaining defensemen.

First, Niskanen is a right-handed shot on defense, something highly coveted due their relative sparsity in the league. So the Flyers do not lose any ground in dealing Gudas, who of course is another righty shot.

If Niskanen were left-handed, this trade likely doesn’t happen.

Secondly, the Flyers probably see Niskanen as close to an ideal fit on a pairing with either Ivan Provorov or Travis Sanheim. He’s a Stanley Cup champion who can mentor younger players while also providing competent two-way play on a pairing that will log over 20 minutes a night.

Maybe Niskanen skates mostly with Sanheim, but then pairs with Provorov as the team’s shutdown pair when the team holds a late lead.

Perhaps he also becomes the first right-handed defenseman that can provide the team with adequate power play minutes since, I don’t even know, Eric Desjardins?

As for Gudas, his contributions will be missed, especially the physicality he brought to the team. Part of me is breathing a sigh of relief, however, because of the constant threat of a long suspension hanging over Gudas’ head due to his status as a “repeat offender.”

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He’s fallen in line for a while now, but you never know if or when he’ll be part of another incident potentially worthy of a suspension.

Trading Gudas also hints to me that the team sees the 6’5″ Philippe Myers as ready to take on the responsibility of being the Flyers biggest physical deterrent on defense. Let’s pray that he’s up to the challenge, or the absence of Gudas will be felt severely.

Gudas was voted as the winner of the Barry Ashbee Trophy last season as the team’s best defenseman, but I read that as more of an indictment of the lackluster and often subpar play of both Provorov and Shayne Gostisbhere for long stretches of the season.

The bottom line is that they both have to be better, or the Gudas-for-Niskanen swap won’t matter in the least.

It remains to be seen if Fletcher now envisions the Flyers blue line as a completed task. Maybe he has his eye on a free agent. Maybe he even ships out Gostisbehere for help elsewhere, as time will tell.

Whether you agree if this was a good move or not from the Flyers’ perspective, I find myself at least somewhat encouraged that they are taking steps to get better.

Philadelphia isn’t trying to fool themselves into thinking that a team coming off such a dud of a season is good enough to jump into contention next year without some changes, so here’s to hoping this all works out for the best.