Defenseman Matt Niskanen has been a steady influence in his first season with the Philadelphia Flyers.
On one hand, Matt Niskanen undoubtedly had a winning pedigree and was still a very useful NHL player.
On the other, the Flyers dealt away Radko Gudas in the process, a player who was essentially their best defenseman last season and who was also younger and carried a smaller salary cap hit than Niskanen.
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Some thought that the trade was basically a wash, but since the Flyers were now paying more money to an older player, it made them the de facto losers.
Those people were wrong.
While Gudas has been fine for the Washington Capitals and has avoided dumb, suspension-worthy plays this year, Niskanen is providing excellent value in his first season with the Flyers. He’s done it in a way that many won’t notice, but his contributions this year have played a large part in the club’s success.
Logging an average of 21:53 per night so far this year, Niskanen is routinely tasked with taking care of opposing teams’ top offensive threats. Paired mostly with Ivan Provorov, the only Flyer who sees more ice time than him, Niskanen has afforded Provorov the opportunity to have his best overall season to date.
With a reliable partner like Niskanen, Provorov doesn’t have to shoulder the entire load in his own end while he’s on the ice, which had largely been the case in his career before this season. This, of course, also opens things up on the offensive end, where Provorov is enjoy a resurgent season.
As for Niskanen himself, he seems to be headed for a 40-point year, a mark that he’s hit just once in his first 12 NHL seasons to date. While it was reasonable to expect some kind of offensive output from him, the point production has definitely been an added bonus.
The Flyers are “on the hook” for one more year of Niskanen at $5.75 million next year. Looking at it objectively, it’s probably an overpayment for a guy who will be 34 next year and isn’t necessarily a star player. But the Flyers will gladly pay it for what Niskanen is giving them, both on the ice and off it.
When Niskanen took a puck to the face in the Flyers’ Black Friday game, it didn’t look good. But 15 stitches later, Niskanen returned to the game, saying afterwards that, “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
I don’t know, it looked pretty bad to me.
He basically proved himself to Philadelphia at that moment. It wasn’t quite Aaron Rowand-level, but at least Niskanen was able to stay in the lineup. He even played the next day in Montreal, which was an even bigger deal than just finishing the game after taking the puck to the face.
Talk about a beast.
I think we’re all happy with the Niskanen acquisition at this point. No disrespect to Radko, but he’s playing five fewer minutes per night in Washington than the Flyers are getting from Niskanen. You’d be kidding yourself to think that Gudas could help the Flyers the way that Niskanen has this year.
Players who can bring a winning culture with them because “they’ve been there before” are often vastly overrated in the sports world. But Matt Niskanen is proving the old adage true this season with the Orange and Black.