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Instant Analysis: Flyers Trade Gudas for Niskanen

June 14, 2019, 10:14 AM ET [572 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Chuck Fletcher has made the first significant trade of his tenure as Flyers general manager. On Friday morning, the team traded defenseman Radko Gudas to the Washington Capitals for defenseman Matt Niskanen. It is has been reported that the Flyers will retain 30 percent of Gudas' $3.35 million salary for 2019-20.

Gudas, who turned 29 on June 5, can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Niskanen, who will turn 33 on Dec. 6, has two seasons to go on his big free agent deal from the summer of 2014, when he left the Pittsburgh Penguins to join the Caps. The deal carries a $5.75 million cap hit. Niskanen has a partial no-trade clause in his contract.

Fletcher said in a statement, "We're very happy to have Matt join the Flyers. He is a veteran right-shot defenseman who has a track record of success as a Stanley Cup champion [with Washington in 2017-18. Having played heavy minutes in all situations throughout his career, Matt will be a steadying influence to our talented and young group of defensemen.”

Niskanen later spoke to the media via conference call.

"I was a little surprised. Not totally shocked but it caught me a little off guard. I knew once the NHL season was over, from now until the draft is typically when things happen. Not really shocked, a little surprised. I knew this is the time of year when these things can happen and I knew what kind of situation Washington was in, so I knew there was a possibility," Niskanen said.

There is some risk involved in the trade on the Flyers' side, apart from taking on steeper cap implications and a longer remaining term.

A few seasons ago, the Flyers probably could not have obtained Niskanen straight up for Gudas. This was back when Niskanen was a clear-cut 20-plus minute a night blueliner who could also put up 30 to 40 points a season. More recently, though, Niskanen has had some injury issues. Additionally, despite dressing in 80 regular season games this season and all seven games of Washington's abbreviated playoff run a year after winning the Cup, he is coming off a down year.

Conversely, Gudas is coming off the best -- most consistent, and most disciplined without losing his bread-and-butter physicality --season of his NHL career. Although not the Flyers "best" defenseman relative to some others on the team when they had their A-game going, Gudas' game-in and game-out consistency won him the Barry Ashbee Trophy this season.

If Niskanen stays healthy and returns to the previous form of his peak years from roughly 2012 to 2017 -- he isn't too old to do so -- he could be a valuable presence on top of the intangibles he adds as a veteran who has been through the playoff wars (125 playoff games to his credit on top of 881 regular season games). However, coming off some injury issues and a down season, it's not a slam-dunk upgrade. On the positive side, Niskanen is still an unquestionably good at getting the puck up ice and remains sound without the puck in breaking up developing plays.

"Am I a No. 1 guy right now? Probably not. But I think I can be a real good piece, a part of a really good pair that can play top four or top two minutes if I had to. We’ll see how I do and how the coaches see me and where I fit in. I see myself as a real good support piece for one of these young guys who’s really talented, and maybe together we can be a real formidable pair with some good balance of puck moving, defending well, using our legs, adding to the offense, all that good stuff. So I think I’ll be a good part of a real good pair depending on who they put me with, any of those young studs they have in Philly," Niskanen said.

In regards to Andrew MacDonald, the Flyers have not indicated whether they will exercise a buyout of the final year of his contract. With a numbers crunch on the blue line, the Flyers may alternatively opt to waive both MacDonald and fellow veteran David Schlemko (obtained in the Dale Weise trade with Montreal), assign them to the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and have both available as veteran depth callup options at the NHL level in case of injury.
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