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Will the Capitals cause Pittsburgh to overreact again?

June 15, 2019, 9:58 AM ET [86 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Trades between division rivals isn’t the norm so when one gets made it is an interesting thing. A day after the Stanley Cup was awarded the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers came together to swap right handed defensemen.

On the surface you might be wondering what the Capitals are doing, but I think it makes a lot of sense for them to make this trade. Radko Gudas is the Matt Cooke-lite version of defenseman. Most people know his name because of his dirty play. However, much like Cooke he was Gudas a very capable player who can actually play when not being an idiot.

I’ve always appreciated Matt Niskanen’s game over the years. He was really good with the Penguins and had a number of good years in Washington. You could argue Matt Niskanen is the #1 reason people were hyped about Olli Maatta in the first place. Niskanen was Maatta’s partner in his rookie season and the pairing was excellent with sheltered bottom pairing minutes. Injuries clouded the following years for Maatta, but he’s never been as good as he was that year with Niskanen. The issue with Niskanen now is his play is slipping and the Capitals were on the hook for two more years at 5.75M. What they’ve done in this trade is move Niskanen’s contract/term and acquire a player who is more than capable of providing value while cheaper and on an expiring contract. The expiring contract part is important because Nicklas Backstrom is a UFA after this season.

Here’s how 2018-19 looked for each player

Not only are Gudas’ numbers better than Niskanen, but his playing situation wasn’t nearly as good as Niskanen. Gudas played most of his minutes with Robert Hagg and on a lesser Flyers team while Niskanen played predominately with Dmitri Orlov on a better Capitals team. It seems like Washington wasn’t willing to let that pairing play out another year after investing heavily in Orlov. I can’t say I blame them.

So how does this specifically impact the Penguins? I think given who Pittsburgh’s general manager is it could alter the way the Penguins target players this offseason. Tom Wilson bought prime real estate in Jim Rutherford’s head and caused the Penguins to totally alter their mantra and direction as a team a few years ago. The Ryan Reaves trade kicked things off and Pittsburgh hasn’t committed to speed and skill since. Radko Gudas joining Tom Wilson and the Capitals combined with the narrative surrounding the Stanley Cup Playoffs that“big boy” hockey is back might be a toxic combo for how the Penguins proceed

It’s tough to predict the Penguins moves at the moment until we know what positional player is being moved for cap space, but I wouldn’t rule out that cap space being used on Michael Ferland who is a “big body” and has been tied to the Penguins before. When Rutherford gets attached to a player he will usually keep tabs on them and circle back at some point. That was the case with Derick Brassard. With Ferland being a UFA and the team looking to move out cap space it isn’t hard to imagine the Penguins overreacting to the Capitals getting Gudas and going the size and “hard to play against” route again. It would be misguided, but much of the last few seasons has been exactly that.

Thanks for reading!
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