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Is Matt Niskanen Really an Upgrade Over Radko Gudas?

A lot of fans didn’t know how to react to the news that right-handed defenseman Radko Gudas, quite possibly the Philadelphia Flyers’ top defender in 2018-19, was sent to the division rival Washington Capitals.

That’s because there was a sense of confusion as to why GM Chuck Fletcher decided to retain salary on Gudas’s final contract year, despite the fact that he’s far cheaper than the returning defenseman, Matt Niskanen. It’s because Gudas, 29 years old, was the most consistent blueliner for Philadelphia all season. And it’s also because Matt Niskanen, 32, is arguably a declining player with nearly $12 million left on his deal.

Niskanen brings highly lauded cup-winning experience to the team, and will be the only Flyer on the current roster with a ring. He admitted in a press conference that last seasons’ cup run left him physically and mentally drained at times during the following season.

Experience only gets a team so far, and the Flyers didn’t go and make a trade for the sake of having a guy who’s been there and done that.

Chuck Fletcher pointed out that while Gudas was a valuable member of the defense, they viewed him as a third-pairing guy at best. On the other hand, Niskanen is someone who’s played top minutes for championship caliber teams, and will do so as a Flyer in 2019.

Niskanen’s possession metrics over the previous three years have been on a steady decline, dropping from a 53.2 expected goals against in 2016, to a 67.4 just this season. His Corsi rating dropped from 53.4% to 47% in the same time frame.

Gudas’s numbers in the same categories are quite a lot better, with similar– if not more– defensive zone deployment.

However, Niskanen’s best years are better than Gudas’s best years. Philadelphia just needs him to turn back the clock about 4 seasons. Even so, just a month into his offseason, Niskanen is claiming to be in better condition than he was at any point last season.

It may be cause for concern, but Niskanen is a candidate for a bounce-back year. His puck-moving skills are well ahead of Radko Gudas’s, which bodes well for rush opportunities.

All that said, don’t be so quick to declare the trade a win for Philadelphia. Niskanen needs to prove that last year’s performance was somewhat of a rest, and round off his game for a fresh start. The Flyers need him and his $5.75M cap hit to improve.

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