If general manager Chuck Fletcher and new head coach Alain Vigneault have big things planned for the Flyers this upcoming season, they needed a player who can stabilize their young defense.
So Friday morning’s trade, which brought veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen from the Washington Capitals in exchange for Radko Gudas, made sense.
Niskanen, 32, was a member of the 2017-18 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and should be a good veteran presence on a Flyer backline corps which might need a guiding hand.
The Capitals were willing to make the trade because they are trying to clear contract space.
Niskanen has two years left on his contract which will pay him $5.75 million each season while Gudas, 29, has only one year left at $2.345 million.
“We’re very happy to have Matt join the Flyers,” said Fletcher. “He is a veteran right-shot defenseman who has a track record of success as a Stanley Cup champion.
“Having played heavy minutes in all situations throughout his career, Matt will be a steadying influence to our talented and young group of defensemen.”
The Virginia, Minn. native is entering his 13th NHL season. He recorded eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points over 80 games for the Capitals last season.
As a member of Washington’s championship team, Niskanen scored seven goals and added 22 assists for 29 points in 68 games, while gathering a plus-24 rating. He added a goal and eight assists while appearing in all 24 of the Capitals’ playoff games.
Niskanen believes he can help out with the defense, which has up-and-coming talent such as Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Phil Myers and Sam Morin along with established players such as Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.
“I think they have two or three young studs that are offensively talented, gifted, they have good instincts, they move the puck well, assist in the offense,’’ Niskanen said in a conference phone call.
“I think at this point in my career, in talking with Chuck Fletcher yesterday, my job is going to be a good partner for someone. Ultimately it’s going to be up to the coaches to decide what my role is. But I envision myself being a really good partner for one of these young studs.’’
Niskanen has played on some powerful teams, including the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin. In Washington, he worked with a strong defense which included John Carlson. He knows what a winning locker room feels like. He hopes to be a leader with his new team.
“(I’ll be) trying to give them (young defensemen) confidence to do the things that they do well, and I’ll be right beside them,’’ Niskanen said. “I think I can help one of these guys, or maybe a couple of them at different points in the year, to keep getting better, do the things they do well, play a more rounded game, play some good minutes.
“I think I can fit in well with these young kids that can skate and move the puck. It’ll be good for our team. I think I’ll fit in well, I think I have that ability. It’s going to be hard like it always is to play well in the National Hockey League, but I’m excited about the challenge and the opportunity.’’
Niskanen’s career has included five seasons in Washington and parts of four seasons in both Dallas and Pittsburgh. He was drafted by Dallas in the first round (28th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and joined the Stars at the start of the 2007-08 season, averaging 20:30 per game as a rookie while picking up 26 points and a plus-22 rating to help Dallas reach the Western Conference Finals.
He has a pretty good first-hand scouting report on what he expects to work with on the Flyers.
“I’ve played against these guys, the core of them, for quite a while now in a rivalry situation, whether it be with Pittsburgh or Washington,’’ he said. “A couple playoff series. Their team has changed since I’ve been in the Metro division. Over the last few years they’ve gotten younger.
“I like the team. They have dangerous people, they’ve added young players with a lot of promise, hard to play against. I know they missed the playoffs last year, but I remember saying to a teammate, they should be doing better than they are. They have good people, dangerous players, talented forwards, a young group of ‘D’ that can really play, they’re just young, I think. They’re on the upswing. It was hard to play against the Flyers. Good organization, they play the game hard, they play to win. Lot of promise there. I’m excited about that.’’
Gudas appeared in 290 games over parts of four seasons with the Flyers, picking up 17 goals and 56 assists for 73 points. He was acquired by the Flyers from the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 2, 2015, along with a first- and third-round pick in the 2015 NHL draft, in exchange for defenseman Braydon Coburn.