Flyers

Flyers

In mid-February, Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas had few fans — both around the league and right here in Philadelphia.

There was the three-game suspension he received for a violent and unnecessary hit on Mika Zibanejad of the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 1. There were the questionable hits on Buffalo's David Catenacci, Montreal's Lucas Lessio and New Jersey's Bobby Farnham that did nothing to benefit the Flyers. He'd already earned two match penalties on the season and seemed well on his way to a third, which comes along with an automatic suspension.

The Department of Player Safety was watching him. In fact, it went out of its way to clip and review a number of his plays, and the Department of Player Safety does not forget.

And then, something changed.

Gudas reined his play in just a bit. The dirty hits stopped, and he even found a bit of a scoring touch. A coincidence? Perhaps. Or, more likely, something happened when he sat down with coach Dave Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall after the Catenacci hit to discuss his behavior.

“I don’t want to say [the meeting was a] turning point, but it was a tough stretch at the time, and I know I had to clean up some things,” Gudas said at the Flyers' locker clean-out day. “I haven’t gotten any [suspensions] after that so I think we did some good things.”

From the outside, it sure seems like something clicked in Gudas' head right around the time of the meeting. He went from a player making headlines for all the wrong reasons (plenty of reporters and bloggers believed he deserved to be scratched from the lineup) to a guy with an almost cult-like following among fans.

And now, the Flyers want the pending restricted free agent back for next year — and preferably beyond.

“We like Radko,” Hextall said earlier this week. “We’d like to keep him long term. We’ll see. Restricted free agents, not a lot of urgency there for us. I mean, would we like to get them done? Yes. And we’ll get them done at some point. Long term, yeah … more long term than short term.”

Gudas evolved into one of the steadier players on the Flyers' blue line, especially once he'd been moved into a pairing with Brandon Manning. The pair spent more time playing five-on-five hockey during the six-game playoff series against the Washington Capitals than any other Flyers defensemen — and the Flyers fared rather well at even strength.

Most Flyers fans, though, will remember Gudas for his two-goal, four-point effort against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 5. It was the kind of uncharacteristic and incredible performance that endears fans to a guy.

Gudas finished the season with just five goals and nine assists, but it's the other areas of his game the Flyers like. Teams need big, tough defensemen who can hit. Teams need steady, stay-at-home players who can complement more offensive-minded blue liners.

And that's why, despite what very well could be a crowded defense next season, the Flyers told him they want him back during his exit interview. Interestingly, during that same discussion, Gudas said, his physical play and early-season dangerous hits weren't a topic of discussion.

Something very different was: leadership.

“Next year is going to be my fifth year, so they’re going to want to see some leadership from the players as well,” he said. “I have to be better and I’m trying to get better as a person to help the team.”

And yes, moving forward, the 25-year-old knows he has to keep his physical play in check, but also knows other areas of his game will have to get better. That's what this summer will be for.

“I want improve everything,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement in every aspect of the game: positioning, shot, skill, everything. I don’t think there’s time for rest. If the body is sore, that’s something different. But when the offseason starts, you want to make sure you get in better [shape] than last season.”