Radko Gudas

Flyers had been eyeing Matt Niskanen trade and it's clear why

Flyers had been eyeing Matt Niskanen trade and it's clear why

When the 2018-19 season arrived, everyone looked at Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov as the Flyers' top pair defensemen.

Much was going to be placed on their shoulders and understandably so. Gostisbehere was coming off a career year in which he scored 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists), fourth most among all NHL blueliners, while Provorov scored as many goals as any defenseman in the league with 17, ate up minutes and was a plus-17.

The two were expected to spearhead a growing youthfulness within the Flyers' D corps. They were so good that it was easy to forget how young they still were themselves. Gostisbehere entered the season at 25 years old and Provorov at 21. There was little wiggle room for if things didn't go as planned.

Who could Gostisbehere or Provorov turn to if they struggled? In fact, what would the Flyers do if their young pillars stumbled? The Flyers lacked alternatives and experience to answer those questions when reality hit and the team was allowing goals at an alarming clip.

"The experience the young guys got this year is critical," Chuck Fletcher said in April, "but I think that's a fair question: do we have enough experience in our back end?"

In his first offseason as Flyers general manager, Fletcher made it clear he wanted to add a veteran defenseman. Not just a guy that is older, but a player with a winning pedigree and qualities that can supplement the Flyers' young defense.

It's not a knock on Andrew MacDonald or Radko Gudas, but those two are not Matt Niskanen.

Fletcher acquired the 32-year-old defenseman Friday in exchange for Gudas. Niskanen won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Capitals and has played in 125 career postseason games. Over the past six seasons, his plus-91 is fifth best among all NHL defensemen, behind only Ryan McDonagh (plus-126), Zdeno Chara (plus-99), Victor Hedman (plus-97) and Ryan Ellis (plus-94). He plays big minutes and is a skilled and smart puck mover. As a result, his teams have prevented goals.

In 2018-19, the Flyers surrendered the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41.

Fletcher did not have ties to Gudas, who was acquired by former general manager Ron Hextall and signed a four-year, $13.4 million extension in June 2016. Fletcher was so keen on adding Niskanen that the Flyers are reportedly retaining some of Gudas' $3.35 million cap hit in 2019-20 on top of paying Niskanen's $5.75 million, which he's owed annually over the next two seasons (see story).

"[Fletcher] said I was a player they were looking at for a while now and he was excited to have me," Niskanen said Friday in a conference call.

The move makes the Flyers better immediately, which is Fletcher's goal. He has the resources to do so and is utilizing them. Good timing after Gostisbehere and Provorov went through mentally draining seasons.

"There have been times where I've tried a little too much from a personal standpoint, from the team standpoint, and trying to do everything I can to help the team win," Provorov said in April. "We're not perfect, none of us are perfect."

Niskanen will help them feel like they don't have to be perfect. He can influence the entire group of defensemen, which features plenty of youth outside of Gostisbehere and Provorov. Robert Hagg is 24, Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin are 23, and Philippe Myers is 22.

"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.

"I envision myself being a really good partner for one of these young studs. Trying to give them confidence to do the things that they do well, and I'll be right beside them. 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 hard 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."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Flyers trade Radko Gudas to Capitals for Matt Niskanen

Flyers trade Radko Gudas to Capitals for Matt Niskanen

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has already shown that he's a man of action.

Early Friday morning, he made his second trade in a matter of two weeks, sending defensemen Radko Gudas to the Capitals for defenseman Matt Niskanen.

Fletcher acquired soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Kevin Hayes last week (see story).

Gudas spent the past four seasons with the Flyers while Niskanen has been with Washington since the 2014-15 season. In 2019-20, the 29-year-old Gudas will be entering the final year of a four-year, $13.4 million contract signed under former general manager Ron Hextall. According to a report by The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun, the Flyers will retain 30 percent of Gudas' $3.35 million cap hit in 2019-20.

This season, Gudas won the Barry Ashbee Trophy for most outstanding Flyers defenseman as Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov endured down seasons. Gudas was a plus-6 and played smarter than he had in years past. He was suspended four times by the NHL's Department of Player Safety during his time with the Flyers.

Niskanen, 32, brings experience and a winning pedigree. He has averaged 22:31 ice time over the past six seasons in which he's compiled a plus-91 mark (see story). He is signed through the 2020-21 season with a cap hit of $5.75 million.

“We're very happy to have Matt join the Flyers," Fletcher said Friday in a release by the team. “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.”

Originally the 28th overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft by the Stars, Niskanen is a veteran of 12 seasons with the Stars, Penguins and Capitals. He played in 80 games last season and was a minus-3 with eight goals and 17 assists.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Samuel Morin recalled to Flyers, while Radko Gudas returns from 2-game suspension

Samuel Morin recalled to Flyers, while Radko Gudas returns from 2-game suspension

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers bolstered their blue line Monday and they didn’t have to complete a trade at the deadline to make it happen.

Defenseman Radko Gudas returned from a two-game suspension and 6-foot-7 Samuel Morin was recalled after playing two games with the Phantoms.

Gudas hasn’t played since performing a tomahawk chop over the helmet of Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov last Tuesday. Gudas was forced to miss Thursday’s game at Montreal and the Stadium Series game against Pittsburgh.

“I didn’t think [the two games] was unfair,” Gudas said. “It’s the league’s decision and I have a history. I barely had a hold of my stick and unfortunately I connected. It’s a fast game and I don’t really have an excuse for that. I didn’t think it was anything bad, just an accident. I explained that to the league, as well, and they gave me the two games.”

Gudas will be back in the lineup Tuesday against Buffalo and was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere during Monday’s practice. Morin practiced with his teammates but hasn’t been activated to the roster. He played two rehab games with the Phantoms and endured some cramping in his first game on Feb. 15.

“First period was awesome, but after that I was so tired and by the third period I couldn’t play anymore,” Morin said.

Morin’s second game came this past Friday against the Charlotte Checkers, a game in which he dropped the gloves with Checkers defenseman Josiah Didier.

“It was awesome,” Morin said. “I hadn’t dropped the gloves in a year and I was feeling good to get back at it. Obviously it was weird timing at the end of the game, but [Didier] was going hard at one of our best players. I was trying to defend him. That’s part of my job.”

It was Morin’s first game action since tearing his ACL in a playoff game last May.

At some point, interim head coach Scott Gordon will have to determine when to proceed with getting Morin and Philippe Myers into the Flyers' lineup. Both young defensemen are expected to be healthy scratches against the Sabres.

“The players are still looking at the playoffs. Whether we add a player or subtract a player, the goal hasn’t changed,” Gordon said. "It’s just a question of getting that experience here and where we’re at and what we do moving forward.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers