Despite their affinity for Niskanen, Capitals improve by adding Gudas

Chris Russell
June 14, 2019 - 7:09 pm
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The Washington Capitals' reign as Stanley Cup Champions ended Wednesday night when the St. Louis Blues won their first championship.

With their season long over, ending in bitterly disappointing fashion, GM Brian MacLellan and the Caps began their roster reconstruction by trading veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for fellow blue-liner Radko Gudas.

Here's my spin on the deal, which based on early returns, is not being met favorably by Caps fans. On the surface, I like the deal. That's probably not something you are going to hear much of, because Niskanen helped reshape the culture under Barry Trotz and MacLellan, leaving hated rival Pittsburgh and putting the icing on the cake by hoisting Lord Stanley.

** Niskanen had two years remaining on his deal at $5.75 million, and will be 33 going on 34 by the time the contract is done. Gudas has only one year left at $3.35 million, is only 29 and, per the Washington Post, the Flyers are retaining 30 percent of Gudas' salary.

From a financial standpoint, it makes a deal you had to make even better.

**Let's be clear: Niskanen (323 points in 881 career games, 0.37 points per game) is a better offensive defenseman than Gudas overall (105 points in 416 career games, 0.25 points per game). But Gudas didn't get to play with elite talent like Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and others. Gudas had four goals and 16 assists in 77 games last year. Niskanen had 8 goals and 17 assists in 80 games in his final season in Washington.

**Gudas, however, was responsible defensively and overall at a +6 on the season, and played better after Philadelphia's coaching change, as did the Flyers. From the Capitals' press release, his 51.14 goals for percentage at five-on-five ranked first among Flyers defensemen and second on the team, behind only Claude Giroux among regular players.

**Like Niskanen, Gudas was a big part of the penalty kill in Philly, playing the second-most minutes.

**Since 2012-13, Gudas is second among NHL defensemen in hits with 1,484, so you know he brings grit and a heavier game, which, in some ways, the Caps were missing last year. Sure they have Wilson, but John Carlson, Nick Jensen, Christian Djoos and, to a lesser degree, Dmitry Orlov, do not play a very physical game.

Gudas figures to pair with Djoos as the third pair here in Washington, while Carlson can be paired with Orlov and Jonas Siegenthaler, and work with Jensen – which would give the Caps a nice left-right mix on each pairing.

**This trade and the economics of the deal allow the Caps to not only save money this year, but also next year, especially if they choose not to bring back Gudas. That's a decision for another day, but flexibility is huge.

It also allows the Caps to potentially re-sign Jakub Vrana and, less likely, Andre Burakovsky, both of whom are restricted free agents. Or Brett Connolly, who is unrestricted. Carl Hagelin is a possibility as well, especially if Connolly's price tag is way too high. Don't forget Backstrom and Braden Holtby's deals are up after this coming season.

**In sports, there's a thought that you should let a great player go one year early rather one year late. I think that's the case here. It's always worked for the Patriots, albeit in a different sport.

The Caps may have taken a short-term loss and by trading away a lot of really good feelings on Friday, but it says here they picked up someone they didn't have enough of last year, which cost them. It's going to cost them a lot less in other ways.

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