Caps Trade Matt Niskanen to Philly

Early Friday morning, the Washington Capitals sent Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for defenseman Radko Gudas. According to multiple reports, the Flyers will retain 30 percent of Gudas’s cap hit for next season.

This is pretty clearly a cap move more than anything for the Caps. Niskanen carries a cap hit of $5.75 million for the next two seasons. Assuming the reports about salary retention are correct, Gudas will only cost the Caps about $2.35 million, freeing up a bunch of money to help them re-sign the many free agents from last year’s team. Moreover, Gudas is entering the final year of his contract, meaning they free even more space the in 2020-21 relative to Niskanen’s contract.

At 29, Gudas is three-plus years younger than Niskanen. He’s just about the same size at 6-foot, 204 lbs to Niskanen’s 6-1, 203. Gudas has 105 points in 416 NHL games, including 20 points and a +6 rating in 77 games last season. Niskanen notched 25 points and a -3 rating in 80 games in 2018-19.

I think the best way to think about Gudas is as a replacement for Brooks Orpik rather than for Niskanen, despite the one-for-one nature of this trade. Orpik is likely to retire this offseason, leaving a hole on the team’s third pairing. Gudas is a tough, physical presence who can replace Orpik’s minutes. As an added bonus, he’s a right shot, which means he’ll slot in better than the left shot Orpik did on a pair with either Christian Djoos or Jonas Siegenthaler, both lefties.

The writing has been on the wall for Niskanen since the trade deadline, when the Caps actually acquired their Niskanen replacement by trading for Nick Jensen, who they immediately signed to a four year deal. That means the Caps’ defense is likely to have John Carlson and Michal Kempny as the unchanged first pair, Dmitry Orlov paired with Jensen, and Djoos with Gudas on the third pair.

Gudas is a bit of a goon and has a history of dirty play. He’s currently classified as a repeat offender for purposes of NHL Player Safety Department decisions and has two suspensions in his career of more than five games, which is two more than any player should ever get. The Caps are surely hoping he can clean up his act.

I must say that my very first reaction to this trade was negative. I’ve never thought much of Gudas as a player and always found him dirty. But the longer I’ve thought about it, the more I like GM Brian MacLellan’s move here. Gudas is younger and not a huge risk for $2.3 million in cap space for one year, especially given the number of young defensemen the Caps can replace him with if he plays poorly. He has decent advanced stats, too, which helped turn around my personal impressions of him.

It’s sad to see Nisky go. He’s been a huge part of the Caps’ run of success ever since BMac signed him in free agency in 2014. The Washington Capitals do not win a Stanley Cup if Matt Niskanen doesn’t sign that deal and play as well as he has. We wish him all the best of luck in Philly and for the rest of his career. As with every single member of the legendary team that finally brought D.C. a Cup, he’ll always have a home in Caps lore.

-Tiger Bjornlund

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