It’s hard to imagine these two things happening within hours of one another are a coincidence, but on Monday, it was reported that Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen informed the team that he would be retiring, shortly before news came down that the team had reached a two-year extension with fellow veteran blue-liner Justin Braun.
As first reported by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Niskanen, 33, has played his last game in the NHL after spending his final season with the Orange and Black.
It’s a big loss for Philly, who turned to Niskanen’s veteran presence to help in the development of their young defenseman like Phil Myers, Travis Sanheim, and even Ivan Provorov, who is ahead of the other two in terms of his development but can still use the guiding voice of a more experienced player from time to time. They’re also losing a defenseman who was one of the team’s best penalty killers during his time here and was instrumental in the team’s mid-season turnaround this past year.
That being said, Niskanen, who recorded 33 points and was a plus-15 for the Flyers this year, was entering the final year of his contract and was set to have a $5.75 million cap hit, which is money the team could use elsewhere this offseason.
As it turns out, Chuck Fletcher and Co. appear to already be putting that newly-found money to hard work by giving Justin Braun a new two-year deal that will carry a $1.8 million cap hit annually. Braun, who was acquired via trade last offseason that sent the Sharks a pair of Day 2 draft picks, struggled in the bubble, but was a key piece for the Flyers during the regular season, especially during the latter half when the team began to shoot their way up the standings and into one of those top 4 spots before the season was cut short.
In 62 regular season games this year, Braun, who will be entering his 11th NHL season, recorded 19 points (3 goals), but all three of those goals and 14 of his 19 points came during his final 29 games. He was also a plus-12 during that stretch. The 6-foot-2 defenseman also did some work on, well, the defensive side of the puck also. Braun, who is just 66 days younger than Niskanen, was tied for second on the team in blocked shots during the regular season (84) and was third in that same category during the playoffs with an impressive 29 blocks in 16 games.
Signing Braun would likely have been tough for the Flyers if not for Niskanen’s surprise announcement, but these two moves certainly shake up the offseason plans for the Flyers on the eve of the NHL Draft. Could the Flyers look to add another young blue-liner in the draft, especially now that most of their top defensive prospects have reached the NHL level? Will they look to add another piece in free agency? Or will they simply continue to build from within?
Assuming the team re-signs restricted free agent Phil Myers (they will), the Flyers will have six defenseman under contract for next year: Provorov, Sanheim, Myers, Braun, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg. They also have Sam Morin under contract for next season as well as several other options among non-roster players in the AHL.
Still, it might not hurt to bring in another veteran presence just to help stabilize the defense.
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