After a few days of staying quiet on the free agent market, the Philadelphia Flyers finally made a move on Monday evening, signing offensive-minded defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a one-year deal with an AAV of $3 million.
So, what do the Flyers have in the 28-year-old blue-liner?
For starters, a guy who scored 60 points two seasons ago in Chicago, his first full season in the NHL, as well as a guy who lead his team in power play time on the ice and was third overall on the team in overall TOI. He’s a guy who can score, but he’s also a bit of a defensive liability, which is probably to be expected given that he was sixth among defenseman in the NHL in scoring in 2018-19 and only signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Flyers. If his defense was a bit more consistent, he’d probably be signing a much more lucrative and long-term deal.
Perhaps he fits better with the Flyers and can have a bounce-back season next year, but that could largely depend on where he fits on the team and how Alain Vigneault decides to use him. And whether his arrival leads to another change on defense for the Flyers.
See, Gustafsson isn’t quite the Matt Niskanen replacement some fans were hoping that Chuck Fletcher and Co. would target when free agency opened. He’s not Alex Pietrangelo. But he might be Shayne Gostisbehere.
Here’s a look at the new defenseman from Charlie O’Connor of The Athletic, who had a great breakdown of Gustafsson, his fit and his potential role going forward.
First, even though Gustafsson is a left-handed shooting defenseman, he has extensive experience playing the right side, and even spent the bulk of his breakout 2018-19 season there. Considering the void left by Niskanen, the Flyers need blueliners who can play that side. Second, the power play was ghastly through most of 2019-20, especially in the playoffs; Gustafsson’s plus passing ability provides a new option on the second unit or even on PP1. Third, the Flyers now have seven defensemen under contract with extensive NHL experience; they no longer lack depth at the position. Finally, because Gustafsson is on a one-year deal, his presence does nothing to hinder expansion draft planning; the Flyers can still protect Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Myers next summer.
Now, to the questionable aspect of the fit.
Gustafsson really isn’t a true Niskanen replacement. While the recently retired veteran was sound defensively and reliable on the PK, Gustafsson’s defensive issues have become more and more apparent as his responsibilities have increased. This isn’t a player who can slide right into top-pair duties next to Provorov. His ideal lineup spot appears to be on a sheltered third pairing, where he can feast on easier matchups and rack up points.
The problem? That’s also Shayne Gostisbehere’s ideal fit in the lineup, and he’s still here. [theathletic.com]
And that could make Gostisbehere redundant on the Flyers roster. Here’s more from O’Connor, who believes the team will figure out how to make both fit.
Could the coaching staff find a way to use both of them? Sure. Maybe they could try playing them on PP2. Maybe one gets an early look on the second pair. But unless the idea is to stick them on the same pair — which could be entertaining but would likely give the coaching staff nightmares — Gustafsson or Gostisbehere would not be getting eased into a potential rebound season lower in the lineup. He’d be getting thrown to the wolves from the start. That’s a real risk.
My guess as to what happened here? The Flyers liked Gustafsson as a player, liked his chances at a rebound and liked the short-term price tag. Simple as that. This strikes me as a “collect talent, figure out the exact fit later” type of move more than anything else — at least for now. [theathletic.com]
But with reports that Gostisbehere has been on the trade block for quite some time now, perhaps Fletcher is more ready than he has been to part with him.
But what about the more immediate moves for the Flyers? Do they have anything left in free agency? Follow the latest news and rumors in our live tracker below…
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports