With the Stanley Cup Finals ending earlier this week with the St. Louis Blues winning the first championship in their franchise’s 51 season history, the NHL offseason has officially begun and the Washington Capitals are already making some moves. In a move that was announced this morning, the Caps will send Matt Niskanen to Philadelphia in exchange for defenseman Radko Gudas.
Gudas comes to DC with one year left on his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-2020 season. Even with just one year left on his contract, however, the move will be helping the Capitals financially as they’ll be saving some salary cap room and the Flyers will be covering 30% of his salary.
With the Caps only being responsible for $2.345 million going to Gudas this year, they’ll be saving $3.405 million towards the salary cap in the upcoming season since they’re no longer on the hook for Niskanen’s $5.75 million per season salary. Plus, they’ll also have some flexibility as they won’t have Niskanen on their roster during the 2020-2021 season. The extra cap space the next couple years could prove extremely beneficial as the organization has to figure out what to do with free agents like Devante Smith-Pelly and Brett Connolly and Braden Holtby and Nicklas Backstrom next offseason.
Of course, there are some actual on the ice consequences worth considering. Despite the defense in general having a down season, Niskanen still spent an average of 21:56 on the ice each night, which includes 2:46 each night of helping the Capitals on the penalty kill. This isn’t just a one time thing either as he’s averaged at least 20 minutes per game in each of the last seven seasons and has consistently been the leader among defensemen for Washington in terms of both games played and ice time.
Gudas, on the other hand, was only on the ice 17:53 per game last season. Those totals have been about par for the course for the right handed blue liner who’s never averaged over 20 minutes of ice time with either Tampa Bay or Philly (though he did come close when he averaged 19:51 in the 2015-2016 season, which was his first season with the Flyers).
Ice time isn’t the only deference between the two as their respective +/- totals also provide a glimpse into the type of contributions they’ll bring on the ice. Niskanen definitely had a down year with a -3 rating, but had a very strong 24, 20, and 10 rating the previous three seasons. Gudas put up a positive 6 last season, but also had a 0, 8, and -3 the previous three seasons. It’s also worth noting that even though Gudas had a higher +/-, he had fewer points than Niskanen did last season (Niskanen had 25 points while Gudas had 20). And that was during a down year for Niskanen.
Of course, it should also be noted here that one potential explanation for Gudas’s lower numbers over time is the Flyers haven’t been nearly as successful as the Capitals since he joined up with them in 2015. Philly missed the playoffs half the time and lost in the first round both of the seasons they did make a postseason appearance (including to the Capitals in the 2015-2016 season).
Gudas will likely be on the right side of the third line for the Capitals when they begin their 2019-2020 campaign, which could cause some people to wonder why Washington gave up a top four talent to make the move. The obvious answer is the Caps will able to compensate for that through the added salary cap flexibility they receive from the move. With that in mind, the full impact of the trade will only be readily available down the road.