The NHL’s free agency period began on October 9, which might come as a bit of surprise to many and, according to Flyers Twitter, GM Chuck Fletcher. On the same day the league’s top free agent defenseman Alex Pietrangelo signed a massive seven-year, $61.6 million deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, Fletcher made an under-the-radar signing, inking former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson to a 1-year, $3 million contract.
No, this is not the same Erik Gustafsson who spent time with the Flyers organization from 2009-14. That 31-year-old is playing for Luleå HF in the SHL, averaging a point per game might I add.
This Erik Gustafsson is a much better player than the one who played roughly 30 games per season in his final three seasons with the Flyers. This Erik Gustafsson is a defenseman with plenty of skill in the offensive zone. He’s been quite the power play contributor, including an excellent 2018-19 season in which he racked up 4 goals and 14 assists on Chicago’s PP.
I asked Gustafsson whether or not having a legitimate chance at power play time was a factor in signing with the Orange & Black:
Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson says getting power play time played a big part in him signing with Philadelphia. "If I can do my job on the power play, I think I can help the team win, and that's all I'm here to do." pic.twitter.com/cyjymXGz1e
— Russ Joy (@JoyOnBroad) October 13, 2020
“Yeah, it did. I think the team has very good guys that can play on the power play. The Flyers are, not just on the power play, but the whole group, a good hockey team. If I can do my job on the power play, I think I can help the team win. That’s all I’m here to do. I’m trying to do my best every night when we play the game. It was a big part for sure because that’s my type of game. Seeing the whole team too, like the core, that was a big part, too.”
While his point production slipped a bit during the pandemic-shortened regular season, he’s just two years removed from a 60-point season. Wait a second. An offensively-gifted defenseman a few seasons removed from posting at least 60 points? Why does that sound so familiar? Oh, that’s right, the Flyers already had one of those on their roster making $4.5m annually against the cap. Could this be an indication that the Flyers are looking to move on from Shayne Gostisbehere in a move that could end up netting the team a difference of $1.5m entering a flat cap season? Possibly. Is it a lock? Far from it.
While it’s nice to add a power play threat to a team that was absolutely woeful with the man advantage in the postseason, it seems hard to believe that Chuck Fletcher is done retooling this roster. Gustafsson is a nice player, but he’s nowhere near the steady all-around defenseman the Flyers lost when Matt Niskanen shocked the hockey world when he opted to retire with a year remaining on his contract.
It would behoove the Flyers to find a steady, reliable defenseman to pair with Ivan Provorov, lest they risk seeing their top defenseman suffer a regression to his 2018-19 form. That, by the way, is not a guarantee, but unless there’s a major upgrade coming this offseason, the team can hardly afford for one of their top players to be anything other than on top of his game.
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