Reports: Flyers Matt Niskanen Plans to Retire

An unexpected shockwave has upended the Flyers offseason.

TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reports that Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen is seriously considering hanging up his skates:

Niskanen, 33, arrived in Philadelphia before the 2019-20 season in a trade with the Washington Capitals. The Flyers sent Radko Gudas to their division rivals for the services of Niskanen, who played an instrumental role in the Caps’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2018.

Despite a down season in his final season in Washington, Niskanen stabilized his play with the Flyers. He was placed on the top defensive pairing with young star Ivan Provorov, and his veteran presence in the lineup provided a boost to his partner and, more generally, to a talented but inexperienced Flyers blue line.

Niskanen chipped in 8 goals and 25 assists, and was featured on both the power play and penalty kill units, averaging a little more than 20 minutes of ice time per game.

Where do the Flyers go from here? Justin Braun is an unrestricted free agent, while the perpetually-one-foot-out-the-door Shayne Gostisbehere remains under contract for three more seasons at a reasonable term. TSN’s Frank Seravalli is reporting that the Flyers are closing in on a two-year deal with Braun which, if it comes to pass, would leave the Flyers with a little more than $2 million with which to work.

With the economic force of the coronavirus pandemic bearing down on the financial balance sheets of organizations and leading to a flat cap for this upcoming season, the Flyers are in a bit of a difficult position. With Niskanen’s 5.75 million salary potentially coming off the books, general manager Chuck Fletcher has some unexpected wiggle room, but he would likely need to use it to replace the void in his roster caused by Niskanen’s departure.

There are some attractive free agent names in the market, beginning with St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. Even with some money to spend, Fletcher will likely need to devote financial capital to other roster needs instead of making one big free agent splash. The most recent playoff run highlighted the need for more scoring and speed, and the Flyers might be inclined to let their younger defensemen grow into more prominent roles. Maybe the team looks to a veteran like T.J. Brodie to bolster the unit, or explores the trade market for options.

Whatever the solution, the Flyers now have an unexpected dilemma. How Fletcher manages Niskanen’s departure might be pivotal in determining whether the Flyers can contend for the Stanley Cup next season.

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