NHL: Caps trade ex-UMD star Niskanen
The Washington Capitals have traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Radko Gudas in a salary cap-clearing swap between Metropolitan Division foes.
Niskanen, a Mountain Iron-Buhl High School graduate and former Minnesota Duluth standout, had two years left on a contract carrying a $5.75 million cap hit while Gudas has one season remaining with a $3.35 million cap hit. The Flyers will also retain 30 percent of Gudas' salary.
Both are right-handed shots, but Gudas, 29, is three years younger -- a physical, penalty-killing presence on the blue line that could play on the team's third pairing. With veteran Brooks Orpik not expected to return next season -- he's a pending unrestricted free agent -- Gudas fits that hard-hitting, crease-clearing mold, and while he's not expected to provide much in the way of point production, underlying analytics are kind to him. His goals-for percentage of 51 at five-on-five ranked first among Flyers defensemen this past season.
Nick Jensen, whom Washington acquired from Detroit in late February, is expected to take Niskanen's spot in the top four beside Dmitry Orlov. Once the Capitals' top shutdown pair, Niskanen and Orlov struggled for most of this past year, and Washington was believed to have explored the trade market for Niskanen even during the season. He signed with the Capitals in 2014, and in five seasons, he averaged nearly 23 minutes per game, playing on the penalty kill, the second power-play unit and typically tasked with the most challenging defensive assignment.
Though Niskanen's deteriorating play was a considerable factor in trading him, the move was also financially motivated. The Capitals now have more salary cap space to re-sign top restricted free agent Jakub Vrana, who is coming off a career season with 24 goals and 23 assists, as well as pending unrestricted free agent forwards Carl Hagelin and Brett Connolly. Because Gudas' contract comes off the books after next season, Washington will also have more freedom to potentially extend top center Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby, both of whom become unrestricted free agents in 2020.
"We would like to thank Matt for all of his contributions to our organization for the past five seasons," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said in a statement. "Matt is a consummate professional and was a big part of our success. We wish him and his family all the best moving forward.
"We feel this move provides us with financial flexibility as we look for additional ways to strengthen our team. In addition, we are pleased to welcome Radko to our organization. Radko is a good defensive defenseman that plays a competitive, physical game."
Niskanen was a News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year in both hockey and football.