The first few days of free agency have come and gone. Overall, the Flyers have done very little (though they do have some restricted free agents to sign, more on that later), but did make one signing of note this week: defenseman Erik Gustafsson
Who is Erik Gustafsson?
Erik Gustafsson is a five-year NHL veteran coming off a so-so season with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames. Gustafsson was traded at the trade deadline to Calgary for a 4th round pick and played seven games, mostly in limited minutes.
Gustafsson, a 28-year-old Swede, has had an up and down career so far in the NHL. Drafted by Edmonton, he was never signed and ultimately chose the Chicago Blackhawks later in this career. In 2018-2019, Gustafsson put up an incredible 60 points and 17 goals. He quarterbacked the Blackhawks powerplay and finished near the top of the league in defensive points.
That being said, Gustafsson’s biggest struggles have been defensively over his career. He is prone to defensive gaffs and big mistakes and turn-overs in the neutral zone.
Offense is his bread and butter, but his defensive game can leave much to be desired. Hence why just one year removed from a 60 point season, Gustafsson has found himself on a one-year contract for $3 million dollars.
Another positive that Gustafsson brings to the table is his versatility. He can play on both the left and the right side, making him an ideal candidate to play with different partners throughout the season. Ultimately, Gustafsson could find himself in a variety of roles and could very well quarterback the second powerplay unit next season.
Where does Gustafsson Fit?
This is more a tough prediction, considering Gustafsson’s style of play is similar to other Flyers’ players on the blue-line. Gustafsson has similar issues defensively as Shayne Gostisbhere, who found himself in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse for much of last season. Both Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers are more offensively minded than defensively minded from the back-end, though both players are better defensively than Gustafsson at this point in his career.
After losing Matt Niskanen, the Flyers were looking for a potential veteran replacement to play on the first-pairing with Ivan Provorov, but Gustafsson likely isn’t it. As of today, I believe the Flyers’ pairing will look something like this next season:
Pairing 1- Provorov-Myers
Pairing 2- Sanheim-Gustafsson
Pairing 3- Gostisbehere-Braun
Braun or Gustafsson could easily switch pairing options here as well and Hagg could find himself replacing Gostisbhere like he did last season as well. Overall, this isn’t a terrible group, but could use another solid top-four right shot defender if possible. Some have believed that the Flyers’ hope that a Provorov-Myers pairing is the first-pairing of the future.
However, the question remains should it be now?
Both players are still developing defensively and could use some veteran presence to help even them out for at least another season. Unfortunately, the unrestricted free agency period and process has been radically changed and hampered thanks to COVID-19. The Flyers’ have seemed to do the best they can with what is available. There’s a chance they could also make a play during the season or wait until later in the summer to make a signing. With a few restricted free agents to sign, this is probably who the Flyers will ice come the beginning of the season in January.
Click below for our grading of the Flyers 2020 NHL Draft!