When defenseman Matt Niskanen retired during the 2020 offseason, it seemed as though Chuck Fletcher would’ve had his hand forced and signed a another top defenseman to take his place, right? Well that isn’t exactly what ended up happening. Instead, they threw a one-year, $3 million deal at 28-year-old Swedish defenseman Erik Gustafsson who has a bit of a spotty track record when it comes to his play on the ice. He’s best known for his 17-goal, 60-point campaign during the 2018-19 season with the Chicago Blackhawks, but that was an outlier on an otherwise relatively normal production level for a defenseman.
Gustafsson bounced back and forth between the Blackhawks’ NHL and AHL squad until he secured a full-time roster spot during the 2018-19 season where he became the beneficiary of quarterbacking a powerplay, and being the team’s go-to offensive defenseman, lining up alongside Patrick Kane, who had the best season of his career, and the hot young star Alex DeBrincat, who posted 41 goals and 76 points that year.
With the inflated numbers carrying his 2018-19 season, things crashed back down to earth as the Blackhawks continued their decline and he was dealt to the Calgary Flames at the 2020 trade deadline, where he had just seven assists through a combined 17 games through the regular season and playoffs.
He wasn’t re-signed by the Flames and he hit the free agent market as a reclamation project offensive defenseman, and for some reason, drew Chuck Fletcher’s eye. Now, to be fair, the Flyers powerplay, which was non-existent during the postseason desperately needed a jolt of energy, and it seemed like, at least at face value, that Gustafsson could contribute. He had a strong opening game with two assists against the Penguins but has struggled to keep that kind of pace up and his lackluster defensive abilities were made very obvious.
His defensive woes weren’t a secret, and through the first half dozen games, have been on full display for the Flyers, regularly getting turned inside out by the opposition and blowing defensive coverages multiple times a game.
He does have five assists through the team’s first eight games, and does at least seem to be a decent powerplay quarterback, but the mistakes elsewhere on the ice are becoming harder to forgive as the season drags along.
Not sure what Chuck Fletcher was thinking with this one. It was a gamble to fill a role that didn’t really need filling considering they also kept Shayne Gostisbehere around. Now, not only is Gustafsson seemingly the odd-man out now that Gostisbehere and Myers have returned to the lineup, but his $3 million price tag is going to hamstring the team for the rest of the season in their efforts to find some real defensive help via trade.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: inquirer.com