Another top free agent defenseman is off the board. After being linked to several of those blue liners who have been signed or traded so far this off-season, the Philadelphia Flyers have found their man. The team has announced a one-year, $3MM contract with Erik Gustafsson. At No. 19 overall, Gustafsson was the second-ranked left defenseman among PHR’s Top 50 UFA’s.
Gustafsson, 28, has a high ceiling and a low floor, making the one-year term on his deal a smart play by the Flyers. In 2018-19, Gustafsson was an offensive dynamo, recording 17 goals and 60 points for the Chicago Blackhawks. He logged 22:35 of ice time per night in 79 games, was one of the top power play quarterbacks in the league, and even accumulated high totals in blocked shots and hits. However, he regressed substantially this past season. Gustafsson played in 66 games between the Blackhawks and Calgary Flames, managing only six goals and 29 points. His ice time fell off, his power play efficiency declined, and he was ineffective defensively. Following the trade to Calgary in particular, Gustafsson failed to score a goal in the regular season or postseason, saw limited even strength ice time, and was a complete non-factor defensively.
Gustafsson may return to form in Philadelphia, but that will likely rely heavily on his opportunity on the power play. With a number of talented defensemen with offensive instincts, Gustafsson may need to fight for a spot on the top unit, especially if Shayne Gostisbehere – also a power play specialist – remains on the roster. If his performance does not warrant such a role, it will cap his offensive potential. Gustafsson will likely need to be sheltered defensively as well, another reason why the Flyers have to hope that his offense returns.
Given their fair amount of cap flexibility, the Flyers could take the risk on Gustafsson to fill out their blue line. On offensive ability alone, he may end up being a bargain or at the very least a valuable specialist. However, there is just as good a chance that his power play dependency and lack of a complete game could make $3MM hurt down the line if the Flyers are looking to add. Again, a one-year flier was the way to go in this case.