It has been reported by multiple sources this morning that Erik Gustafsson has signed a contract with the Avangard Omsk club of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Although the move is sad, it is not unexpected. Gustafsson received little playing time and will be in a much better situation with his new team.
This news is upsetting for a few reasons.
First, the Flyers never gave Gustafsson a true shot. He was routinely pulled after one mistake or bad game. This sets an awful precedent for our new shiny defense prospects. Are we going to treat Gostisbehere, Hagg, and Morin the same way?
One of the keys to developing young defensemen is having the patience to go through a few bad games as the defenseman adjusts to the pro game. Yes, Gus is undersized, but that is all the more reason to be patient with him and allow him to grow into his game. He was constantly in competition for his spot in the lineup and had to play in fear of messing up. Not being free to play his game, which would include making an occasional mistake and having the occasional bad game, ended up hurting his development.
Second, the Flyers lost speed. The only two defensemen on the Flyers roster this past year who had speed were Gustafsson and Coburn. Streit is not slow, but he also does not have the skating ability of those other two. Timonen, Grossmann, and LSchenn are all pretty slow skaters.
Craig Berube preached skating and speed when he took over the Flyers. However, he left his speediest defenseman in the press box on most nights. What is unfortunate is that Gustafsson’s speed could have been very useful in games 1-5 of the Flyers first round playoff series.
Third, the Flyers got nothing in return for Gustafsson. In the salary cap world it is very important to manage assets well. When the Flyers allow a player to leave for nothing, it means that the Flyers lose an asset and do not gain one in return. Although they would not have received anything spectacular in return for Gustafsson, something is always better than nothing.
Erik Gustafsson could always find his way back into the NHL at some point down the road. At only 25 years old he still has a long hockey career in front of him. As we mourn the departure of our favorite little Swede, here are a couple of Gus’ greatest moments: