Once considered an extra piece in a larger trade, Radko Gudas has become one of the most important players in the Flyers lineup.
When the Philadelphia Flyers traded Braydon Coburn to the Lightning in March of 2015, the biggest return was the first round pick. Tampa Bay was gearing up for a Cup run and the Flyers were rebuilding so the trade made sense. The Flyers managed to get a third round pick as well and after some more trading at the draft, the first rounder they acquired from the Lightning turned into Travis Konecny.
By itself, that looks like a pretty darn good trade for Ron Hextall and the Flyers. But Tampa also sent over defenseman Radko Gudas to complete the trade. At the time, Gudas had enjoyed some modest success with the Lightning, putting up 22 points in 2013-14. He was considered a serviceable enough bottom pair player who threw some bad hits and took too many penalties. Most people – myself included- thought of him as a throw in player who may see some time for the Flyers for a season or two and then quickly be forgotten. Today, just six games into his second season with the Flyers, he looks like their best defenseman.
Not A Stay At Home Player
The first time that I saw Gudas on the ice, I immediately thought of Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann. He was a bigger player -listed at 6 feet, 204 pounds- so the assumption was that he was a more traditional, defense first type of player. And while it’s true that Gudas doesn’t have the pure skating ability or offensive talents of someone like Shayne Gostisbehere, his offensive game is very strong.
Plays like his blue line hold that lead to a goal or his great pass to spring Konecny on a breakaway show this in two different ways. The pass is obvious. He has a small window where he can find Konecny and he puts the puck right on his stick. His play at the blue line show off his surprising agility and his willingness to look to make a play on offense instead of back peddling to the neutral zone.
Those are two plays that a typical defensive defenseman probably wouldn’t make. They’re also two plays that Nick Grossmann and Luke Schenn almost certainly wouldn’t have made. The idea that Gudas is just a physical presence on the blue line is a flawed one. He has more offensive ability than he is given credit for at times, mostly because he doesn’t put up eye-catching point totals. But that could easily change. He’s got a goal and three assists in his first six games this season. If he can stay in the lineup, he may wind up passing his career high of 22 points before too long.
The Flyers have been a surprisingly strong possession team to start the season. Though it has only been 12 games, they have generally been the team controlling play in most games, attempting about 53% of all shots. Gudas has been even better. When he is on the ice, the team is
generating more than 60% of all shots, one of the best numbers in the league. Gudas is making almost everyone on his team a better player when he is on the ice and, unsurprisingly, the team is scoring more goals with him out there.
Six games isn’t nearly a large enough sample to notice a trend, but Gudas’ strong play in this area actually started last year. The Flyers were not nearly as strong a possession team in 2015-16, falling right around the 50% line, but Gudas still put up strong numbers, about 3.5% better than the team. With an improved defense around him and the forwards starting the season as well as they have, Gudas’ numbers have jumped even higher.
Strong in the Neutral Zone
The reason for Gudas’ overall success lie in just how strong a game he plays in the neutral zone. It boils down to this: Gudas is very good at keeping possession when entering the offensive zone and solid as disrupting possession when other teams try to enter the Flyers zone. The pass he made to Konecny last night is a prime example of just how strong his game is in this area. Gudas is looking at a covered Jake Voracek on the wall and a difficult pass to make to Konecny. He has enough space to take a stride, reach the red line and dump the puck in and likely see the Islanders gain possession.
Instead, he puts himself in position and makes a great pass to lead to the Flyers’ first goal of the night. These plays add up. The more the Flyers enter the zone controlling the puck instead of dumping and chasing, the more shots they generate and the more shots they generate, the more goals they will score. It’s easy to miss how good Gudas is at this type of play, especially when they don’t all lead to breakaways and goals. But that is exactly the type of play that makes him so good in the neutral zone, and a key reason for why he has been playing so well.
A Stud…When on the Ice
Trading Braydon Coburn in 2015 essentially netted the Flyers Travis Konecny and Radko Gudas and may be the best move that Ron Hextall has made in his time as general manager. Konecny looks like he’ll be a mainstay on the Flyers for years to come, but Gudas is the nicest surprise. In June, he signed a 4 year contract extension for $3.35 million per year. The contract will keep Gudas on the team until he is 30 years old and if this type of play continues, it will be an absolute steal.
The issue that there is no getting around, however, is that Gudas spends far too much time in the press box. He’s stepped over the line between physical and dirty too often and the league knows that. He missed the first six games of the season because of a bad hit in the preseason and he stands to miss even more time if he does it again. Physical play is fine, even necessary for a player like Gudas to be successful, but he is simply too good a player to be out of the lineup for an extended period of time.
When he plays his game, he has been a legitimate first pairing player over the past season plus. If he stays on the ice, he should be a massive part of the Flyers plans going forward.