Once upon a time, the Philadelphia Flyers were known as the “Broad Street Bullies“. Their wild and rowdy behavior delighted Philly fans and put fear into the hearts of opposing players. The classic hockey movie, Slapshot, was party inspired by the Flyers. It became part of our identity.
Over the years, the NHL has cracked down on the violence that once was. You will never see penalty minutes accrued like Dave Schultz once did. Fighting, while still common, is not like it was in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s. Even “dirty” hits have been cracked down on in an effort to preserve player safety.
In 2015, the Flyers traded away Braydon Coburn, a nine year vet that they were worried they couldn’t hold onto due to salary cap reasons (thanks Paul Holmgren!). Coburn was a steady, stay at home defender who was not flashy, but was super reliable. You know…the sort of guy the team could really use right now. In return, they got a first round pick, that was promptly traded away, and a young defender named Radko Gudas.
Gudas was a 6 foot tall, 200 lbs brute of a fellow. He threw his weight around, much to the dismay of opponents. In fact, he did it too much. He was undisciplined and went a little wild. Four times he was suspended as a member of the Flyers. The first was due to a hit against Mika Zibanejad in 2015….just months after being traded to Philadelphia.
He would later be suspended for hits against Austin Czarnik in 2016, Mathieu Perreault in 2017, and Nikita Kucherov in 2019. It became a yearly ritual. For every season he was in Orange and Black, he would be spending time on the commissioner’s naughty list. And while his brute force was a deterrent, he was a liability, racking up 116 minutes in penalties in his first year alone. He was building a reputation for being dirty.
In following the 2018-19 season, he was traded to Washington for Matt Niskanen. It was seen as a steal. The Flyers traded a younger, but reckless defender for a top solid blueliner who had helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup. What a deal!
Well, four years later, you wonder. Niskanen was a great player for Philadelphia and teamed up well with Ivan Provorov, but then he unexpectedly retired. The Flyers defense has been a mess since then…and to some degree, so has Provorov.
Gudas committed just 40 minutes of penalties with Washington and then signed on with Florida the following season. While his minutes in the box have gone back up (he was fourth on the Panthers with 79 min this year), he has helped to become a very solid and dependable bottom line defender, leading the team with 312 hits and 124 blocked shots. This comes after leading the NHL in hits last year with 355. His +14 rating is third highest amongst Florida defenders and fifth highest overall. Fun fact that +14 would easily beat Noah Cates’s team leading +3 for Philly this year.
Gudas has learned to stay physical without harming his team in the process. Perhaps had he had the right coach here in Philly, he could’ve harnessed that energy and done something really awesome with it. As is, he is one of the most feared defenders in the game today for his physicality. And with the way he plays today, there are probably few Flyers fans who wouldn’t welcome him back.
And now, he is going to the Stanley Cup with other former Flyers Sergei Bobrovsky and Nick Cousins. He’s still a bully, but he may bring the Cup to South Beach. Meanwhile, the Flyers are still waiting.