The Philadelphia Flyers may not have made a major splash so far in free agency, but they did fill one need on the roster.
Veteran defenseman Erik Gustafsson joined the team earlier this week on a one-year, $3 million deal. Gustafsson’s arrival is a welcome addition following the departure of Matt Niskanen, who retired, and now gives the Flyers another experienced option on its blueline.
Whether or not Gustafsson will jump onto the first defensive pairing with Ivan Provorov remains to be seen, but his signing is a plus for Alain Vigneault’s defensive corps heading into the 2020-21 NHL season.
“I’m going to have a conversation with the GM here soon,” Gustafsson said in a conference call with media. “I think they can see me play on the right side, which I have been doing for the last two or three years. Just kind of try to focus on my game and be the defensive guy that I am. We’ll see where it goes from there. Very excited to join a great team like Philadelphia. It’s going to be fun. It’s always tough to come into this city and play against them. It’s fun to be a part of them.”
“I’m an offensive guy. I like to join the rush and play the power play. What I have to learn and be better at is my defensive part of my game. I think I have taken a step from last year. I think I have taken a step even when I was with Calgary and in the playoffs. If I can come in and play like I did last couple games in the playoffs, it’s going to be a fun season for me and the team. I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win.”
Gustafsson comes in after splitting last season with the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames, featuring in the postseason with Calgary. The 28-year-old registered 29 combined points in the regular season, which unfortunately was a drop in production from his 60-point haul in 2018-19.
The Swedish native has played with one of the top modern-day defenseman in Duncan Keith and has totaled over 200 regular season appearances in his career. Internationally, Gustafsson helped his native Sweden to a 2018 Gold Medal at the World Championships and has featured frequently for his country. Now making his first move to the Eastern Conference, Gustafsson is aiming to help the Flyers and its impressive defensive unit return to the postseason.
“The Flyers are one of the best teams in the league,” Gustafsson said. “I think the team they have right now is a tough team to play against. They’re playing an offensive type of game. They like the D to join in the rush. That’s my type to play the game too. With all the forwards and defensemen we have, and the goaltending too, I think this was the best fit for me to be part of. I like how they are playing. I like where the team is going. I think we can have a fun season whenever it’s starting. That’s why I chose to play with the Flyers.
“I think the whole D corps is looking very strong. I think Provorov is a good all-around defenseman. He can play the power play. He’s very good without the puck. Strong. Big guy. I think some of the other guys too. Gostisbehere’s good. Braun is good. Just like I said before, there’s a lot of good guys. I don’t know which one is best to play with for me. I’m sure the coach can see when we start training camp before the season. I’m looking forward to this year. It’s going to fun whoever I play with. I think we can go a long way.”
Gustafsson might be a few years younger than the recently retired Niskanen, but his resume speaks for itself as a consistent defender in the NHL. While many fans wanted a major signing like Alex Pietrangelo or Torey Krug, Gustafsson is a cheaper option and will be judged on his upcoming season on whether or not he can be a long-term player for the team.
With Provorov the headliner in the defensive corps and Justin Braun re-signed, Gustafsson could play on any line going forward. The Flyers will certainly be a threat once again in the Eastern Conference and Gustafsson’s arrival is a positive one to help the Orange and Black reach its goals.
“I’m very excited to play for him [Vigneault],” Gustafsson said. “I don’t know too much about him. Whatever team he’s been coaching has been good and been a big part of playing in the playoffs. He’s been doing a great job whatever town he’s been coaching. I’m really looking forward to playing for him. It’s going to be a fun year.”