How much of a defensive upgrade is Erik Gustafsson for the Flyers?

NHL: FEB 27 Flames at Predators
NASHVILLE, TN – FEBRUARY 27: Calgary Flames defenseman Erik Gustafsson (56) is shown during the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames, held on February 27, 2020, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire)

Erik Gustafsson signed a one-year, $3mil contract on Monday to join the Philadelphia Flyers for the 2020-2021 season. If you thought to yourself, “he’s back?” you wouldn’t be wrong for having a good memory when it comes to names. There are two Erik Gustafsson’s who, at this point, managed to play for the Flyers.

As the current Erik Gustafsson stacks up, he offers more help from the blue-line than the one before him. We shouldn’t forget that Matt Niskanen’s role on the first line was that of a blue-line defenseman featured on the powerplay. That is the same with Gustafsson. Chuck Fletcher signed a defenseman to fill Niskanen’s void on the powerplay for a cheaper price tag than Shayne Gostisbehere.

Gustafsson vs. Gostisbehere

Speaking of Shayne Gostisbehere, he’s actively on the Philadelphia Flyers trade block. There may or may not be takers for Ghost, but as the defensive free agents thin out, he could turn into trade bait. It isn’t Gostisbehere’s ability that makes him tough to trade, but more so his contract.

The addition of Erik Gustafsson highlights the writing on the wall for Gostisbehere in Philadelphia. Additionally, Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault could be showing faith in players like Mark Friedman, Yegor Zamula, Sam Morin, Wyatt Wylie, and Linus Hogberg to take on the defensive defenseman role.

Erik Gustafsson is on a one-year deal in Philadelphia. His play in 2020-2021 will dictate his future with the Philadelphia Flyers. By hook or by crook, the Flyers are moving on from Gostisbehere by trade or maybe even through the Seattle Kraken’s 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Gostisbehere is receiving $4.5mil in 2020-2021. Gustafsson offers a similar style of play as Gostisbehere but doesn’t provide an upgrade.

Defensively, Shayne Gostisbehere may be more sound than Erik Gustafsson. Gustafsson has helped his teams more in the offensive zone recently, but can be a liability defensively.

Gustafsson vs. Niskanen

A knee-jerk reaction to Matt Niskanen retiring and the Philadelphia Flyers adding on a defenseman in free agency is, “he’s replacing Niskanen.” In the sense that one is gone and the other is here, sure. There are similarities between Erik Gustafsson on the powerplay and what Niskanen did during his time in Philadelphia. Replacing Niskanen means more than just being another powerplay defenseman. It means being the top-line defenseman alongside Ivan Provorov.

That begs the question: will Erik Gustafsson be on the first line to replace Matt Niskanen directly? No, he won’t. I would expect to see Shayne Gostisbehere there as we did in the 2020 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens. Furthermore, I don’t expect Alain Vigneault to change the second line of Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers, assuming Myers signs the restricted free agent offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. It sounds as if Gustafsson could land on the third line with Justin Braun.

Offensively, Erik Gustafsson should offer more than Matt Niskanen did last season. That’s exciting, but Niskanen was miles ahead of Gustafsson defensively. For this free-agent acquisition to pan out, Gustafsson will have to have a career overhaul throughout his defensive game.


This signing was not an upgrade for the Philadelphia Flyers. Concerning the salary cap, it helped if the Flyers have their hearts set on sending away Shayne Gostisbehere. Through defensive lines, you want a player who can contribute defensively. Gustafsson does not fit that mold but could help a bad Philadelphia powerplay unit. If Gostisbehere didn’t have the price that he hasn’t lived up to in quite some time, I’m not sure the Flyers consider Gustafsson.

Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire