The Washington Capitals made their most significant move of the offseason last week. General manager Brian MacLellan dealt Matt Niskanen to Metropolitan Division rival Philadelphia for defenseman Radko Gudas. The trade provided the Caps $3.405 million of salary cap relief and also gave the team a solid bottom four defenseman.
Tuesday, Gudas talked to Capitals media for the first time since being dealt and said he was surprised by the trade.
“I was a little bit shocked, to be honest,” Gudas said. “But when I heard where I’m going I was pretty happy. I got traded to a team that’s well-known for their winning and their will to win every game they play. [I’m] very excited to play with a couple of my countrymen and some of the best players in the world. As I soaked it in more, I got more excited.”
Gudas will likely see some very familiar faces in Washington when he first arrives at training camp in September. The former Flyers defenseman has relationships with several Capitals players due to his time on the Czech National Team.
For instance, Dmitrij Jaskin, a Capitals’ restricted free agent this summer, assisted on one of Gudas’s goals, a hailmary from center ice, during the 2019 World Championship.
“I played with the guys throughout the years, I played in the league,” Gudas said. “With Michal (Kempny), I used to play in the national team with, I think we’re the same age. We played some important games together in youth. With Jakub (Vrana), I know him from the national team now and I think we hit off pretty well, so looking forward to working with him too.”
Gudas will likely play on the Capitals’ second or third defense pairing next season and be a major player on the team’s penalty kill unit. The Czech also likes throwing the body. Gudas finished tenth in the NHL last season in hits with 255 in 77 games, which would have led the Capitals. Alex Ovechkin was the next closest player with 223. Tom Wilson had 200.
“Obviously, you guys know I’m playing a physical hockey,” Gudas said. “Teams don’t want to play against it, especially with Willy being on the team as well.”
Gudas’s physicality can cross the line, however. He has been suspended four times in his NHL career — his latest offense, a two-game ban, came in February 2019 after high-sticking Nikita Kucherov. According to NHL.com, Gudas has also received a 10-game suspension on Nov. 19, 2017 for a match penalty on Jets’ forward Mathieu Perreault, a three-game suspension on Dec. 2, 2015 for an illegal check to the head in a 4-2 Flyers win at Ottawa on Dec. 1, and a six-game suspension on Oct. 10, 2016 for a hit he was called for interference on in the Flyers’ 1-0 overtime loss on Oct. 8 to the Bruins in the preseason.
“It’s been tough lately in hockey these last two years,” Gudas said. “I work on it in the summer. I thought I adjusted my game enough to still play physical and not be a liability out there to my team. It’s always something hard to adjust but you have to do it, it’s our job. If you don’t hurt the team that you’re playing for while you’re doing it, that’s where you can find a good player.”
While he has a reputation for being a goon, Gudas is a productive player in a minimized role. According to a Peter Hassett analysis piece, the Flyers took more of the total scoring chances and high-danger chances when he was on the ice — specifically by limiting opponents from high-danger areas. Since first debuting in the NHL for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2013, Gudas has become a solid two-way defender who is also counted on to close out games.
“I’m a simple player,” Gudas said. “When it gets to thinking, it’s to pass, the first pass, the first open man, pushing away from your own net, good PK—those are the things I’m focused on throughout the season. Obviously, I want to help the offense as well, but those are the main things I’m focusing on. I think I can help and work well with the team, work my back off and do anything that needs to be done on a team. I’m not picky to play a role or not, just accepting what it is when it’s a well-oiled machine.”
The weirdest part of his transition to the Capitals may be the fact that he has to suit up against his former team up to five times because both teams are in the Metropolitan Division.
“It’s a little strange,” Gudas said. “Over the years I made pretty good friends. Obviously, it’s going to be exciting games for me to play my old team but I’m in a new group now and I’m looking forward to becoming very good friends and brothers with the team I’m playing in right now.”
Headline photo: IIHF
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