The 2020-21 campaign was supposed to be the final season of Matt Niskanen’s seven-year, $40.25 million contract that he originally signed with the Washington Capitals in July 2014. Instead, at age 33, Niskanen is choosing to retire, turning down the remaining $5.75 million of his deal.
“Thank you to the Flyers for the opportunity to play in Philly last season,” Niskanen said in a text to Flyers reporters. “I’d also like to thank the fans for their support and lastly, I wish my teammates the best of luck”
Niskanen spent last season with the Philadelphia Flyers after being traded for Radko Gudas by the Capitals in June 2019 in a move to save cap space.
13 seasons between four different teams and one #StanleyCup victory.
Congratulations to Matt Niskanen on a great career and enjoy retirement!
— NHL (@NHL) October 5, 2020
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun first reported Niskanen’s retirement.
Let’s update this: Matt Niskanen has informed PHI that he will retire. Team asked him to take some time and think about it, he did and stayed with that decision. The Flyers are working on re-signing Justin Braun, do not want to lose two critical members of the PK
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 5, 2020
It appears the Flyers hoped Niskanen would change his mind, but ultimately he did not, recently informing his Flyers teammates that he was done playing.
Flyers, I believe, spoke with Niskanen again today to make sure he was definite in his decision. Which it looks like he is. Niskanen has also let his teammates know.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) October 5, 2020
According to his agent, Niskanen did not want to play again during the COVID-19 pandemic which took him away from his family during the summer.
“He told me he didn’t want to go through it again,” Neil Sheehy said to The Hockey News. “He mentioned COVID to me. I don’t think he wanted to get ready for another season by Nov. 15 and then have to go into isolation and be away from his two kids and his wife. I think he always finish his contract and then stop, but I think because of COVID and his experience of the bubble, he decided now is the time. He basically said, ‘With COVID, I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to prepare anymore.’”
Sheehy added, “He’s going to live in northern Minnesota and he’s going to hunt and fish and do all the things he loved doing as a kid that he hasn’t had a chance to do since he started playing pro hockey.”
Niskanen’s decision clears nearly $6 million of cap space for the Flyers ahead of the opening of free agency on Friday.
After struggling in 2018-19, Niskanen bounced back with the Flyers big time last season, arguably having his best campaign since 2015-16 (according to GAR – goals above replacement). Nisky also performed better than Radko Gudas, who was benched down the stretch by former Capitals head coach Todd Reirden.
During his 13 seasons in the NHL, Niskanen scored 72 goals and had 356 points in 949 games. Niskanen received votes for the Norris Trophy once during the 2013-14 season, finishing 11th in voting after scoring 10 goals and notching 46 points during his final season with the Penguins.
In 2018, Niskanen helped lead the Washington Capitals to its first and only Stanley Cup in team history. Nisky played on the first pairing with Dmitry Orlov.
The Capitals lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Niskanen’s former team, in the second rounds of 2016 and 2017, but beat them the next year. It marked the first time the Capitals advanced past the second round of the playoffs during the Alex Ovechkin Era.
“Our teams the previous two years were a little more talented, maybe had bigger names, but for whatever reason, this group found a way to play its best when we needed it the most,” Niskanen said. “That’s what made it fun. We played hard for each other. We back checked harder. We blocked more shots when we had to. Guys scored timely big goals. It was a special group.”
Niskanen had nine points in 24 games during that run. He chose to hold his day with the Stanley Cup in his hometown of Virginia, Minnesota.
A year later, Nisky was dealt to division rival Philly.
“It’s hard,” an emotional Niskanen said of his trade. “You get pretty close with your buddies and your teammates, especially when you have success and do something as special as win the Stanley Cup together in the recent past. Pretty hard to say goodbye. But we’re together forever.”
Niskanen played his first game back in DC on February 8.
The Capitals played a tribute video for Nisky.
The standing ovation appeared to make the team’s former D emotional.
According to CapFriendly, Niskanen made $43.2 million during his 13 years in the NHL.
Congratulations on a wonderful career.
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Congratulations are in order to Stanley Cup Champion Matt Niskanen on his well earned retirement. Thank you for all the blocked shots, the hits, the memories and for bringing Lord Stanley to Washington! (📸: @c_gordz @carabahniuk Sarahi Cahill)
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Screenshot via the @Capitals
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