Thursday, September 19, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Defensemen: Radko Gudas

Radko Gudas

“The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.”
-- Alfred Hitchcock

If a hockey game is a drama played out in three acts 82 times a season, Radko Gudas seems to have been cast as a villain in the production.  Not that he hasn’t played the role successfully.  Since he came into the league with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012-2013 season, only thre defensemen have accumulated more penalty minutes than Gudas (579) – Dustin Byfuglien (661), Dion Phaneuf (609), and Mark Borowiecki (587).  He and Erik Gudbranson are the only defensemen over that period to have been charged with two match penalties.  Only Byfuglien has been hit with more misconduct penalties (12) than Gudas (eight), and only Erik Johnson can match the four game misconducts he earned over those seven seasons.  He has been suspended by the league four times for a total of 21 games.

The odd thing about Gudas’ game, though, he how much more refined it has become with time.  Of those 579 penalty minutes, 268 of them came in two seasons – 2013-2014 with Tamp Bay (152) and 2015-2016 with Philadelphia (116), both of which were his first full seasons with those respective teams, perhaps signaling a desire to make a point, or at least an impression.  Since that 2015-2016 season with the Flyers, though, Gudas’ penalty minute totals have been in continuous decline – 93 minutes in 67 games (1.39 per game) in 2016-2017, 83 minutes in 2017-2018 (1.19), and 63 in 77 games last season (0.82).

Time did play a part in his performance with the Flyers last year in another way.  Philadelphia was 6-5-0 in games in which Gudas skated more than 20 minutes, so you might expect they were better when he had a light ice time load.  That was not the case.  The Flyers were 11-13-3 in the 27 games in which he skated less than 17 minutes.

Odd Gudas Fact…

Despite recording a game-winning goal in each of his first four NHL seasons, four out of a total of nine goals scored, he does not have a game-winner in any of his last three seasons out of a total of 12 goals scored.

Bonus Odd Gudas Fact…

In 77 games played for the Flyers last season, Gudas was not credited with a hit in only four of them.

Fearless’ Take…

For a player with a reputation as a bruiser, Radko Gudas’ numbers other than those involving penalties and hits and the like are quite respectable.  He is not a big producer on offense, but he was one of five defensemen with 20 or more points for the Flyers last season (4-16-20).  His plus-6 rating was tops among Flyer defenseman and the only “plus” defenseman among the six who appeared in at least 30 games.  His individual shot attempts-for percentages were decent as well.  He was third among Flyer defensemen in overall SAT percentage (49.60 percent; minimum: 30 games) and third in tied situations (49.12 percent).  Last year was the first in his last five seasons (four with Philadelphia, one with Tampa Bay) that he finished under 50 percent in the overall category.

Cheerless’ Take…

Can’t say Gudas being engaged in the offensive end was a big deal.  The Flyers were 10-10-1 in games in which he had three or more shots on goal last season.  Then again, at the other end they were 5-7-3 in the 15 games in which he didn’t record a shot on goal.  Did being physical matter?   Well, to a point.  The Flyers were 10-2-2 in games in which Gudas was credited with five hits, but with more than five hits they were 4-4-1.  Paying a price?  In 23 games in which he had three or more blocked shots, the Flyers were 7-10-6.  One had the feeling that the less one noticed Gudas, statistically, the better the team did.

Potential Milestones:
  • 100 career assists (81; he needs 19)
  • Top-20 all time in points by a defenseman born in Czech Republic (105; he needs 30 to tie Jan Hejda (135))
  • Top-20 all time in goals by a defenseman born in Czech Republic (24; he needs one to tie Hejda (25)
  • Top-10 all time in penalty minutes by a defenseman born in Czech Republic (579; he needs 40 to tie Roman Polak (619))

The Big Question… Will the view that Radko Gudas is an improvement on Matt Niskanen be reflected on the ice?

Turnover is a regular feature of life in the NHL.  However, there are those instances in which a certain familiarity and culture takes root with a club.  In that respect, this is a big season for the Capitals and Radko Gudas.  The player for whom he was traded, Matt Niskanen, played for five seasons in Washington.  He was one of three defensemen who played for the club in each of those five seasons.  He and Brooks Orpik (retired) have departed, leaving John Carlson as the only member of that cohort left.

Niskanen was plagued by declining production over his last three seasons, while Gudas was displaying a consistency for the Flyers (albeit at a lower offensive level than Niskanen).  It seems likely  that Gudas will step into the spot alongside Dmitry Orlov on the second pair vacated by Niskanen.  An open question with that pair is whether any residual lack of discipline in Gudas game will expose Orlov’s game in ways it was not with Niskanen as his partner. 

The analysts seem to think Gudas is a clear improvement at both ends of the ice.  That the Caps were able to swing a deal for Gudas while the Flyers retained a substantial portion of his salary, leaving the Caps with half the cap hit in Gudas ($1.345 million) than Philadelphia has in Niskanen ($5.75 million, according to, is a managerial plus.  But now, the task falls to Todd Reirden and the rest of the coaching staff to make sure the new piece is at least as good a fit as Niskanen was in Washington, even if that fit was a bit rough the last couple of years.

In the end…

Radko Gudas might be that player for whom the analyticals inform in a unique way.  Observationally, and for much of his career statistically, he has the profile of an edgy player who leans heavily on the physical game.  It has not been all that long since he was pronounced the NHL’s dirtiest player by one commentator.  But the folks who delve more deeply into a player’s underlying numbers paint a portrait of a defenseman who is underrated at both ends of the ice.  Gudas has been successful, individually, when perceived as a villain, but his teams have not been quite so successful.  He joins a contender with an opportunity to demonstrate that he can be the “reformed” villain who, while perhaps not quite entirely having been civilized, demonstrates those talents at both ends of the ice the analysts respect.

Projection: 75 games, 5-14-19, plus-3

Photo: Elsa/Getty Images North America