“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”
-- Napoleon Bonaparte
One-for-one, player-for-player trades are not altogether common in the NHL. Less so position-for-position. Even less so such trades within a division between long-time rivals. And right after the 2018-2019 season ended? Those were the circumstances that converged on June 14, 2019, when the Caps traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers, straight up, for defenseman Radko Gudas. In the trade, the Caps got younger (Gudas was 29, Niskanen was 32), cheaper (Gudas had a cap hit of $3.35 million entering the last year of his contract; Niskanen carried a $5.75 million cap hit for two more seasons). And there was evidence that Gudas’ underlying numbers were superior. The trade looked pretty good from the Caps’ side of the exchange.
When Gudas opened the season with five assists and only two “minus” games in his first 15 games as a Cap, one could almost forget he was most recently a Flyer. But then, things started to slowly unravel. He had one point (an assist) in his next dozen games and posted a minus-1 rating. He did rebound to go 2-6-8, plus-11 in his next 18 games, but he was 0-1-1, minus-1 in ten games after that when his string of consecutive games in the lineup ended at 55 games, over which he was 2-13-15, plus-20. Gudas dressed for only eight of the last 14 games of the regular season, going without a point and posting a minus-5 rating.
Gudas was another of those players who exhibited something of a “countercyclical” relationship with respect to ice time. Not a particularly effective offensive contributor, he would not be in the lineup in games the Caps trailed. On the other hand, he would be getting more minutes when the Caps were more successful, meaning the team’s 12-2-2 record when he logged 18 or more minutes was not surprising.
The deterioration of Gudas’ production over the course of the season was unfortunate, especially since the early part of the season made the trade for Niskanen look like a stroke of genius. It took Gudas a while to record his first goal (he went his first 36 games without one), but he was still 1-11-12, plus-18, over his first four ten-game segments. But he started slipping in the fifth segment (1-1-2, plus-4) and fell hard in the last two segments (0-1-1, minus-7). Not even his underlying numbers (shot attempts-for at 5-on-5) could help much. He was 51.7 percent in the 2019 portion of the season, 50.7 percent in the 2020 portion of the season).
Odd Gudas Fact… Gudas had a reputation of being a player who sometimes – well, often – strayed outside the lines of the rule book, or at least civil behavior on the ice. With the Caps this season, though, that seem to be little of a liability. Washington was 11-3-1 in the games in which he was charged with at least one penalty.
Odd Gudas Fact II… In a related vein, those 15 games in which he was charged with at least one penalty was a significant reduction from last season in Philadelphia, in which he was hit with penalties in 24 games (the Flyers were just 9-11-4 in those games).
Game to Remember… January 7, 2020. The headlines after the Caps’ game against the Ottawa Senators on January 7th would focus on Alex Ovechkin scoring a pair of goals to tie Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the all-time goal scoring list, but the night at Capital One Arena belonged to Radko Gudas in one respect. His moment came in the second period, with the game tied, 1-1. Jakub Vrana dug the puck out of a scrum just inside the offensive blue line and fed it into the corner for T.J. Oshie, who tried to feed Michal Kempny pinching down into the right wing circle. The pass was led too far for Kempny, but he tracked the puck down and fed it back to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the right point. Walking the puck along the blue line to the middle, he fed Gudas for a one-timer from the top of the left-wing circle that beat goalie Craig Anderson cleanly to give the Caps a lead they would not relinquish on their way to a 6-1 win. It was Gudas’ first (and only) game-winning goal with the Caps and his first game-winner since the 2015-2016 season with the Flyers, ending a streak of 270 games without one.
Game to Forget… March 4, 2020. Players traded away always like to come back and make a point that they might have made a mistake in letting them go. For Radko Gudas, though, facing his previous employer had not been anything to put in the scrapbook. In three games against the Flyers he had yet to record a point, had an “even” rating, had (oddly enough) yet to record a penalty minute, and managed only two blocked shots in averaging about 18 minutes a game. The fourth and final meeting of the regular season did not go any better. After the Caps took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission on a goal by Lars Eller, the Flyers scored three goals in a span of ten minutes in the second period to take a 3-1 lead. Gudas was on ice for each of the three goals in a span of four shifts that he skated. He did not record a shot attempt and finished minus-2 in 12:24 of ice time (his third lowest of the season), leaving him 0-0-0, minus-2, averaging 16:27 a game against his former team.
Gudas’ participation in the postseason was sporadic. He appeared in two of the three round robin games, posting an assist in each, losses to Tampa Bay and the Flyers. He dressed for three of the five games in the opening round loss to the Islanders, going without a point and posting a minus-1 rating to go along with one shot on goal while averaging 15:39 in ice time. It continued what has been a more or less disappointing experience in the postseason for Gudas, who wrapped up his season having yet to score a goal and posting three assists with a minus-5 rating in 20 playoff games in his career.
Radko Gudas now heads into unrestricted free agency, his first opportunity to do so. He finds himself in a potentially difficult situation of a season in which his numbers deteriorated over time to such an extent he was a scratch almost as often as he received a sweater, and teams will be trying to manage under a flat cap for the 2020-2021 season, if and when it starts. He is in a position similar to teammate Brenden Dillon – unrestricted free agents of roughly the same age (Gudas is 30, Dillon 29), similar cap hits in their final contract year (Gudas: $3.35 million; Dillon: $3.27 million), and with similar reputations as defensive/physical defensemen with limited offensive upside. The Caps almost certainly will not keep both, and they might not keep either, but if a choice is to be made, it would not be surprising to see the Caps re-sign Dillon before re-signing Gudas.
In the end…
In some respects, Gudas was the player one might have expected, and in others he was not. His goals/assists/points per game with the Caps (0.03/0.21/0.24) closely resembled what he posted for the Flyers last season 90.05/0.21/0.26) and with Philadelphia the previous season (0.03/0.20/0.23). In fact, his season with the Caps looked a lot like his three years with Tampa Bay to open his career (0.06/0.20/0.25; amounts do not sum due to rounding) and his four years overall with the Flyers (0.06/0.19/0.25). But this season was the fourth consecutive season he experienced a drop in penalty minute per game. From 1.53 with the Flyers in 2015-2016, he dropped to 1.39, 1.19, and 0.82 last season before posting 0.63 penalty minutes per game with the Caps this season. His game appears to have mellowed over the years, and his season with the Caps faltered considerably after a promising start. It might not be the best of profiles to carry into unrestricted free agency after what seems destined to be his only season with the Capitals.
Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images