The Flyers found someone Monday to fill the void left by Matt Niskanen’s surprising retirement, though he may not play on the top pairing.
They signed free agent Erik Gustafsson, a puck-moving, lefthanded-shooting defenseman who can play either side, to a one-year, $3 million contract.
Gustafsson, 28, had a monster season with Chicago two years ago (17 goals, 60 points, sixth among NHL defensemen) but he slumped to a combined six goals, 29 points and a minus-9 rating in 66 games with the Blackhawks and Calgary this season.
In addition to being in the defensive rotation, he is expected to be used on the power play.
The Flyers now have about $5.7 million in salary-cap space but still need to sign Nolan Patrick and Phil Myers.
By signing him to a one-year deal, the Flyers will probably expose Gustafsson to Seattle in the 2021 expansion draft. If they had signed a marquee free-agent defenseman like Alex Pietrangelo, they probably would have protected four defensemen in the expansion draft and would have risked losing players like Oskar Lindblom or Patrick.
Later Monday, Vegas signed Pietrangelo to a seven-year contract that has an annual $8.8 million cap hit. That put the Golden Knights nearly $7 million over the cap, which left them needing to shed salary. They later traded defenseman Nate Schmidt, who has five years left on his deal at a $5.95 million cap hit, to Vancouver for a third-round draft pick in 2022.
Schmidt would have been an upgrade over Gustafsson for the Flyers, but he also would have given them an extra defenseman to protect in next year’s expansion draft.
Late this past season, Gustafsson was traded to Calgary for a 2020 third-round draft pick, and at the time he led Chicago defensemen in power-play time (2 minutes, 49 seconds per game) and was third in overall ice time (20:53 per game).
He was originally selected by Edmonton in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
The 6-foot, 197-pound Gustafsson, a Sweden native, is the second player in Flyers history with the same first and last name. The first Gustafsson, also a defenseman, is now 31 and playing in Sweden. He played for the Flyers in parts of four seasons, from 2010-11 to 2013-14, collecting six goals and 23 points in 91 games.
It is not known if Gustafsson will play on the top pairing with Ivan Provorov. The Flyers have other options, including moving Myers, Justin Braun, or Shayne Gostisbehere to the No. 1 pairing.
General manager Chuck Fletcher was unavailable to comment, but in a statement he called Gustafsson a “mobile and skilled puck-moving defenseman who has produced well offensively both at even strength and on the power play.” He said Gustafsson will give the team “valuable minutes.”
Five days after drafting him in the fourth round, the Flyers signed right winger Zayde Wisdom to a three-year, entry-level contract Monday.
The Flyers traded up in the draft with Tampa Bay to get the physical Wisdom with the first pick of the fourth round, 94th overall. They had considered taking him in the second round (54th) and had no selections in Round 3.
His deal has an annual cap hit of $825,833, according to CapFriendly.
Wisdom, a 5-foot-10 1/2, 195-pound power forward, had a breakout season in 2019-20 with Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League, collecting 29 goals and 59 points in 62 games.
A Toronto native, Wisdom won the E.J. Maguire Award of Excellence last season, The award is given annually by the NHL to the draft-eligible player who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through character, competitiveness, and athleticism.
In 2015, Travis Konecny, now one of the Flyers' top players, was the inaugural winner of the award.
In another development, Montreal, which took the Flyers to six grueling games in the conference quarterfinals, signed winger Tyler Toffoli to a four-year, $17 million deal, an annual $4.25 million cap hit.