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Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Erik Gustafsson

Bouncing in and out of the press box is certainly not an ideal year for any player. How did Erik Gustafsson end up in that position?


Erik Gustafsson

Age: 25 (December 15, 1988)
Contract Status: Signed with Avangard Omsk of the KHL (Flyers still hold his RFA rights)

2013-14 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
31 17:31 2 8 10
Corsi For % Corsi Rel % Quality of Comp. (TOI%) Zone Start % PDO
48.3% (5) -2.7% (5) 27.6% (8) 51.1% (5) 103.3% (1)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Flyers players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top eight defensemen or top 13 forwards.)

Most frequent defensive partners

Partner Goals For% Corsi For% OZ/DZ%
Luke Schenn 58.6% (+17 / -12) 48.2% 54.0%
Kimmo Timonen 33.3% (+2 / -4) 46.5% 55.3%
Mark Streit 100.0% (+3 / -0) 50.5% 27.3%

Short season not short on controversy

You would think that dressing for only 31 games this season would mean that there wouldn't be a lot to say about Erik Gustafsson. You would be wrong, but that’s okay, because to err is human.

Gustafsson spent the first half of the season playing off and on. Through December, he dressed for exactly fifty percent of the Flyers games, playing in 20 games out of a total 40. After the start of the new year though, in the remaining 42 games of the season, he played just 11 games.

Why such a sharp drop-off? There are a couple reasons, some dumber than others.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Gustafsson’s benching is Andrej Meszaros’ hot streak throughout January. With Meszaros and Gustafsson effectively battling for a roster spot (with their playing styles so similar), Craig Berube seemed content to play the hot hand throughout the majority of the season. When Meszaros began to score like madness around the mid-half of January, it seemed obvious that Gustafsson would be sitting in the press box until the tides changed.

Meszaros was traded at the deadline, but the Flyers didn’t allow for any misconception: they signed Andrew MacDonald the day before, so while the Flyers had the opportunity to make room for Gustafsson to really grab a hold of a regular spot, they firmly closed that window. Gustafsson rode through the rest of the season on the bench, playing games few and far between.

Then, when Nick Grossmann went down in the fourth game of the series against the New York Rangers, it seemed like Gus would finally get a chance to shine in a big way. Of course, that wasn’t the way things ended up working out. Hal Gill ended up taking the open spot which led to a widespread discussion about the merits of stay-at-home, shot-blocking defensemen (like Grossmann and Gill) versus puck-moving defensemen (like Gustafsson).

Gill played badly in his outing and the Flyers lost, so that was enough for Gus to finally get a start (albeit probably not for the right reasons). But the whole situation brought up a lot of interesting questions about Gus. Is he NHL ready? Did he deserve more starts?


Gustafsson’s play in 30 games was not remarkable, but it was good. Ten points in thirty one games is not bad for a defenseman. He moves his feet well, he plays well enough in his own zone, and he’s great at moving the puck. This is good news for a team that lacks speed. Still, it wasn’t enough to convince coaching that he deserved more starts over another guy, because the Flyers really like to balance their pairings.

More importantly, Erik Gustafsson represents a larger issue within the organization: mishandling young players. By and large, the Flyers seem to like to acquire battle-tested defensemen, ones they think they can’t possibly screw up, as opposed to playing defensemen raised within the system.

Obviously there’s something to be said about the value of experience, but when a system seems to be broken as the Flyers defense does, why not take an honest chance on a young guy? Why not Gus?

Erik Gustafsson is small and plays a faster and more offensive style than a majority (if not all) of the Flyers defensemen. This leaves him vulnerable in certain aspects of the game: shot-blocking, hitting, being caught out of position at times. We saw some of this throughout his play this season. It can be frustrating. But I overwhelmingly  prefer Erik Gustafsson screwing up in the offensive zone and having to chase his man down in order to prevent an odd man rush to ... whatever the opposite is. It is important to have possession of the puck, no matter what. Yes, Gus doesn't shot-block or hit as much as other defensemen. This is because a lot of the time, he doesn’t have to.

Gus can rely on his speed and his sight to generate rushes and even lead some rushes. While it’s true that he needs a bigger physical edge to compete against stronger forwards and he does need to be a bit more responsible, if he’s able to control possession, his strength and his physical play fall by the wayside.

It would have been nice to see the Flyers commit to really giving Erik Gustafsson a spot just to see what he could really do in a full season. It would have been cool to see the Flyers give him the first chance in the playoffs instead of Hal Gill. It'd be great to have gotten a million dollars. Sometimes things just don't work out the way they should.

Of course, none of this matters now, with Erik Gustafsson making the decision to leave the NHL in favor of signing with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. On one hand, it’s a great personal choice for Gus, who will get the chance to develop in a competitive environment. It’s not uncommon for players to go overseas for this kind of development, and I do think in my heart of hearts that Gus can develop into a defenseman worthy of a spot in the NHL. On the other hand, with his departure, the team loses youth, speed, and mobility.

Preseason expectations

Let's check back on our season preview for Erik Gustafsson and see what we thought could happen with him this year.

Best case...

Gus cements his spot in the lineup out of training camp, is more than serviceable on the third pair and the second power play, and can step in for the guys in the top-4 or top PP on occasion and play just fine. He continues to grow this year, and the Flyers actually have a talented young defenseman that they can (hopefully) hang onto for a while at a cheap price.

Worst case...

Gus starts the year as the seventh defenseman, spending time in the press box, and when he makes his appearances thanks to inevitable injuries, he doesn't look like much more than a replacement-level guy and it turns out last year's progress wasn't anything sustainable.


Gus falls pretty close to the worst case scenario, but it's hard to fault him entirely. Still, for whatever reason, he didn't shine nearly as much as he would have needed to in order to beat out other defensemen in the eyes of the coaching staff. The Flyers do retain Gustafsson’s rights in the event that he comes back stateside, so while it’s not impossible that Gus will rejoin the team, this probably marks the end of his career with the Flyers and we wish him all the best.


Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Erik Gustafsson's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".