It was a nice, quiet Monday afternoon. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and little rugrats were laughing in the streets.
And then it was reported that Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen was planning on retiring.
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
Niskanen retiring significantly changes the Flyers’ offseason plans. The 33-year-old formed solid chemistry with Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ top defensive pairing, and he’s been credited with helping turn Provorov’s game around after his poor showing in 2018-19.
The Virginia, Minnesota native spent just one season with the Flyers, but it ended up being the team’s most productive season since 2012. In 68 games, Niskanen collected eight goals and 33 points, including 13 points on the power play. His 53.93 Expected Goals For percentage at 5-on-5 led all Flyers defensemen last season, and he also drove play at a solid rate throughout the year (52.68 Corsi-For percentage at even strength).
That said, Niskanen’s solid regular-season play did not translate to the postseason. He only mustered a pair of points in the Flyers’ 16 playoff games, though he did score a big goal in Game 5 of the Flyers’ series against the New York Islanders to help force a Game 6.
WHAT. A. SHOT.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) September 2, 2020
Matt Niskanen snipes it to put the Flyers up, 3-1! pic.twitter.com/7Emo1fnNuc
What does this mean for the Flyers’ offseason? Well, for one, the Flyers announced they’ve signed defenseman Justin Braun to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $1.8 million. Like Niskanen, Braun was acquired via trade in June of 2019. In 62 games, the 33-year-old tallied three goals and 19 total points while earning steady minutes on the Flyers’ third defensive pairing.
Niskanen’s retirement also frees up some cap space for the Flyers. He was on the books for $5.75 million against the cap this coming season before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2021. This added cap relief gives the Flyers a little more wiggle room to sign restricted free agents Phil Myers and Nolan Patrick and make a notable addition or two in free agency.
While Niskanen’s retirement does provide the Flyers some cap relief, he did turn out to be a valuable addition in 2019-20. He was the only player on the Flyers’ roster with a Stanley Cup victory under his belt, and losing him could have a noticeable impact on some of the Flyers’ young defensemen.
Without a doubt, Philadelphia’s offseason just got a whole lot more interesting.