A while back on twitter, the following tweet below popped up after the Flyers’ 6-1 defeat to the Bruins:
Hot take: Andrew Macdonald > Erik Gustafsson #AnytimeAnywhere— Chuck Fletcher (@FakeChuckFletch) January 24, 2021
In that particular game, as he has in quite a few games (which in honesty is a massive understatement), Erik Gustafsson played poorly. On any given night, it’s a toss up as to whether Gustafsson or Robert Hagg is the worst defenseman being played, which often leads to different problems given they struggle at different aspects of playing defense in the NHL.
With Gustafsson, however, his mistakes are more obvious and glaring given his role as an offensively-minded defenseman. He was, in the offseason, compared to Shayne Gostisbehere, however, given Gostisbehere’s statistical profile (from an offensive generation perspective in terms of 5-on-5 xGF, 11.7 vs 7.3, and chance generation, and that doesn’t even take into account the power play!) measuring out leagues better than Gustafsson’s, I’d say those comparisons can only be made about the players’ style rather than skill level. Gostisbehere has seemed to have taken a step forward, both in his overall play, and ability to be an effective power play component, as he has rediscovered the iconic “Ghost Bomb” shot of his.
Because of Gustafsson’s sometimes mind-boggling errors, he has been compared somewhat to Andrew MacDonald, as seen in that tweet. However, to compare the two players is an exercise in airing out one’s frustration rather than taking into account how each player impacted the Flyers when on ice. Gustafsson, while not a great player by any stretch, is not nearly as poor as Andrew MacDonald was, and there are notable differences between them.
Yes, both players make glaring defensive mistakes, but they had different role expectations. MacDonald was a “defensive defenseman”, not being expected to contribute to the Flyers’ goal scoring efforts, and he couldn’t even play defense well, evidenced by his notorious “starfish” flopping on the ice to attempt to break up odd-man situations. In this manner, Gustafsson and MacDonald’s mistakes are different in that Gustafsson’s can be somewhat redeemed by his offensive and power play presence. He is a one-dimensional player, but unlike MacDonald, he has a dimension to his game. Mistakes in front of your own net as both players have done are bad, no doubt, but one of those guys can actually make plays occasionally, and it isn’t MacDonald.
This isn’t meant to defend Gustafsson, not in the slightest. He is not a very good NHL player on the whole, and has demonstrated near incompetence in his own zone. However, at least he can do something right.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick