Radko Gudas’s initial reaction was shock. The 29-year-old Czech defenseman had spent the past four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and planned to be with them for at least one more year before being told late last week he was being traded. But learning the destination was Washington eased some of the sting.
“I was pretty happy that I got traded to a team that’s well known for their winning and their will to win every game they play,” Gudas said on a conference call Tuesday. “I’m really excited to play with a couple of my countrymen, and it’s all the best players in the world. As I soaked it in more, I got more excited.”
The Capitals swapped defenseman Matt Niskanen for Gudas on Friday, and while the deal was partly motivated by salary cap constraints — Washington freed up roughly $3.4 million this season with Philadelphia retaining 30 percent of Gudas’s salary — the team also valued the edge Gudas plays with. With Nick Jensen expected to move into a top-four role after Niskanen’s departure and Brooks Orpik, a 38-year-old pending unrestricted free agent, unlikely to be back, Gudas is expected to slot into the Capitals’ third pairing. He’s poised to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
“Obviously you guys know that I’m playing physical hockey and I’m a simple player,” Gudas said. “The first pass to the first open man, pushing away from your own net, good [on the penalty kill] — those are the things that I’m focused on throughout the season. Obviously I want to help the offense as well, but the main thing I can help — work well with the team, work my back off and just do anything that they need me to do. I’m not picky to play a role or not. I’m just accepting what it is when it’s well-oiled machine, so that’s what I’m looking forward to do.”
With four suspensions from the NHL Department of Player Safety since 2015, Gudas has earned a somewhat unsavory reputation — not unlike Capitals forward Tom Wilson. He finished 10th in the league in hits this past season with 255, and he fought three times. But while his bruising game commands a lot of attention, he might not get enough credit for the other aspects of his play. He had a 51 goals-for percentage at five-on-five last season, according to Natural Stat Trick. He played 17:53 per game, including 2:37 per night shorthanded, and he had four goals with 16 assists in 77 games.
Part of Washington’s success en route to its first Stanley Cup championship last year was rooted in the team’s “heavy” style, led by Wilson and captain Alex Ovechkin. The St. Louis Blues won in similar fashion this month. That’s another thing for Gudas to get excited about with his new team.
“I don’t think the teams are going to be liking the lineup against them," he said. "I think if we can put that in their minds and spark it up with an early hit on the front end or back end, there’s always something you can do at the start of game.”