There has been plenty of mixed emotions over the sudden exit of the now former Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson. Fingers are being pointed every which way trying to figure out who exactly is to blame for his decision to leave. Some are upset, feeling that he is “abandoning” the team. Others feel as if the coaching staff did not give him the respect he deserved as a player. It is hard to blame the fans for feeling the way they do, and quite frankly it is even harder to try and argue against Gus wanting to leave.
You saw his ability time and time again through his 91 games with the orange and black. He was never a Norris Trophy type of defenseman, but he was better than most of the Flyers’ options in their prospect pool — and in some cases, on the roster compared to guys like Hal Gill.
The 2013-14 season really seemed like it was going to be the year Gustafsson would break out and finally flaunt his stuff. Unfortunately for him, he lost the job in camp. He would get his playing time in the regular season, however, and with the time he had, he definitely played like a kid who should have been starting all along. In 31 games he had 10 points and plus/minus rating of plus-seven. Not bad, right? Well, here is where it hurts the most.
Had Gustafsson been a full-time starter, stayed healthy and played in all 82 games, he would have been on pace to finish the season with 26 points.Only Mark Streit (44) and Kimmo Timonen (35) would have finished ahead of him on the Flyers’ roster. There also would have only been 60 defensemen to have finished with more points. 60 guys may seem like a lot, but considering 271 defensemen recorded a point this past season, that’s pretty impressive.
Gus also would have been on track to finish with a plus/minus rating of plus-19 as well. That would have been good enough to lead the Flyers and only 15 defensemen would have finished ahead of him with a better rating.
What the Flyers’ coaching staff and front office failed to see was the bigger picture. He may not have been playing up to their standards, but when it came to the overall standards of the NHL as a whole, he was better than majority of the guys.
This is probably something that will die over quickly. Fans will be irritated for a week or two and then they will settle down a bit. But then the start of the season comes, most likely without the superstar caliber defenseman everyone is hoping for, and the organization will do its best to ignore the comments of the general public and brainwash the fans into thinking this team can win. Some will be content, others will not, and when the defense is caught making the same mistakes they did last season — maybe even more this time around — the fans will be left thinking to themselves, “Where’s Gus when you need him?”
In no way am I saying that Gustafsson is the deal breaker in the Flyers’ chances at winning a Stanley Cup, but he was an extremely unappreciated asset to what the Flyers are hoping will be a bright defensive future.