Flyers’ Coburn Trade Still Paying Off

On March 2, 2015, the Philadelphia Flyers traded rugged defenseman Braydon Coburn to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a bid to get younger on the blue line and in general. They received 24-year-old defenseman Radko Gudas and Tampa’s first and third-round picks in the 2015 Draft.

Braydon Coburn, Philadelphia Flyers
Braydon Coburn (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The deal is still paying dividends for the Flyers five years later, but to truly appreciate the masterful asset management involved, we have to go back further. In 2007, Philadelphia acquired the then 22-year-old Coburn, a former top-10 pick, from the Atlanta Thrashers for 34-year-old defender Alexei Zhitnik. Zhitnik had a strong career, but it was only a year and change from being over. It’s remarkable that the Thrashers were willing to give up Coburn, who had his entire career ahead of him. Atlanta went on to make their only playoff appearance that spring, but were swept by the New York Rangers.

Coburn to Gudas to Niskanen

Coburn spent the next eight seasons in Philadelphia, establishing himself as one of their best defenders. But by 2015, the Flyers were retooling a bit, having also traded Coburn’s defense partner Kimmo Timonen to the Chicago Blackhawks. They would go on to select Ivan Provorov with the seventh-overall pick in that summer’s draft.

Related: Eric Lindros Trade Revisited

In Gudas, the Flyers got a similar player to Coburn, only five years younger. Gudas has earned a reputation as a tough, physical defender. In the five seasons since the trade, he has thrown 1,173 hits, which ranks him fifth in the NHL, for an average of 235 per season. The Prague native, now 30, recorded 73 points in 290 games for the Flyers over four seasons.

Eric Staal, Radko Gudas
Philadelphia Flyers’ Radko Gudas checks Minnesota Wild’s Eric Staal. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

In the summer of 2019, they traded Gudas to the Washington Capitals for defenseman Matt Niskanen, who is three and a half years Gudas’ senior. Niskanen brought with him a Stanley Cup ring from the Capitals’ title in 2018, which he played a major role in on the back end. He had 156 points in 390 games for Washington over five seasons, having previously played in Pittsburgh and Dallas.

Niskanen was paired with Provorov for most of the 2019-20 season, posting 8 goals and 33 points in 68 games for the Flyers, along with a plus-15 rating. He added a goal and an assist in 15 games during their recent playoff run. He has one season remaining on his contract with a cap hit of $5.75 million.

Konecny Arrives in Philadelphia

The Lightning’s first-round pick fell to 29th overall after they made the Stanley Cup Final, but with some maneuvering, the Flyers used it to strike gold. They traded up to 24th by sending the Toronto Maple Leafs the last pick of the second round, 61st overall. The Leafs used that to take Jeremy Bracco, but with the 24th pick, Philadelphia drafted none other than Travis Konecny. The diminutive forward was coming off back-to-back seasons of over a point per game with the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67s. He boosted his total to 101 points in 2015-16, split between the 67s and the Sarnia Sting, to finish top 10 in league scoring.

Travis Konecny Philadelphia Flyers
Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Konecny made the Flyers as a 19-year-old in the fall of 2016. His rookie numbers were modest, but he proved he could handle the speed and physicality of the NHL, with 11 goals and 28 points in 70 games. He took on a bigger role after that, and responded with seasons of 47 and 49 points, with 24 goals apiece. But he really broke out this season, his fourth in the league, leading the Flyers in scoring with 61 points in 66 games, scoring 24 goals yet again.

Konecny has found a home on the right wing alongside Kevin Hayes, and despite his recent playoff struggles, the 23-year-old is a cornerstone young player for Philadelphia. Former general manager Ron Hextall’s comment that Konecny has “the heart of a lion” has proven accurate. He plays much bigger than his size. Exactly one year ago Wednesday, he signed a six-year deal with a cap hit of $5.5 million, which will almost certainly look like a bargain if he continues to improve.

Rocky Development for Tomek

With the Lightning’s third-round pick, 90th overall, the Flyers took Slovak goalie Matej Tomek. They could not have foreseen how he was left in the press box as a third-stringer by two NCAA programs. Tomek had a 1.83 goals against average (GAA) and .928 save percentage (SV%) in his draft year with the North American Hockey League’s Topeka Roadrunners. But he suffered a major groin injury at Flyers rookie camp, keeping him on the shelf for a while, and even when he got healthy again, University of North Dakota head coach Brad Berry didn’t give him a single appearance in 2015-16.

Matej Tomek Topeka Roadrunners
Matej Tomek playing for the Topeka Roadrunners. (NAHL Hockey)

It was the same story the next season. Tomek only got into two games all season, and never played more than a period. He left the program and spent the 2017-18 season with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League. He did well for barely having played in two years, with a 2.39 GAA and .907 SV% in 30 games. Tomek gave college hockey another try with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, but got into only five games with less than impressive numbers.

So, Tomek returned to Slovakia, where he earned the starting job with Dukla Trencin in 2019-20. In 32 games, he recorded a 2.34 GAA and .927 SV%. He signed with SaiPa in the Finnish league for next season. The Flyers drafted two other goalies in 2015 and one in every draft since, so it’s unlikely Tomek has a future in the organization.

Even if they get nothing out of that asset, though, the trade has been an unqualified success for the Flyers. Coburn’s physical presence on the back end was filled by Gudas and then Niskanen, and using a late second to move up and grab Konecny was a master stroke.

Related: Ranking the Flyers’ Last 11 Drafts

The deal has also paid off for Tampa Bay. Coburn, now 35, has taken a step back this year, spending some time as a healthy scratch and appearing in only three playoff games to date. But the Lightning have an exceptionally strong back end, and Coburn had four strong seasons for them. He’s under contract for another year at $1.7 million.

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