CORAL SPRINGS — There was a time, not too long ago, that Radko Gudas was considered one of the dirtiest players in the NHL. The Florida Panthers felt Gudas’ wrath a few times back when he played for Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.
Gudas still makes some of those ‘dirtiest players’ lists although his game has changed over the years.
You don’t see those open-ice hits Gudas was infamous for in previous years.
Gudas does not get kicked out of games with the propensity he once did. In fact, since joining the Panthers, he has not been ejected once.
And, Gudas was one of the most suspended players in the entire league. He even served a 10-game stint for hitting Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault in the head in 2017.
Since then, he has been suspended once — two games for high-sticking Nikita Kucherov while with the Flyers.
Gudas’ penalty minutes, which reached triple digits in his first two full-time NHL seasons, have dropped considerably.
That does not mean Gudas is any less formidable on the ice.
Far from it.
“I think it speaks to his overall hockey sense. He has figured out and evolved from being an open-ice hitter at any cost,” Andrew Brunette said. “He has really been able to work on his game, know what to do and has picked his spots.
“There’s maturity and he has become a great leader for our group. He does the right things at the right times whether it’s a big hit or a blocked shot — and he blocks as well as anyone in our league.”
Known affectionately as ‘The Butcher’ — or, as the Panthers tweeted out the other day, our Butcher — Gudas remains one of the biggest hitters in the game.
The reckless ways he was once known for appear to be in the past.
A dirty player? Perhaps once, but not anymore.
Has Radko Gudas grown up?
It could be that his game has simply matured to the point where he wants to be on the ice helping his team and not being a detriment by being off of it — either by being in the penalty box or by being suspended.
“That is something I looked at and tried to learn from my mistakes,” Gudas said. “Since then, I have done a pretty good job of applying that to my game, try to be smarter. Still be physical, but be smarter in those situations.
“I think it is a learning process. It took me years to get better at it. But you never want to be out of the game. I think it’s important for everyone to learn from the things that happen. It’s a fast game, too. Things happen quickly so the more guys are ready for the hit or making a decision not to hit, it’s good to help grow the game.”
Said Brunette: “We love Gudas. When he does those little things, it elevates the whole bench. He was probably a little reckless, I agree. He probably felt he needed those big hits to stay in the game but I think he found his cadence of when and when not to, not to lose his identity. I attribute that to hockey sense and he has really matured and is very effective.”
On Saturday night, Gudas had four hits against the Canadiens to give him 2,028 in his NHL career.
That put him past Roman Polak for the most hits by any player born in the Czech Republic.
Gudas, who led the NHL with 250 hits last season, is currently second with 130. Anaheim’s Nicolas Deslauriers has 144 in five more games.
He is also 22nd all time and 10th among active players. Dustin Brown is the career and active leader with 3,600 hits — and counting.
“I was caught by surprise (on the Czech record). I thought I would catch it sometime this year, but I lose track,” Gudas said.
“I would say (hits) are an important part of the sport and when I play physical, perhaps it helps the team grow a couple of inches and maybe get a little mojo back, get some momentum. That’s a little thing that can help the team at certain times and I am happy to do so.”