Wednesday night, the Canucks made a move to shore up their blue line depth moving forward. They acquired former third overall pick Erik Gudbranson, a right shot defenseman with a hulking stature and a stay-at-home billing to his game, along with a 2016 fifth round pick.
Known for his size and heavy-hitting style, Gudbranson brings some meanness to the Canucks lineup – but that tough stature didn’t come cheap. Headed back the other way is former wunderkind Jared McCann, along with a second-round pick this year – which will be 33rd overall – and a fourth-round pick.
Seems like an overpayment, right?
In all likelihood, yes.
On the surface, Gudbranson is a big body that doesn’t mind making his presence known. He’s got a physical game that is designed to break up plays, which teams covet – and while he likely wouldn’t ever be a top-pairing player, his role as a second pairing guy that wears down the opposition certainly seems attractive.
Looking more closely at his numbers, though, the former third overall pick has struggled a bit more than his style lets on.
His shot suppression numbers aren’t all that great. His SA60, or shots against per 60 minutes of play, hit almost 33 SOG at even strength last year – when accounting for all his ice time, it jumps to almost 36. In comparison, his SF60, measuring the shots for his team per 60 minutes of play, was just 23.83 in all situations; in other words, his team failed to generate offence and bled shots against when the blue liner was on the ice.
To summarize? At best, he could be Vancouver’s own Rasmus Ristolainen, or a Derek Morris. At worst? He’s Jared Cowen or the modern era Nicklas Grossmann. Realistically? He’s maybe a Mike Komisarek or a Jamie McBain. That’s not a great deal for Jared McCann and a second round pick just outside the first round.
Why Would Benning Do That?
If we’re feeling spiteful, we can say that Benning did that because he’s all aboard the anti-analytics train.
Numbers suggest that McCann was a useful possession driver last year who struggled to adapt to the NHL – and while Gudbranson’s numbers suggest he’s not what he seems, his bone-crushing hits are certainly eye-catching. If Benning wants to prove that he can build a Stanley Cup winning roster by tricking analytics teams into taking his possession drivers for players that he likes – but numbers don’t favour – that would certainly explain his deal today.
If we want to give the GM more credit, though, it could have also been because he wanted to be quick to the market.
When the Boston Bruins inked blue liner Kevan Miller to a four-year extension worth $10 million earlier this week, fans had a meltdown – but closer inspection suggested that the team may have just been trying to lock up one of the few right-handed defensemen available on the market this summer. Some of the other names that will be floating around? Dan Boyle. Luke Schenn (assuming the Kings don’t lock him up soon). Zach Redmond. Jason Demers (again, assuming the Stars don’t lock him up). Tom Gilbert. Vancouver’s own Yannick Weber. Roman Polak. Marek Zidlicky.
Translation? It’s not a pretty selection.
If Vancouver isn’t interested in bringing Weber back on any kind of pricey deal, they may have figured that hedging their bets with a slight overpayment on a right-handed defenseman with potential future upside (after all, Gudbranson is still fairly young) was better than picking at the scraps left behind on July 1st.
Yes, it cost Jared McCann. It also cost them a reasonably high draft pick – there should be some top-quality players available at that 33rd spot at the draft, including some highly regarded defensemen. It also serves as a harsh reminder that the Canucks gave up Frank Corrado for absolutely nothing, and Gustav Forsling for Adam Clendening – whom some CanucksArmy commenters only remember as that ‘Clenna-ding-dong guy’, but also shoots right – and then sent Clendening packing not long after.
Pushing that aside, though – blue line help is hard to come by in the first place, and the free agent market is looking slim on the right side. That could have spurred this push – especially if the Canucks think that Gudbranson has yet to hit his ceiling.
What Does This Mean?
Ultimately? I think it still means that the Canucks are on the losing end of a deal for yet another time this year. I don’t think that Gudbranson is as bad as his numbers suggest, but it still looks like an overpayment to me – and for a team that really doesn’t seem all that prepared to win now.
Beyond that, though, it means that the market for right-handed shots on the blue line may be exactly as dire as it appears to be. Some GM’s aren’t going to overpay just for handedness, but others could be willing to – and with the salary Miller picked up in Boston and the haul Gudbranson brought in for Florida, it’s certainly possible that this won’t be the last wild announcement we’ll see regarding a right-handed Dman this summer.
Happy off-season, friends.