Photo Credit: © Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Canucks Army Year in Review: Erik Gudbranson

There were high expectations placed upon Erik Gudbranson when the Canucks acquired him one year ago.

As a top three pick in 2010, one can say that what the Canucks gave up — Jared McCann, a second-round pick, and a fourth-rounder — certainly matches an expected return for a player with Gudbranson’s pedigree. Cynics were quick to jump on what appeared to be a lopsided deal made by Jim Benning in the Florida Panthers favour.

Gudbranson has a career-high 13 points and just 12 goals in 339 games. It was well-established that offence simply isn’t a priority in his game, thus placing all the pressure on his physicality and defensive play.

Give Benning credit; he tried to address the defensive problems of the team while trying to get younger. The decision to let Dan Hamhuis walk was the most significant subtraction on the blue-line last season, and the team needed a replacement. With that said, Benning paid a high price in giving up a promising 19-year-old. Gudbranson isn’t a top two defenseman, and you can certainly argue that the top four wasn’t his calling either.

Although Gudbranson played just 30 games this season, it was plenty of time for fans to reassert the notion that the Canucks lost the trade. This season wasn’t kind to the 25-year-old defenseman. Although they started off solid, his partnership with Ben Hutton didn’t live up to the hype. Originally thought to be a robust blend of physicality and puck-moving, the struggles were evident, and they were evident quickly.

Opposing teams exploited the wide gaps between the two, and they also struggled to transition the puck up ice. Benning described Gudbranson as a “physical defenseman who’s hard to play against,” and yet his physicality was never eye-catching. The defensive slide that he performed to break up plays was hit or miss. He would put himself in dangerous positions as he tried to do too much with the puck. Gudbranson did himself no favours with regards to getting on the good side of Canucks fans. Purely based on this season, one would be justified in saying he isn’t a top-four defenseman.

Gudbranson: “I personally struggled a little with the new systems and adapting to it and finding a way within that system to play physical. I want to be tough to play against. I want guys to know they’re going to get hit if they come to my side.” (Source)

For a player who went through significantly more lows than highs, there are still valid reasons to believe Gudbranson will have a bounce-back year come September.

1. A healed wrist injury

His season-ending wrist injury is expected to be fully recovered by training camp. Although it shouldn’t have impacted his decision-making, it would be hard to refute the idea that it didn’t hamper his overall play. His wrist mobility wasn’t up to par; therefore his puck-handling and shooting abilities were certainly affected. He had surgery in late-December, and nine months of rehabilitation should be more than enough time to recover.

2. He’s adjusted

The transition from a market like Florida to a passionate one in Vancouver can be easily overlooked. The spotlight is on him, and fans are holding him accountable for his mistakes. He’s had a year to gain familiarity with his teammates, the organization, and the city. He struggled with Willie Desjardins’ systems, but he now gets a fresh start with Travis Green.

3. He’s motivated

There’s something about Gudbranson that spews confidence and maturity. When he speaks, one can immediately sense that he means business. He’s a smart individual, both academically and emotionally. He knows he had a poor first season in Vancouver and he has a chip on his shoulder. He came into Vancouver as a third-overall pick and with high expectations, which he completely missed. Based on the numerous interviews he’s had, he appears hungry to show fans that he isn’t the player we all saw this year.

“I know for a fact that I have something to prove. I want to be here more than anything. Above that, I want to prove to the city and the team that I can be a good influence on this group.” (Source)

Benning said that he intends to re-sign Gudbranson to a one-year contract. This decision is wisely based on the fact that he’s a restricted free-agent who’s already making $3.5 million. He certainly didn’t play well enough to earn a long-term contract, let alone in the $5-6 million range. Gudbranson has no leverage in the negotiations because of how poorly he played this year. The Canucks expected one thing and got the other. The one-year contract will allow them to determine where he stands on the spectrum once he becomes an unrestricted free-agent.

Benning:“I think we’ll figure something out on a one-year deal so we can get a better book on him. And after we sign that one-year deal, we can see where he’s at after Jan. 1, and then we can re-sign him to a long-term contract.” (Source)

Gudbranson has been quite the punching bag this season. Having failed to live up to extremely high expectations, an even brighter spotlight will be placed on him in September. Canucks fans have every right to be critical because he did have a bad season. Nonetheless, like any other player who goes through adversity, it will be up to Gudbranson to turn those fans into optimists.

  • Pat Quinn Way

    This guy is an absolute disgrace for a top three pick and that’s why Fla gave up on him.They clearly expected a Daughty, Byfuglien, Dougie Hamilton or Seth Jones that high in the draft but ended up with a Gerald Diduck lol

    It didn’t help when Benning introduced him to us as a ”foundational piece who is hard to play against” and what we saw with our own eyes was a boat anchor who lived up to his whopping – 63 career plus minus.

    This is compounded by the fact that the league is now all-in on fast puck moving D who join the rush and put up points. An absolute disaster that should’ve cost Benning his job, even more so if he re-signs him.

    • I’m no fan of Gudbranson’s game, but calling him a “disgrace” is a bit much. By all accounts he’s a solid guy – there’s no need for that kind of abuse.

      I hope Gudbranson fits in the new system, finds his game, and lives up to his potential as a 2nd pairing shutdown kind of guy. I’m not particularly confident that will happen, but it would certainly be nice.

      • Pat Quinn Way

        You are missing the point guy, I’m not questioning his ‘personality’ or what he does ‘in the room’ or ‘in the community’ I am saying for a player picked THIRD overall his playing career is a disgrace and i stand by it as do the Panthers, who couldn’t wait to offload him to a mug like Benning.

        C’mon man, at third we are talking draft day comparables like Ryan Johansen (picked 4th the same year), Seth Jones (4th pick), Draisaitl (4rd pick), Hanafin (5th) and even a top two pick Norris winner like Drew Daughty here.

        Guddy is one of the biggest draft busts in years and now that the game is all-in on fast skating puck moving D who put up points, he is as outdated as old school enforcers and meat n potatoes GMs like Jim Benning…

  • A one year show me deal for similar salary sounds about right. I expect Erik to have a much better year. They love him in Florida, no reason he can’t be a fan favorite here.

    Erik’s negative comment regarding Ben Hutton I think caused fans to jump on his back. It’s probably best to keep this sort of thing to yourself, but it happens when a team struggles to win. Frustration sets in, thus the importance of a winning environment.
    The question I have to ask is where does he fit in on our right side. If Tanev gets traded, he’s a second pairing guy. If Tanev stays he’s a third, assuming Stecher plays with Edler and doesn’t regress. Options include Sbisa, assuming he doesn’t get claimed, Juolevi, Pedan or Edler. Who is the best fit for Erik is for Travis Green to figure out.

  • Braindead Benning

    Ya we all hear the comments about him being such a good guy and great in the room however, being able to keep up with the pace of the game, making sound defensive decisions and creates room for his partner is what matters most and is what this team needs…clearly this part is where this player lacks.

  • Peezy F

    I don’t disagree he struggled at times but 20 something games is hardly long enough to judge him…Edmonton hated Larsen after 25 games too, look at the praise he was getting by seasons end as he became comfortable. I will also leave Canuck Fan Faithful with this….we were a top 10 PK with him being the leading defence minute guy (Up to December 20ish I believe it was). That was when Tanev and Edler came back from Injury and he went on the IR for the year. From that point forward, our PK was a bottom dwelling PK. I’ll leave it to Canucks Army to link whether the analytics support the fact the PK did that well with him or despite him but at face value, it is what it is. Give him a a legitimate chance before you pass judgement.

  • myshkin

    If he signs a one year contract he’ll be a free agent at the end. If Benning gives him a no trade contract, Benning should be relieved of his duties immediately.

  • Puck Viking

    Gud is a bottom pairing defensemen. Its that simple. We could have just signed Schenn and not lost the assets. It was a terrible trade as he is poor at transitioning the puck.

  • Cageyvet

    I had to check the byline to see who’d written this very fair and balanced article. Yes, he had a poor season, but Hutton was atrocious beside him and I don’t think he skated a shift with a decent d-man as a Canuck. He is still young as a defenseman and has had good reviews from many solid professionals around the league. Those who want to dump him are nuts, is it smart to cry about what we gave up to acquire him and then not even see what he can be by having at least one full year with our team? If he does get his game together, this guy is supposed to be a real leader and can play with a mean streak. Tell me we couldn’t have used somebody like that against Boston when the Sedins were getting abused. I know, the game is moving to transitional D, blah, blah, blah, but if your team is a pushover it doesn’t matter. I’d like to have some toughness in our top 4 D, they log enough minutes to add some protection for a number of our skill guys (I know, I mean the ones that are on the way, don’t mock that comment). I don’t see any big, bruising forwards on the horizon which is why I’m all about Gudbranson and Pedan (and Tryamkin before, dammit) getting all sorts of opportunity. Subban, sure, but the team needs some muscle somewhere in the lineup.

    • Bud Poile

      Critics don’t see the benefit of Gudbranson to the Canucks, but Hutton does.

      “I have no doubt in my mind that he would step up for anyone on our team at any time,” Hutton said. “Guys in this locker room respect that so much, you can’t really put words on it. He has said to me before: ‘Hey, was that a late hit, you want me to do something?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’d rather you be (playing) by my side than sitting in the box for five minutes.’ It makes you feel a lot more comfortable on the ice knowing there’s a guy who has your back.

      “There’s been a few times a guy has hit me late, and before I can tell him anything, Guddy’s in his ear. And I felt the next time that guy came down he’s a little shy, or battling in front of the net he’s a little softer. Guddy is a great player who makes plays and makes big hits. But he also is a tough guy who can fight. I have tonnes of respect for that. Toronto is in town and, who knows, maybe he has to step up for a couple of guys.”

      • Dirty30

        Good response.

        There was little praise to hand out this season in any position on this team, and the D was a bit of a gong show despite Stecher’s incredible debut. Hutton went from playing good D to trying to be a QB and failed miserably… Guddy went from being mentored to being a mentor and failed miserably.

        The hope is Green will simplify things for his D and play them to their strengths. WD’s desperation didn’t do the team any favors.

        If Guddy is deployed to his strengths he should be a solid reliable D for this team. Just don’t overpay him and expect him to rise to the level of his salary.

        • Pat Quinn Way

          Haha holy moley BB you are on fire today. Yeah, let’s just sign five Gino Odjick types at a million each and we get Erik Gudbranson fives times over. Bud the Dud owned again!

        • Jamie E

          Dumb comment. Last time I looked, the NHL was still a contact sport. Anyone who thinks physical intimidation is NOT part of the NHL has never watched a playoff hockey game – or a regular season game that went off the rails. The days of goons and staged fights appear to be behind us, but putting a line-up exclusively comprised of pacifist, skilled smurfs out against an Anaheim or Philadelphia or St. Louis or Edmonton (and on and on) is a recipe for humiliation.

  • kagee

    Looking at chemistry, the only way Gudbranson becomes effective here is to slowly bring him along in the 3rd pairing.
    In the ideal world we keep our top 4 of:

    Edler – Stecher (the ol’ vet with the young QB).
    Hutton – Tanev (this pairing has a shot at dominating statistically)
    Holm – Gudbranson

    Sbisa to Vegas or dealt in trade prior to expansion draft to shore up a team whose going to lose a dman.

  • defenceman factory

    Thank you Vanessa for a well written and fair appraisal of a player who was, by all accounts, a disappointment last season.

    When Guddy got here the stats guys told us he wasn’t going to be good. He wasn’t. Until McCann actually does anything I won’t bemoan the cost to get Guddy.

    Right now, today he may still have some residual value from his draft pedigree. Trade him and keep Tanev. I don’t believe Guddy will turn into a solid middle pair guy. At best an above average bottom pair D man. A year from now Guddy could cost similar to Tanev, can’t provide shelter to young players and drives even less offence than Tanev. Trading Tanev likely means Guddy is around for a while and playing in the top four. That was pretty ugly last year.

    Tanev will be a solid top four D man for long enough to let the young guys come into their own. The free agent signings of Holm and Chatfied give the Canucks plenty of options for the bottom pair even if Sbisa is lost to expansion. The options for the top four are really slim. Free agency likely means paying more and getting less that we have with Tanev.

    • Dirk22

      The ‘cost’ to getting Guddy was not McCann. It was McCann and the 33rd pick in a deep draft – not to mention a downgrade of picks from 4th to 5th.

      McCann was the best young center in the system outside of Horvat. 33rd pick would have brought back a very good prospect – for arguments sake let’s say they pick Asplund who was actually picked there. Now you have the two top centre prospects on the team in the trade. That’s just so bad. Step on up Gaudette and Zhukenov.

        • Dirk22

          right Bud – who needs draft picks or prospects anyways. Certainly not a ‘rebuilding team.’

          Weird how Benning keeps going on about his 4 picks in the top 63 (actually 64). You argue he’s some kind of draft guru yet applaud his decision to throw second rounders into deals. Truth is, Gudbranson probably couldn’t even fetch a second rounder back (let alone a 33rd pick) at this point which says a lot about the trade.

          We all have to ‘move on’ with a hockey team in worse shape.

          • Bud Poile

            How about you evaluate him after he plays while healthy for a half season or more?
            I never applauded anything.
            Truth is….players careers ebb and flow.
            How about selling high,instead?

          • Dirk22

            You literally just made an argument for trading McCann and #33 pick and then say you don’t applaud it? I obviously can’t keep up.

            How many years does he need to be evaluated? He’s going into Year 7. Who do you see as a comparable defenceman in the NHL? He seems like a great person and stand-up guy etc. but he’s not a point producer, not a puck mover, and seems to be too slow (quickness wise) to use his large body effectively which is reflected by the lack of hits and the amount of time he spends in his own zone.

      • Killer Marmot

        McCann was the best young center in the system outside of Horvat.

        McCann played 42 games in the minors this season. That’s not a good sign for a 21 year old. The odds that McCann will develop into a top-six centre are receding fast.

        • Dirk22

          I have no idea if McCann will ever be a top-6 forward but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of their best shots at it or their best young center outside of Horvat. Arguably the player they would have gotten at #33 (Asplund, Debrincat, Mascherin etc.) would have had a better shot at being a top 6 player.

          BTW – he turned 21 a couple of weeks ago. I think he’s ok to be in the minors as a 20 year old! Many have done so and gone on to have excellent careers (although you’d hope to be producing more than 19 pts in 65 games a la JV). Amazing how so many writing off McCann are preaching patience with Virtanen! And just so we don’t go down the vice versa rabbit hole, criticism towards Virtanen stems more from him being a #6 pick….if that’s tough for you to grapple with just imagine if McCann was that #6 pick.

        • Bud Poile

          Dirk,you’re having a hard time “keepin up” because I stated facts instead of engaging you in conjecture.
          At 6’5″ / 220 lbs with the desire to fight for his team mates there are few to no comparables.

          • Dirk22

            So after all that your biggest defense of Gudbranson is that he is big and a fighter. You’re right that those guys are rare but it’s only because they’re all being phased out of the league!

          • Bud Poile

            The 6-5, 220-pound defenceman also ranked second on the team in hits per game with 2.2 and tied for third in blocked shots per game with 1.5.
            That was while playing injured.
            Find another punching bag,Dirk.

  • BR(j)ED

    Excellent piece, as usual Vanessa.

    IMHO, Benning says the words “” foundational peice ” the skill assessment comes secondary to the character assessment. Maybe fans don’t agree with that philosophy, but I’ll tell you something; we didn’t lose the series to Boston because we didn’t have enough talent.

    Whether or not GMJB lasts as a member of this front office, the choices he and his staff have made in terms of who will be the leadership core of this young team moving forward will reap massive benefits in the years to come.

    There’s lots of road between the current team and another Stanley Cup Final, but I like our chances a lot better when players feel the way Hutton feels abiut Guddy, than whatever was happening with that 2011 squad.

  • DJ_44

    Venessa gave three potential reasons why Gudbranson will bounce back. Here is a bigger one: Ben Hutton is traded. Gudbranson was paired with the complete boat anchor the was Hutton during his 30 games. Hutton did not improve when pair with Tanev. Hutton was only slightly better when Willie demoted him to a third pairing.

    I would be happy to see Gudbranson on a third pair anyone but Hutton.
    Edler – Stecher
    Juolevi – Tanev
    McEneny/Pedan/{Sbisa}/ other – Gudbranson