44
Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Deep Dive: Should the Canucks Re-Sign Erik Gudbranson?

For most of the season, fans have assumed that Erik Gudbranson would be trade bait at this year’s deadline; but reports surfaced earlier this week indicating that may not be the case. In fact, comments made by Jim Benning would seem to suggest that the team’s number one priority is re-signing the divisive defenceman:

He’s a physical, stay-at-home defenceman who helps us, We have other defencemen who are more puck-moving guys, but we don’t have anyone else with Gudbranson’s style of play.

“I know he’s had some ups and downs, but until he got hurt he was playing well for us. As long as a player can play in today’s game, you’re always going to need a defencemen who can play physical, especially in our division. There’s always going to be room for a guy like that in your top six.”

It’s entirely possible that these comments are merely posturing, but it’s worth exploring whether or not re-signing Gudbranson is a good idea.

The Numbers

It really can’t be overstated how difficult it is to make a statistical case that paints Gudbranson in a positive light. There are few regular NHL defenders since Gudbranson entered the league that have posted worse underlying shot metrics. We’re talking bottom-20 in almost every category among defenders with over 4000 minutes since his inaugural season. Over six seasons, Gudbranson has only posted a shot share above 50% once, and he’s been trending downward since 2013.

Adjusting for the score, venue, excluding blocked shots, and accounting for competition did nothing to improve his numbers or provide anything in the way of absolution. I know this is well-trodden ground by this point, but there just isn’t any statistic that shines a positive light on Gudbranson.

Hits aren’t a particularly useful stat, but you’d expect a player with Gudbranson to at least rack up a lot of them. But his 2.4 per game don’t even lead a Canucks team that’s consistently described as soft. Alex Biega and Michael Del Zotto have more per game at 3.3 and 2.7 respectively, and Alex Edler is only slightly behind at 2.2. I’m not one to put much stock in laying hits, but it seems curious to me that a big, mean, tough defender should be contributing physically at roughly the same level as Edler.

Even if you’re a crank who thinks that defenders with extremely poor shot metrics can still end up with positive goal-differential by affecting their goalie’s save percentage, Gudbranson still doesn’t pass the sniff test. He’s carried a career goals-for percentage of just under 43%, without consistently facing fierce competition.

Now obviously, if you try hard enough, you could try to defend these numbers. They weren’t great in Florida and have absolutely plummeted since coming to Vancouver, but maybe he just hasn’t been a fit. Perhaps he’s been saddled with partners that don’t work in a system that doesn’t allow him to play his game. But even if that’s the case, he’s 26, and it’s his job to prove he can be effective. He hasn’t. It’s generally not advisable to sign a player who has never shown he can be solvent at even strength, and at any rate if you find yourself consistently having to twist yourself into knots trying to defend a player you might just have to step back and consider that he isn’t that good.

 

The Market for Gudbranson and Other Options

Rumours have abounded since Gudbranson was traded that he’d be looking to sign a deal with an AAV in excess of five million dollars. The market for his services has likely shrunk a bit since then; but he’s still making three and a half million this season, and is likely due for a raise if only a minor one.

Let’s entertain the notion that Gudbranson’s toughness is an invaluable commodity and one that the Canucks absolutely cannot live without. Even through this lens, re-upping on Gudbranson doesn’t make much sense. Anthony Peluso, Brandon Bollig, Tanner Glass, Colton Sceviour, and Antoine Roussel are just a few of the forwards on the market this summer that can throw hands and provide a bit of snarl for cheaper than the price Gudbranson is likely to command. On the whole, I don’t have a ton of positive things to say about what they provide, but they can be had on one-year deals at bargain-basement prices. Better yet, they don’t take up a spot in your top six D, and their lower reputation allows them to be rotated in and out of the lineup on a game-to-game basis.

Maybe the suggestion makes you scoff. Maybe you’re like Dave Tomlinson, and you believe that Erik Gudbranson’s status as a right-shot defender is what makes him untouchable on a roster that’s lacking in that department. Big, gritty, right-shot defenders don’t grow on trees, and they don’t come cheap, either.

I mean, unless you’re Roman Polak, Andrej Sustr, Dalton Prout, or Luke Schenn. Again, these aren’t players would sign, but if you really feel like you need a Gudbranson-type in the lineup, you can get it for cheaper. You might as well expedite Gudbranson’s development process and sign Schenn, since they’re essentially the same player, give or take a couple years. Schenn even has similar draft pedigree.

Okay, so maybe you’re still not convinced. It’s not just about the snarl, or the right-handed shot. It’s just that Gudbranson’s such a darn good guy. Even as someone who’s been extremely critical not only of Gudbranson but hockey’s conception of “character”, I’ll admit that Gudbranson’s reviews as a human being are impeccable. Surely there isn’t another defenseman that could be had next year that ticks all the boxes Gudbranson does. Right-handed defenders? Sure, you can find a few. Toughness? If not on the waiver wire, then certainly in free agency. But it must be almost impossible to find a player who’s available next year who’s right-handed, tough as nails, and a good person…

Oh hey there.

Look, I’m not saying the Canucks should fall over themselves to sign Kevin Bieksa this summer. Far from it, in fact. What I’m saying is, if you absolutely have to have a snarly right-handed defenseman who can throw hands and be a good locker-room presence on your roster, why not go with someone who’s cheaper, will command shorter term, and is more well-liked in the community. Most fans were happy when the trade was made, but come on, tell me you weren’t at least a little disappointed when you had to give up on the idea of Juice retiring in a Canucks uniform.

Trade Value and the Great Gudbranson Lie

There’s also the question of value. At 26, Gudbranson is likely to be past his prime by the time the team is ready to compete again. What they get in return for him is another story.

The Canucks aren’t getting back what they gave up, but there have been rumblings that they could still get significant assets in return. There’s at least one person who believes Gudbranson could even fetch a first round pick. That’s what Renaud Lavoie speculated yesterday. His other suggestion of a second plus a prospect is probably more realistic, but that’s still a decent haul given the track record this regime has with second-round picks.

It’s important to consider because getting anything at all in return for Gudbranson should be viewed as a win, and the reason for that is that he hasn’t played as advertised since his arrival in Vancouver. Gudbranson’s biggest defenders will hand-wave shot metrics because they think his job merely consists of clearing the crease and keeping opponents out of the high-danger areas.

First of all, it’s a narrow-minded way of looking at the position. Even a positionally sound defensive stalwart will have a net negative impact on his team if he can’t move the puck. Even with all the time and space in the world, Gudbranson is notoriously easy to pressure.

Additionally, if clearing the front of the net his job, he’s not particularly good at it:

The Lightning player in this gif is a 5-foot-9 rookie named Yanni Gourde. Gourde’s having a storybook season, but he’s the type of player that Gudbranson is supposed to be able to knock over with one hand. Better defenders use their size and physicality to take away time and space from players like him.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Gudbranson routinely cedes the territory directly in front of his goaltender. His struggles with lateral movement often allow opponents to skate around him. To utilize physicality effectively against skilled players, you have to be able to shift quickly enough to catch them. Players that can turn on a dime can do this effectively, but it’s an area where Gudbranson always seems to be a step behind.

Another field you’d expect a physical defensive defenceman to excel in is keeping shots to the outside; but again, Gudbranson’s lateral movement presents some difficulties.  By the time he’s able to turn to face the Penguins forward, he’s a step ahead of Gudbranson.

This is the great lie about Gudbranson: that the physical element he brings to his game is something that the Canucks simply can’t replace. But the reality is that the deficiencies in his game are keeping him from being able to harness that physicality in a way that tangibly effects the on-ice results. Gudbranson could be the toughest player in the game; (and frankly, I’m not convinced he’s even ranked,) but if it only comes into play between the whistles, then it doesn’t really matter. That’s part of the reason you see two other Canucks defenders outranking him in the hit department.

Conclusion

There are probably going to be six-to-ten defenders on the market this summer that can replace Gudbranson for a fraction of the price he’s going to command. He doesn’t bring anything especially unique to the table, and carries trade value that far exceeds his on-ice contributions.

This one should be a no-brainer.

    • canuckfan

      He swapped a guy that was not a favourite of team mates for someone who was liked but thought he was worth way too muck. I don’t see anyone lining up to trade to acquire him and I think he will be sitting for a while waiting for a call in July. But may get a 5th or 6th round pick.

  • Fred-65

    Yeah I’d agree. EG is a player that intimidates by reputation only. He hasn’t replaced Dorsett ( in his sad retirement ) he has 33 PIM’s and most of them are 2mins at a time. The brute of all brutes Ryan Reaves is a FA has 3+ 3 and 80 PIM’s. He’s a UFA and cost $1.2m last this season with the Pens he doesn’t need an invitation to drop the gloves is closer to a heavy version of Dorsett than EG. Even Matt Martin is a healthy scratch in TO and is at $2.5 for the next two season. If Pettersson plays next season he will need some one more aggressive than EG playing aa needed role. EG is over priced fro the little he does

  • livininvic

    As long as other GM’s aren’t reading Canucksarmy, we should be able to move him for a half decent return!

    (Until then, just lie in all future articles! :D)

    • wjohn1925

      My thoughts exactly. You’re doing the job for all the other GMs and under-cutting Benning. Re-check the stats and come up with a better scenario where Guddy really is a guddy!

  • TheRealPB

    I wish this didn’t have to be proved so conclusively. I wish that this could be so obvious as to necessitate only a simple NO NO A THOUSAND TIMES NO (or that famous GIF from the Office when Toby returns). And I hope to god it is just a negotiating tactic by Benning. But as this post makes abundantly clear, Gudbranson fails BOTH the advanced stats and the eye test. Anyone who claims that he brings toughness, grit, clears the net, protects players, is tough to play against, blah blah blah, is either blind, never watches a game, or is insane. Gudbranson does none of these things. Icing vets who are terrible isn’t terribly helpful for developing young players (MDZ and Gudbranson in particular; at least Sutter and Eriksson are decent if overpaid players, the D are just terrible). Sure, Stetcher, Pouliot and Hutton make mistakes. But they get rotated out of the lineup or stapled to the bench when they do it. I don’t know how anyone can watch Gudbranson play and say that he is worth either what the Canucks gave up, any contract in excess of the league minimum, or whatever scraps we’ll pick up if we do trade him. If you can squeeze a 2nd out of another team I say you leap at that offer without hesitation.

    • DogBreath

      This site obviously prefers data over the eye test as a means to determine a players value. I don’t profess to be a statistician, but what metrics (ie tools) does the hockey analytics community use to assess a player’s physical element and the value that brings to the team. I’m not defending Gudbranson, but beyond height, weight, hits and PIM, what analytical tools measure his alleged strengths (ie, physicality). What value does the rest of the team get with that physical presence in the line-up. Sometimes with this guy, I wonder if its that we’re not using the right tools to measure him.

      • TheRealPB

        That’s a fair question but even if we threw all fancy stats out the window and reverted to either old school boxcars Gudbranson would be a disaster — he scores very little, he has only once in his career been a plus player, he doesn’t rack up a lot of PIM, and he has only had one season where he’s come close to playing a full schedule. In other words he doesn’t contribute offense, he doesn’t suppress shots, he doesn’t inspire his team to score more than the opposition, he isn’t particularly durable, he doesn’t have a ton of fights; in other words, it’s really hard to see what exactly it is that he contributes other than the potential and appearance of toughness. I don’t believe in many of these metrics, but even if I did he wouldn’t show well in them. When you compare him to old school tough D, it really is shocking. Take a guy like Garth Butcher — yes, he played in a completely different era, and the team was total crap. But he still contributed about 20 points and nearly 200 penalty minutes a season and there was a guy I really remember making life miserable in front of the net.

        And the bottom line for me when people talk about “intangibles” is that such things mean nothing if it doesn’t lead to measurable results — like wins (we have precious few) or the development of players. Those that I have heard from young guys actually affecting their growth are people like the Sedins, Dorsett, Miller and Vanek; notably NOT Gudbranson or Sutter. So it really makes me wonder what a guy like Gudbranson brings to the table. Quite frankly I think the onus is on Gudbranson and his advocates to explain exactly what he can do that we could measure, rather than for everyone else to find something that doesn’t seem to really exist.

  • Puck Viking

    Didnt like the trade the day it was made because of his contract demands with florida and it turned out to be even worse because not only does he want to get paid he is way worse than even i imagined.

    • DogBreath

      Gudbranson hasn’t worked out like people imagined. That said, McCann has 15 goals in 137 games. That’s about 1 goal every 9 games. If you factor in he got 5 of those in his first 10 NHL games, that’s about 1 goal every 12-13 games since. The draft picks that went the other way haven’t turned into much (yes, a potential missed opportunity). But all this noise about the terrible Florida trade, did we really give up that much in the end?

      • Yes. McCann’s still just 21 years old – most players haven’t even broken into the NHL yet at that age. Maybe he’ll top out at as a 3rd-line centre. You can never have enough centre depth, and I’d say a 3rd-line centre is worth a lot more than a 7th defenceman. There’s also the opportunity cost – Gudbranson’s presence in the lineup has prevented the Canucks from exploring better options. And they gave up a valuable pick, to boot.

      • “Benning lost the trade, but he didn’t really lose *that* much” is something you can say about every single trade Benning has made except the Baertschi deal. One bad trade doesn’t really hurt the team, but when you add them all up it comes to a lot of picks, prospects, and depth players given away for very little return.

  • Locust

    So you guys are like the kid who plays tuba and doesn’t get two pieces of pie at band camp, you just can’t let it go…
    Third article on this topic…?
    Let’s move along cupcakes, it’ll be what it’ll be …, you’ll complain about it no matter how it turns out.
    This is like a hockey telenova…

  • BC SPORTS FAN

    If Benning signs Gudbrandson to a new contract he will go down in Canuck history as the worst general manager. He can’t pass to a Canuck, can’t clear the space in front of the net, has no physical presence and is our worst D-man both last year and this year. If we get a 3rd round pick for this guy please trade him.

  • Dirk22

    Classic case of the game changing and too many GM’s (and fans) stuck in the past. Gudbranson probably would have been a stud defender 15 years ago. Benning’s eye for defence has to be among the worst of all NHL GM’s – apart from Stecher who was a good get look at the some of the guys he’s targeted and brought in: Sbisa, Gudbranson, Del Zotto, Pedan, Tryamkin (more of a novelty than a good defencemen), Bartkowski, Larsen, Clendening.

  • J_R

    The Canucks absolutely MUST trade Gudbranson at the deadline AND Vanek. I don’t care if they fetch no better than 3rd round picks each. Draft picks are currency at the draft table. Maybe there is a player who slides down the draft board? Package your 2nd and a 3rd to slide back into the bottom of the first to get him.

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Linden and Benning need to be very mindful of the popular opinion here. Its virtually unanimous amongst Canuck fans that Gudbranson must go, and I think its reached the point where most are not even that concerned with what return he could bring. Its simply a fact that the Canucks are demonstrably a worse team when he is in the lineup. Some players are like that. It’s purely speculation, but I see no evidence that he is a popular teammate, or the old chestnut “good in the room”. And he certainly is a disaster on the ice, both advanced metrics and the eye test confirm that. If he is still a Canuck in March, I will change my position, and say that Benning should not be re-hired.

    • defenceman factory

      Failing to trade Gudbranson should probably cost Benning his job. Giving Gudbranson a new contract will be a clear sign Linden and ownership just don’t get it.

    • kablebike

      Here is a call to all the mathematicians/analytics that called for Ballard, Garrison, Rome, Sbisa, Gudbranson to get knocked out by the door on the way out of town. Who will it be next year? It must be someone on the current roster (excluding MDZ because that is an easy mark). Sits back and eats popcorn awaiting answer.

        • DogBreath

          I guess that part of the narrative for this site is there has to be a whipping boy to keep people interested. The whipping boy has to be that player that doesn’t show well through the lens of statistics. It breeds an intolerance and the emotion of it gets people engaged. Advanced statistics definitely is an important part of the narrative (it has to be). There needs to be room for other types of assessments. The downside is this intolerance almost feels like the intolerant aspects of some politics and religions (ie, conflict because we don’t share the same view of the world).

          • TheRealPB

            OK, let’s forget about the advanced stats. Any leeway I had for Gudbranson went absolutely out the window when he threw Hutton under the bus. If you really are a team leader and a grit guy, then you as the supposed role model for the young guy, then you don’t complain about them (same reason I have zero respect for Sutter). This is me making a complete “intangibles” argument; it’s not just that I think Gudbranson isn’t a particularly effective puck mover or a good defender or tough to play against, it’s that as far as leadership goes I have seen almost none from him. The two public comments that I can think about that stick out is him calling out Hutton and then the rest of the team for the Lewis hit on Boeser. Where is he to talk about taking responsibility when the Canucks play poorly? Where is he to talk up the good play of the young players like Pouliot who stepped up when he was out so much earlier in the season? When was the last time Tanev complained about the terrible play of everyone paired with him besides Edler? When was the last time the Sedins called out all the random scrubs who get put on their wing? You may think that Gudbranson and Sutter are whipping boys but they don’t do themselves any favors by not really producing AND then being kind of dicks about themselves vis-a-vis other players.

          • DogBreath

            Agree on the call out on Hutton. Bad move on his part. Suspect he made amends behind the scenes. Calling out the lack of response on the Boesser hit? Canucks responded the right way, with the goal. I’m against fighting, but I do think there’s room within the game for some physicality that lets the other 30 teams in the league know that a hit on our best player will cost you more than a goal. EG was right to suggest what we were all thinking (he was being honest).

            Willie Mitchell knows this guy as well as anyone and I think knows what it take to develop team chemistry. His response to the EG trade to Vancouver said a lot.

            All that said, if he’s signed for anything over $3-3.5 mill, it would be a waste of cap space.

      • BendingCorners

        7D aren’t worth the money EG is getting. The owner can save some cash and the manager can save some cap space by trading him and then finding better value.
        Running the overpaid out of town is a good thing.

  • kablebike

    i appreciate the tables (although my eyes are not pleased with analyzing them). Next time, please take some time to show footage that is not short handed. Thank you.

      • Seth

        Well it was conveniently cherry picked without the context surrounding it all. Not only because it was shorthanded against one of the top PP’s (3rd I believe), albeit their second unit, the Canucks were employing a box strategy as both Stecher and EG were quite structured positionally – a bit high for my liking as they were around the hash marks when the point shot came through, especially with EG’s foot speed (or lack their of), he has no chance to make up the space between him and Gourde. I mean in that situation, if he was preoccupied with hammering Gourde out of the play, that would mean either Stamkos or Tyler Johnson would have been wide open for an offense chance because of a breakdown in the box system.

        However, for the record, I don’t like EG. In fact I don’t want him resigned. It just lacks a bit of an element of journalistic integrity by cherry picking that particular clip just to make the point seemingly more weighty. I already think he doesn’t do a good enough job physically in action for my liking including having seen many times at even strength that EG doesn’t seem to engage in his man in front of the net.

  • Guzman's Jheri Curl

    Benning is either a genius (posturing) or a moron (serious about signing Gud to multi yr extension). I wish my boss rewarded me with raises and extensions for being a good guy too! If I owned stock in the Canucks I would be blowing out all of my shares the second an extension was announced, unfortunately being a lifelong fan complicates things.

  • By Sea and Land

    The last sentence says it all. This should be a no brainer. Nothing more than the eye test is needed in determining Guddy’s play. IMO, he has been trying to finish some checks along the boards recently but this alone is not worth big $. Money shouldn’t even be the main issue here rather term is what really scares me.

    I thought it was a good trade once it happened but it just hasn’t worked out. Personally I don’t believe EB reads the game very well. He can move pretty well for a big cat but he isn’t necessarily taking the right paths.

    I also agree 100%, let’s find that cheaper muscle on shorter term. I thought Virtanen had a good game with Archibald in the lineup and it’s my belief that Virtanen needs muscle on the roster to give him the confidence to play fast, physical, and have his back. I’d happily welcome Bieksa back.

    Finally I’m giving Benning credit on Gudbranson’s 1 year prove deal. Unfortunately EB hasn’t proved it. Good read Benning. EB WILL be traded.

  • Druken Lout

    Not saying that I agree with this but one thing that has not been mentioned is the expansion draft. I’d say it worked out pretty nice with LV taking Sbisa, maybe Benning hopes to have a repeat with Gudbranson?

  • DB1282

    I hope that the mistake the Canucks made trading for Gudbranson is not compounded by signing him to a new contract, the Canucks are going nowhere for a couple of years, no sense over paying for a slug who is a nice guy.

  • Holly Wood

    There is a spot on this ream for Guddy, if he will sign for 3 to 3.5 per year. Someone has to have some backbone out there. Archibald and Gudbranson will offer a level of protection that’s sorely missing. A couple more guys that can play decent minutes with grit will help too.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      Clearly you missed the part of the article where they quite convincingly point out that Gudbranson actually provides very little backbone. He seldom fights, and his ability to lay the body is mostly limited to after the whistles, when opposing players aren’t moving too quickly for him to catch them. Gudbranson is big and strong, sure, but he provides next to no useful toughness on the ice. As is mentioned, why not just bring back Bieksa if you want a gritty, character guy with a right-handed shot. He’d be cheaper and I like him way better than Gudbranson too.

  • goalfiSh

    Q: What is the most important thing in hockey/all of professional sports?

    A: Winning.

    Does Erik Gudbranson help his team win? Let’s check the not-so-advanced stats of W&L to answer that question.

    Team record & win % with Erik Gudbranson in the lineup:

    2015-16 FLA 38-19-7 65%
    2016-17 VAN 12-16-2 43%
    2017-18 VAN 15-18-5 46%

    Without Erik Gudbranson:

    2015-16 FLA 9-7-2 56%
    2016-17 VAN 18-27-7 41%
    2017-18 VAN 7-10-1 42%

    *2016-17 FLA 35-36-11 49%

    *bonus FLA record the season after trading Erik Gudbranson.

    So in each of the last 3 seasons Erik Gudbranson’s team has won games at a higher rate with him in the lineup vs without him.

    The sample size is large.

    The numbers speak for themselves.

    Erik Gudbranson makes his team better.

    Erik Gudbranson is a winner.
     
    Case closed.

    Eat a hockey puck Jackson, you’re out to lunch.