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

First Look: Canucks Bet on What Erik Gudbranson Can Be

Canucks general manager Jim Benning’s first priority after signing his contract extension last Wednesday was putting pen to paper on a deal for pending unrestricted free agent defenceman Erik Gudbranson. Less than a week later, the two agreed to terms on a three-year extension valued at $12-million.

Clearly, it wasn’t posturing on Benning’s part when he expressed a desire to re-sign Gudbranson.

While the Canucks weren’t getting what they deemed to be fair value for Gudbranson on the market, they’ve made it apparent that this was always their desired outcome. Speaking to Sportsnet 650 hours after announcing the agreement, Benning drove the message home, adding that he’s “just happy we got him signed.”

It’s a sentiment the Canucks organization seems to share from top to bottom. Speaking to the media after yesterday’s morning skate, Canucks head coach Travis Green said “It’s good for the team; good for the organization. He’s only 26-years-old, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen lately.”

They also seem to admit, across the board, that Gudbranson has more to offer.

“I don’t think we’ve seen [Gudbranson] at his best,” Green told reporters on more than one occasion on Tuesday. Though Benning wasn’t quite as blunt as Green, his comments offered similar insights into his decision. Benning said “we often forget [Gudbranson] is only a 25-year-old player,” with the suggestion being there is room for him to grow.

Editor’s note: Gudbranson is 26-years-old.

That’s not an entirely unreasonable stance. The Canucks acquired Gudbranson as a 24-years-old, which is usually when defencemen start to peak based on most of the research done in the public sphere. For whatever reason, Gudbranson’s play has regressed — and significantly at that — as a Canuck. Whether it’s instability, extra scrutiny of a Canadian market or the uncertainty of Gudbranson’s situation driving that drop, the Canucks aren’t without reason to think these two partial seasons (injuries have muddied the picture, certainly) are anomalous.

When Gudbranson was with the Florida Panthers, even though his numbers weren’t great (or even good, really) by any measure, it wasn’t this bad. By Gudbranson’s last season as a Panther, he was averaging 20-plus minutes a night, and when paired with Brian Campbell, left most games in the black by on-ice shots and goals. Though Gudbranson’s hit totals from that last season as a Panther to his second as a Canuck are almost identical, his former team had the puck far more often than this year’s Canucks, so it’s safe to assume he was a far more physical player, too.

On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to look at Gudbranson’s larger body of work and come to the conclusion that what Vancouver’s seen from him in these last two seasons is far more indicative of the player they acquired than his best year as a Panther.

As CanucksArmy’s own Jackson McDonald rightly points out, Gudbranson has but one season to his credit in which his team has left in the black by shot attempts with him on the ice. In a career that’s spanned parts of seven seasons and almost 400 games, we can start to observe some consistent patterns, and in that sense, these last two as a Canuck appear to be in line with those trends.

This season has been significantly worse than any other for Gudbranson, but that his team is suffering poor on-ice results with him over the boards isn’t anything new.

It’s clear, though, that the Canucks aren’t paying Gudbranson for what’s he been thus far in career. You could argue they did that when they acquired Gudbranson from the Panthers for Jared McCann and a pair of picks two years prior. But this, this is so very clearly about what’s to come.

The question then is whether the Canucks are right to expect improvement. The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow explored this by using a list of comparable players to Erik Gudbranson to see what the future holds. Based on that research, it seems highly unlikely that Gudbranson will be any better in years one, two or three of his new contract than he is currently.

It’s a low percentage bet on a low upside proposition. Considering Gudbranson is a third-pairing defenceman at 26-years-old, just how much room is there for growth with even the most optimistic outlook? Maybe Gudbranson becomes a fourth defenceman?

The next question then is whether that’s worth the opportunity cost that came along with the contract. Signing Gudbranson means the Canucks miss out on a trade return like, say, the second and fourth-round picks that Iain MacIntyre suggested as possible returns in his column on the deal. Then there’s the opening in the lineup that the Canucks could spend on a younger player or a veteran on a one-year deal that they can, again, flip for picks at the deadline.

In light of that, it’s hard to see any way the Canucks can call this a victory. That was kind of the problem with this from the start. It was a no-win situation from the Canucks, but they didn’t have to lose. They chose to.

  • The problem with Gudbranson is that the Canucks thought they were getting the second coming of Willie Mitchell, when they actually got the second coming of Andrew Alberts. Now the Canucks are paying him like he’s the second coming of Willie Mitchell, when he’s the second coming of Andrew Alberts.

    That’s nothing against Alberts – I liked him when he played for the Canucks – he knew his role and he played it well. But he played the role of a #6/7 big heavy stay at home D who’d dress for ~50 games and sit the other 30, and he was paid $1.5 million/year to do that.

    I still wouldn’t be a fan of this deal if it were for $1.5 million / per because of the opportunity lost in not trading Gudbranson for picks and prospects, but at $4 million it just shows a continued inability of Canucks management to evaluate defencemen and a tendency to fall in love with and over-pay their own players, which has a tendency to hurt franchises in the long run (see Detroit as exhibit A).

    • dj2

      Actually, Alberts was a regular in the lineup, playing 70+ games in 4 of the 5 years leading up to the trade. And he was a net positive +/- throughout his career, while Gudranson had a couple of -17/-22 seasons.

  • Fortitude00

    People keep saying Gudbranson is not a top 4 guy which is a result of his partners. What I mean is Tanev gets the first pairing left hander, while Big Edler gets paired with the smaller R hander D and that is why we see the Big right hander playing with Pouliot, Hutton mostly. Although that seems to change a bit due to injuries and I saw Edler and Gudbranson playing together last game while Del Zotto played with Stecher. Even though they lost the game they still played ok. I think everyone agrees Tanev is the top pairing guy. After that its pretty much interchangeable with these defence man. So if Guds is a 6th d so are Hutton, Stecher, Del Zotto, Edler(at this stage of his career). It’s just 500k raise for Guds prime years that is a pretty good deal for a team with a ton of cap room.

  • Steamer

    Think maybe we could give the Gudbranson saga a break? Am I the only one who is tired of the constant posts from CA on this player? You may be right about Guddy, but right or not, this has become tiresome. Draft is coming, playoffs coming, many other issues. This is a dead horse.

  • Rayman

    I just don’t trust a person who has no guts to admit his own mistakes. Without this quality, you can NOT move ahead.

    I’ll be really really surprised if JB actually made Canucks a contender.

  • Wiseguy

    Getting real old all this talk about Guddy. I would love to see even one of these writers across the many mediums stick their neck out and become a GM, take all the heat and criticism all while making a multitude of bad moves, you cant win 100% of the time my friends… Better yet I challenge this site to show us the GM that has made only perfect moves, hell I would accept a 30% win rate and i am not talking drafting/trading for bottom 6 guys, you can get these guys from pretty much anywhere.

    • Fred-65

      So is this a moment of conceding that this was a bad signing

      ” Better yet I challenge this site to show us the GM that has made only perfect moves, hell I would accept a 30% win rate and i am not talking drafting/trading for bottom 6 guys, you can get these guys from pretty much anywhere.”

      • Wiseguy

        Nah I like what Guddy brings to the team, if anything there was a slight over payment of 500K per year but all in all I wont lose any sleep over it. I think my point was supposed to read, I am getting tired of all these arm chair critics using hindsight to only point out what they consider bad moves, how about lets concentrate on the good for awhile?

        • Wiseguy

          I would add, this challenge is not being done out of spite, I generally think it would be a great article showing just how good drafting(lets leave trades out for now to keep it clean) is being done by other GM’s.

          • wojohowitz

            There is theory behind it all. It`s called accumulated mistakes and the winner this season is; George McPhee because in his one season as GM he has made very few but over the next few years his mistakes will start to add up and become the anchor weighting down (or sinking) his ship.

  • Holly Wood

    Another Gudbranson bashing article by Burke.(how many in that now)I am starting to think you don’t like him. How about putting a little focus on the trade deadline and the up coming draft

  • Fred-65

    I recall JB saying exactly the same thing about Sbisa ….. I see him as a top 4 D’man …. well JB we all know where that went. Funny really what with JB being an ex D himself you’d think he’d have some insight …apparently not. If you want some muscle take note of Jimmy Rutherfords solution he paid $1.25 for one of the toughest dudes in the game Ryan Reaves. So far EG has dropped the gloves twice this season while Archibald has done the same in his short stay, Dorsett in his short season went 4 times . EG doesn’t intimidate because every one knows he’s past the stage where he did his thing, plus I still believe there’s more to his wrist injury that is made public

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Luca Sbisa was whipped to death bu the CA writers, yet he went to the Olympics, played well there and is also playing big minutes for the 1st place Golden Knights. Is there a learning from this?
        D-men can improve their play with good coaching and consistent Defensive partners. This is one reason why a lot of good teams, match a veteran with a younger player. The Nucks now have 3 vets in Edler, Tanev, and Guddy.
        I like what they did here.

      • TD

        Not just a top 4 guy, but a top 4 guy on the top team in the NHL. He’s also playing for the coach that got let go so Florida could go all out on analytics.

        I realize I sound like I am bashing CA and analytics. I appreciate all the reading material, although I have had enough of the constant Gudbranson bashing just like I was sick of the Spisa bashing. It seems like every author has written several articles all stating the same thing. I would like there to be more of a middle ground and for the articles to be better balanced without the authors stating their opinions like they were facts.

      • TheRealPB

        I also saw that Sbisa was wearing an A in that game. He didn’t look half bad before he went down with an injury early in the year. But then he also looked decent at the beginning of last season in a relatively sheltered role — something he also did in Philadelphia and Anaheim. It’s still not clear that he’s the kind of player that he is sometimes sold as; he’s better as a puck moving d than as a gritty hard hitter, though he still struggles with decision making.

  • Puck Viking

    Hopefully he can develop into a 3rd pairing defensemen because at this point he isnt even that. BTW the guy is not going to develop he has been in the league for 8 years.

    People claim he is tough(which he is not).. well guess what we could have dealt him and signed some toughness for nothing in 3 months and still added assets.

    They made a terrible trade and then doubled down by not trying to get some assets back and then signed him to a terrible contract. This proves this management group has no idea what they are doing.

  • Dirty30

    The narrative focuses too much on the player when it should be on the contract. This contract is the type we should have been seeing from Benning from the start of his tenure. He has done some decent negotiations but too often he has over-committed and over-paid and locked the team into terms that are stupefying.

    If this contract is the beginning of Benning claiming his independence as GM to make decisions and deals of the type he has with Gudbranson, then that’s a very positive sign.

    I have little doubt that the current narrative about and from Gudbranson is to increase his trade value. He’s loyal, he has more to offer, he intends to improve and show what he can do and be hard to play against. His contract is easy to move, easy to fit into the cap for playoff teams, and they get surety that they have Guddy for a while and a way to dump him if he doesn’t deliver.

    Waivers are an option.

    This contract has made Gudbranson more valuable than he would be without it. There was likely not the level of interest in his services that he and his agent expected and this was a smart move to get paid, keep playing, and hope that the contract was more attractive than the package it was purchasing. Salespeople do this all the time: “sure its twelve mil, but look at those easy payments … and in your third year you’re actually. paying a mil less than the cap cost!”

    And there’s always waivers.

    I’m not sure if Guddy will still be here at this trade deadline … it would be an interesting move for all concerned. But I’m not sure I would be that surprised to see him gone if some GM was looking for that elusive big body D with a nice contract that gets friendlier over time.

    If nothing else, if Guddy stays, he has incentive to play better than he has, because there’s not much stopping the team from putting him on waivers for a buyout and then he’s modelling underwear in Prague.

    Final note: JB has been rightly criticized for horrible contracts and this is hopefully only the first of the contracts that go a long way to righting those prior wrongs. To me, what’s important here again is not the player but the contract. Every GM now knows what Guddy will cost them and for how long. That will give them a good idea what assets to offer if they want him.

    That’s progress.

  • Gino über alles

    Yay, that’s just what this site needs….yet another Burke article about how much he doesn’t like Gudbranson. Why don’t you just copy/paste any of the last 5 that you’ve written, did this guy kick your dog or something?

    As long as this league has Marchands, Tkachuks, or other paper tough guys then you’re going to need a physical deterrent to mitigate that…that’s just how the game goes. You don’t have to stage fights but you can’t simply skate away either, and there isn’t a reliable physical presence in the line up that can do what Gudbranson does. Worst case scenario is you’ve overpaid for a bottom-pairing guy on a short term deal, it’s not like we have to squeeze that into a cap with a McDavid/Toews/Eichel-sized contract anytime soon.

    Guys, seriously…stop it. You’re obviously intelligent and passionate about this team but you have to get over your not always relevant analytics based assessments and focus on something, anything else. Hockey isn’t played behind a calculator or won based on your possession matrix, but please feel free to give us another 6 articles about how the Canucks won/lose percentage is effected due to some of the most obscure data known to the hockey gods and that it’s all clearly Gudbranson’s fault.

    • North Van Halen

      You should make the mistake of paying for the Athletic, then you can get double the fun. I’m sooooo tired of this conversation already but the boys here are gonna beat us over the head with it at least twice a week to remind us how much smarter they are than anyone that disagrees.

      • Dirty30

        At least there’s the option of football and some other sports over there. But the Canucks coverage is whine, whine, whine and I doubt I’ll renew if its just more of the same garbage.

      • Beer Can Boyd

        All of that would be fine if Gudbranson actually was a deterrent. But he’s not, and the stats prove it. They also prove that he is a sub-par NHL defenseman.

  • DJ_44

    Playing Gubranson with plug like Hutton will not work. They cannot be relied on to be predicable in the defensive zone.

    Paired with Edler, the Canucks appear to have found a fit. They have been very good as the top pair shutdown guys. They have been hard matched against oppositions top lines. Look at the match up stats, they are on the good side of expected goals in 3 of the four games, with the Barkov line being the exception. Erik also looks much more willing to rush the puck and be involved offensively, knowing Edler is backing him up, as opposed to the 1-on-1 defensive genius that is Ben Hutton.

    He will continue to log top pair minutes. With Tanev returning, we can move Holm or Poulliot up to play the left side with him.

    • Pairing Hutton with Gudbranson is the wrong fit. I agree Edler – Gudbranson is much better. Hutton looked better with Tanev, so that may be a thing, unless Hutton gets moved which looks likely.

      Edler – Gudbranson

      Holm – Tanev

      Del Zotto – Pouliot

      Juolevi – Biega

    • wojohowitz

      You are buying right in on the company line. Guddy is the future and a leader while Hutton has no upside. The opposite is more realistic. Guddy will be out of the league in three years and Hutton has a ten year career ahead of him. Hutton also has a longer shelf life than Green who waste all his energy proving he`s in charge. Don`t jump on the bandwagon so quick.

      • DJ_44

        I take offense to that comment. I have been critical of Hutton for a year and a half well before it was the company line.

        He was crap last year with Willy, but Willy kept putting him out…eventually in a very sheltered #6 role. The problem is Hutton does not have a big offensive upside. …so why shelter a player for no gain. Green and Baumgatner apparently assess talent like they know what they are doing.

  • I just don’t get all the comments defending Gudbranson and Benning. The team is a bottom feeder, and has been for three of four seasons. It’s Gillis’s fault, of course. Benning’s been running this team for *four* years. He’s signed most of the players on the team, and run four drafts. But it’s Gillis’s fault. Ignore the fact that Benning has brought in ONE (Boeser) or maybe two (if you count Stetcher) impact NHLers. The Canucks best players – the Sedins, Horvat, Edler, Tanev – are players left over from the previous regime.

    If Gudbranson is actually good and Canucks Army’s analysis is wrong, why isn’t this reflected on the ice? If Benning is doing a good job managing the team, why isn’t this reflected on the ice? Why does the team get worse, year after year, despite Benning making big trades (This team’s won a lot of games since Sutter and Gudbranson got here), big free agent signings (ditto Eriksson) and high draft picks (what do you mean Virtanen isn’t a first-line power forward on pace for thirty goals?!).

    If Gudbranson was good – if he had actual value to the team – that would reflect in the results. Good inputs get you good outputs. Gudbranson is *not* helping this team win games. All the head-in-the-sand denialism isn’t going to change that.

    • Super Pest

      Amen, brother. Three years and counting… The one hope I have, and it’s the only one, is Demko comes in next year and plays lights out. NO other prospect can effect that kind of change.

    • TD

      4 years is nothing when you have an 18 year old draft. Every GM either benefits or suffers because of the actions of the GM before him. Gillis was in charge of the best Canucks team in their history, but their top players, the Sedins, Edler, Kesler and others, were leftover from the previous regime. Gillis added some good players to increase the talent level on that team to make them what they were. But he did leave scorched earth behind him. If an average NHL player makes it into the league around 21-22 years of age, then its 3-4 years from the time they were drafted.

      You mention the Sedins, Horvat, Edler and Tanev were left over from the previous regime. The Sedins and Edler were from before Gillis. In his whole time with the team, Gillis added Horvat and Tanev. He left the team with old players signed to long term contracts with no trade clauses. Some of that is to be expected when you are going for a cup, but the lack of any players in their mid 20’s is on Gillis.

      Benning’s legacy won’t be known for a while as his picks are still too young and we don’t know how they will turn out yet. He will probably be gone before we do know.

    • Gampbler

      Most fans have pretty short attention spans, as it took the Canucks 21 years to become relatively competitive in 1991-92 after wasting high draft picks year after year. They had a good stretch for three seasons and then were mediocre for another 7 seasons, but this time they drafted and traded well and started what most of us are used to from 2000-2001 to 2012-2013. Quite a run near the top of the table, but in doing so and chasing the cup, they traded draft picks, prospects and drafted quite low for those 12 years. And here we are 4 years later. No one should blame Gillis or Benning as this is more just a normal cycle of being good for that many years and they were both in very different positions of the cycle. Not many teams can do the Detroit for 20 years!

  • Super Pest

    I died the day of this signing. Please get the paddles ready if the trade deadline brings hope, again.

    On a more serious note. I’m worried that Bo and Brock will never be given a support team of young players. Integration is happening too slowly. One young player per year?

  • Gampbler

    I’ve said this before, but when coaching staffs of every NHL team analyze video post-game and isolate each and every play and derive where they’d like players to improve, this trumps advanced stats every time. The goal of advanced stats is to drill down and attempt to determine player performance, but isn’t that being done 1000x better by actually analyzing given plays? If a player gives up four shots from the outside and takes a pass away on a two on one, we have to ask ourselves how this is measured on paper and put it in perspective. This isn’t about Gudbranson per se, but about the ceaseless questioning of coaches and GM’s and the decisions made with “Monday morning quarterback” mentality. Listen to Gilman more often and it really opens your eyes to the complexities of running a roster. I would never have given thought to trading Gudbranson in the next few weeks after signing this contract, but as Gilman pointed out, you’d never sign another player at this time of the year ever again. The same goes for getting a discount on salary by giving the no trade clauses. You’d never get those discounts again if you didn’t honour them.

  • Jamie E

    Nary a mention from Canucks Army on the emerging theme of this trade deadline – even contending teams are showing a supreme unwillingness to part with picks for rentals. I know this messes with the CA narrative that the Canucks can and should liquidate everyone over 25 on the team and get a bevy of great picks in return, but this year that genuinely does not seem to be the case. If there is a league-wide reluctance to part with picks for expiring veteran contracts that effects how a re-building team rebuilds, no?

      • Vanek should get more than the 3rd round picks that have been traded so far. The marquee rentals may not move due to high prices, making Vanek a more realistic and economical trade for buyers. I’d rather see Vanek go for a decent defensive prospect that has middle pairing potential.

    • TheRealPB

      Well they certainly haven’t been high but so far we’ve seen a number of players go for 3rd or 4th round picks (Kempny, Mrazek, Holden, and kind of surprisingly Vatrano). A number of those were vets (not Vatrano) so I’m still not sure that Gudbranson wouldn’t have gotten more than a 3rd. But then maybe people saw him play.

      • Highwayman37

        Team shouldn’t taken a 3rd and ran – that is highway robbery as for an AHL quality depth defenceman. Sadly they chose to double down on what was the worst trade this franchise has made in many years.

  • Highwayman37

    I’m happy they are posting more on Gudbranson and this turd of a player. I prefer the facts seeing the light of day as opposed to just burying our heads in the sands regarding the initial trade (horrendous), the rumoured missed opportunity to trade him for a 2nd and a 4th (disgusting if true) and now this re-signing (among the worst contracts in the league, you just don’t pay 6th defenceman 4M per). This is a player who will be out of the NHL in a few years imo, terrible defensively, extremely poor decision making and simply overwhelmed by the speed and skill of today’s game.