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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin - USA TODAY Sports

Canucks Army Year in Review: Erik Gudbranson

Erik Gudbranson’s merit as a top-four defenceman came into question in the aftermath of his first season as a Vancouver Canuck. Fast forward a year later, and Gudbranson has done little to silence the skepticism.

Player GP G A P 5v5 CF%
Erik Gudbranson 52 2 3 5 43.8

Gudbranson’s already received his fair share of criticism from the analytics community, but his underlying numbers this season were unparalleled relative to even his standards. No NHL defenceman was worse than Gudbranson at controlling scoring chances, while only four fell short of him with regards to controlling shot attempts(minimum 600 minutes TOI). His woes didn’t end there either, with the former third overall pick setting a career-low in suppressing unblocked shot attempts per hour.

Subpar underlying results have been par for the course for Gudbranson, but it’s concerning to see how unfavourably they stack up to last season’s sample.

Erik Gudbranson On-Ice CF% SCF% HDCF% xGF% GF%
2016-17 47.8 46.7 43.6 47.7  35.7
2017-18 43.8 41.0 43.6 43.9  42.6

The margin of discrepancy year over year is particularly alarming. The logical question to ask next is why do the Canucks find themselves knee deep in mud with Gudbranson deployed? A deeper look into the matter reveals that the root problem lies in the team’s inability to drive offence with the 26-year-old on the ice.

Player(195 qualified NHL D) On-Ice FF/60 SCF/60 xGF/60 GF/60 HDCF/60
Erik Gudbranson 35.4(3rd worst) 21.3(6th worst 1.75(2nd worst) 1.59(5th worst) 21.4(3rd worst)

 

Vancouver’s offensive struggles with Gudbranson deployed are due in large part to his adverse effect on his teammates’ ability to control possession. Canucks’ skaters are nearly 5% worse at controlling shot attempts with Gudbranson on the ice compared to when he’s off. The difference is especially stark for his three most common defence partners.

The silver lining in Gudbranson’s performance is that he actually did an adequate job defensively. The sheer volume of shot attempts against may be high, but his ability to prevent high-quality attempts translated to the second-best rates among Canucks’ defensemen for expected and actual goals against.

Unfortunately, those defensive contributions are essentially nullified by the ineptitude Gudbranson displays with the puck.

Chart courtesy Bill Comeau, GAR data courtesy Chase McCallum

Goals above replacement(GAR) is a single, composite figure that aims to encompass a player’s worth into one statistic. It isn’t perfect by any means, but it paints a pretty good picture of a player’s value. Gudbranson stands out as the only Canucks’ defenceman performing below replacement-level.

Breaking things down compared to last year reaffirms the assertion that it was Gudbranson’s offensive detriment that proved costly.

One facet that the GAR metric doesn’t take into account is penalty killing performance — a noted strength for Gudbranson. Surprisingly, a first glance at the shorthanded results leaves you scratching your head.

Canucks’ D PK On-Ice TOI FA/60 GA/60 xGA/60 HDCA/60
Stecher 101.25 66.96 5.33 5.59 15.84
Tanev 126.78 70.04 8.05 5.91 17.39
Edler 184.47 72.21 9.76 6.19 19.37
Del Zotto 173.63 72.57 8.29 6.58 16.1
Gudbranson 130.31 73.77 10.6 6.71 19.63
Hutton 95.03 62.51 6.31 7.87 21.72

Gudbranson was outperformed in every defensive metric by Troy Stecher and Chris Tanev — the two other right-handed penalty killing options. The glaring deficiency with Gudbranson’s results is his paltry goals against rate — one that ranks sixth worst among defencemen league-wide(minimum 100 shorthanded minutes).

Contextualizing the numbers highlights that Gudbranson’s shortcomings relative to his peers speaks more towards the proficiency of their play than it does about the inadequacy of his own performance. Gudbranson’s conspicuously poor goals against rate was skewed by a .813 save percentage that ranked eighth lowest among all penalty killing defencemen. On the other hand, his expected mark appeared underwhelming compared to his teammates, but it was actually good enough to slot into the top quarter among 119 qualified blueliners.

How Can The Canucks Get the Most Out of Gudbranson?

A defenceman’s fit with his partner is an underrated factor for on-ice success. For Gudbranson, that’s been an issue since day one in Vancouver when he was paired with Ben Hutton.

The key for Gudbranson going back to his Florida days was finding a partner that could make up for his puck-moving deficiencies. The Canucks might not have a player of Brian Campbell’s quality like the Panthers did, though they do have a blueliner who shares some of the same strengths in Derrick Pouliot.

Not only was Pouliot the only Canucks’ defenceman to crest a 40% possession exit rate in Corey Sznajder’s sample, but his playmaking acumen shines through in his shot contribution data. Pouliot’s attacking skillset would take a lot of pressure off of Gudbranson, with the latter making up for Pouliot’s defensive inconsistencies.

If this rationale sounds familiar to you, it’s because a similar one was applied with Ben Hutton prior to Gudbranson’s arrival in Vancouver. The difference this time around is that there’s already a limited sample size that corroborates the validity of a Gudbranson and Pouliot pairing.

5v5 On-Ice 2017-18 TOI CF% Rel FA/60 xGF% GF% GF/60 GA/60
44 & 5 together 100.58 51.1 -2.9 49.6 50 2.39 2.39

Pouliot was by far Gudbranson’s best partner this season. The duo finished in the black for managing shot attempts, goals, and had the lowest unblocked shot attempts against rate of any pairing with Gudbranson on it.

It is important to note that the pairing likely received easier matchups, but if that’s what it takes to get the most out of Gudbranson, then so be it.

After all, what is there to lose?

  • Beer Can Boyd

    Sad that we are still having this discussion. Gudbrandson is Luca Sbisa, only slower, and with less offensive talent. Should have flipped him for whatever they could get at the deadline. Fingers crossed he doesn’t sink any further on the analytics charts (if thats even possible) and that they can trade him this year. McCann had a pretty decent year (28 points and +11), and if he continues to improve, this trade will haunt Benning going forward.Hated it at the time, hate it even more now.

  • truthseeker

    So far from what I’ve seen, I have not been a fan of his game. All the fancy stats aside, to me he just doesn’t do anything important on the ice. I get why they made the trade, and I don’t think it’s as lop sided as many of the self loathers here do….McCann is garbage so far and the second round pick has a very low percentage chance of ever being anything. Simple fact is, D costs a lot. Even a guy like Gudbranson at the time, held value that would cost you a lot going the other way. Trade precedent proves that point beyond any doubt. If McCann ever does anything I’ll be happy to admit the canucks lost this trade but at this point both teams are losers.

    Didn’t like that Benning resigned him. I would have rather they let him walk for nothing and contrary to many here I think the argument made about the “sunk cost fallacy” is a good one. Again though…the contract is hardly an awful thing for the canucks as it’s only for 3 more years at a fairly low number with no kinds of protections. So it will have virtually zero impact on the team’s ability to sign their young talent. Basically, it’s their money and if they want to waste it on him then whatever. I don’t really care.

    All I can hope is the guy somehow raises his game a bit and actually looks like he’s doing something on a regular basis. Then hopefully he gains a bit of value and they dump him in a trade.

    The whole guddy situation is one of the low points for the Benning team, but it’s hardly the massive issue the self loathers make it out to be. At this point he’s simply a mediocre player on a bad team that won’t be around when the team gets better. A place holder.

    • McCann has his issues, but he scored 28 points in 68 games on a mediocre Florida squad and has already played 166 games in the NHL by 21. That’s not nothing. Many other young players haven’t even stepped on NHL ice at this point in their careers and McCann has already shown he can be at minimum a decent 3rd-line centre, and may mature into more than that.

      Whether McCann and the second round pick turn into impact players or not, this trade exemplifies everything that’s problematic with the Benning regime – a tendency to devalue young prospects and and hemorrhage draft picks in favour of more mature, but mediocre, players. We’ve seen it over and over from the beginning, sending picks, prospects, and players away for fourth liners and 3rd-pairing D – it’s the exact *opposite* to the approach they should have taken, and it’s why the Canucks look like they’ve barely started their rebuild four seasons into Benning’s tenure, instead of being in a competitive position again.

      • But you’re omitting important context. In the “retool on the fly” era, Benning needed to give up future assets for roster players. I was not a fan of the Gudbranson trade but to say that this trade is problematic of the Benning regime *now* is false. Since the 2017 trade deadline, he’s changed focus and has moved towards draft pick preservation and will soon be in a position to start trading the stopgap players for draft picks.

        Even if Benning started selling players in 2014, you’d still need several years for the players to start filtering in. The players we would have drafted would have been long-shot late round draft picks anyways. For example, even in the best case like Gaudette (Hobey Baker winner), it still took 3 years before he put on a Canucks uniform and that was only for the last 5 games of the season.

      • TD

        I think Benning acquired some of the wrong players but understand and agree with his reasons for acquiring Granlund, Vey, Baertschi, Gudbranson, Pouliot, etc. There were no players in the 21-26 year old range when Benning took over. It’s almost incomprehensible to think of a 5 year period without having any picks make the team. I think Benning was correct in recognizing the need to add some players in this range and the only way to acquire them was through trade. As with picks, not all of the trades worked. The Gudbranson trade looks like the worst of the lot, but some of the trades did work and now the Canucks have some players in that missing age range.

        • argoleas

          It will be up to Green to properly utilize Guddy. They Pouliot-Gaddy 3rd pairing looks promising as a multi-year solution that will allow the transition from Edler and Tanev to Juolevi and possibly their 2018 1st rounder.

      • truthseeker

        I disagree. The guy was healthy scratched again a few times this season from what I read. Points like that on a terrible team don’t mean much in my opinion. Throw any physical body out there and they’ll probably get points like that. Like say…Brandon Sutter for example. An AHL plug wouldn’t be far behind that kind of production.

        As for your second point. More recycling of nonsense disproved information. He has not “hemorrhaged” draft picks. You’re taking that from that flawed CA article that was destroyed by poster Sloth, who’s points were never responded to.

    • liqueur des fenetres

      So seconds have a very low chance of ever becoming anything, and 3rds and 4ths even less than that. Yet at the trade deadline Benning wanted picks but instead got stuck with prospects. What gives?

    • NucksLifer

      While I agree the trade looks pretty bad in hindsight, I have to disagree with you about resigning Gudbranson. He was injured at the deadline and couldn’t realistically be traded. The decision at that point was whether to let him walk or sign him to a reasonable deal and see if he can rehabilitate his value. I know others will disagree, but a 3 year contract for $4 million isn’t unreasonable….or, more importantly, it is easily tradeable. If Gudbranon is halfway decent next year (which is possible, given the proper deployment and the fact that his play towards the end of the year was measurably better), Jim will be able to flip him at the deadline for something. And, in the meantime, he fills the need for some size and protection, while also being a good influence in the room.

      So, I counter your “sunk cost fallacy” with a “sell high, not low” maxim.

      • truthseeker

        Well…which is why I made the point about the contract not being much of a concern for the canucks over all. I do hope he can recoup some value and be dealt at some point, but I still don’t think the sunk cost thing would have been a bad choice either.

        I agree totally with “sell high” but there does come a point where that becomes impossible and you need to cut your loses. Even if it means simply freeing up a spot for someone else to give it a go.

        You are correct though that he most likely can be flipped for something with even a remote improvement in his play next season. And given there wasn’t anyone, just in terms of a physical body, who was ready to compete for a job, him being there is not that bad I guess. I just wouldn’t have cared if they had let him walk, that’s all.

  • If anyone has to have a good year, it’s Erik Gudbranson.

    Erik has to stay healthy and play a full 82 games. Tune out all the noise, train hard over the summer and start next season healthy, in great shape, and a good mindset.
    Also, some of this is on Travis Green. The Gudbranson – Hutton pairing doesn’t work. Stop trying it. Edler – Gudbranson showed promise, or maybe pair Erik with Pouliot. But the number one thing is Gudbranson has to play a full season without injury.

    • liqueur des fenetres

      Why? He’s just starting a 3 year deal and will be spending the summer rehabbing from surgery. In fact, since he doesn’t have trade protection if he has too good a year he risks getting shipped off to less than desirable place like Buffalo or Carolina. Why would he want that?

    • argoleas

      I can see situations where Guddy will be put on a 1st defensive pair w/ Edler for size purposes, but otherwise, putting him with Pouliot on the 3rd pair is the way to go, and for Christ-sake do not put Guddy with Hutton or MDZ! Probably looking at following Dcorps (assuming Tanev stays and one of Hutton/MDZ is gone):

      Edler-Stecher
      Hutton/MDZ-Tanev
      Pouliot-Guddy

      Hoping Guddy has a full, healthy season, so we can have another assessment like the one above and compare the two.

      Also want Sheriff Guddy to do some actual sheriffing.

  • Smarttnet

    Benning is totally at fault here. To be a good NHL GM, one must recognized the error of his ways, take responsibilty for it and rectify it ASAP. But Benning could not swallow his pride by admitting he’s made a grave error in misevaluating Gurbranson. Instread re-signing him and now you can add Gurbranson to Erikson, Sutter and even Gagner untradeable contracts. And the fact that he has not have any trade talks with any of these bad contract players means Benning has not learn a single thing as a pro GM. Stop this madness and go back go drafting room. Give control to an experience GM and hire Gilman back to manage the contracts and cap space. Benning is a scout at heart, that is where he belongs. Not in the big GM chair.

    • DJ_44

      But Benning could not swallow his pride by admitting he’s made a grave error in misevaluating Gurbranson. Instread re-signing him …..

      GMJB can easily trade Gudbranson anytime he chooses. He signed him to a contract that is the going rate, maybe even less, then Gudbranson would command on the open market. Other GM’s have openly stated they think the Gudbranson signing was excellent and they would do it in a heartbeat. I imagine you droned on about Sbisa being overpaid, however he is wearing the “A” on a team about to play in the SCF.

      By signing Gudbranson, GMJB protected the value of the asset, by not being force to accept less at the TDL due to injury, or lose him for nothing to free agency. Keep him away from the boat anchor that is Ben Hutton, and his value will easily increase.

      As for the comments about Gilman, really? Contract wizard? Look at the Gillis/Gilman era of drafting and signings and then ask if the last three years of poor teams was enough to pay for the debts they accumulated? I hope so.

      • truthseeker

        Which GM’s said that? Source for that?

        I don’t totally disagree with that assessment, but it was more than just the injury. His play kept his value low as well. You can’t possibly argue against that. As for his value “easily” increasing…I hope so.

        • DJ_44

          This was a (widely reported and repeated) comment from and “insider” on sports radio. No reference available, unfortunately. GM’s will not comment publicly on a player under contract with another team, so your quest for “which GM” will not be answered. I would think the majority of them would share this opinion.

          • Beer Can Boyd

            Only if they were making a joke would there say that. Analytically in there bottom 5 defensemen in the entire NHL, I’m sure many other GMs thought it was an excellent signing.

    • truthseeker

      Gilman did the right thing under the circumstances for that particular incarnation of the team. They were guys who could have gotten far more money in other places (as Ehrhoff decided to) without getting all those NTC/NMC’s. That guaranteed money and stability allowed that team to remain competitive for a much greater length of time.

      But that in no way means Gilman would be a good choice to run contracts under the canucks current situation. We have no idea if he just did that because of the situation or if he things that handing out NTC’s is a good strategy overall. His strategy certainly came back to bite the team in the a……. later on and to me is a major major reason why I’ll give Benning a little more leeway in terms of time to evaluate his performance overall. So you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t think Gilman is the big “savior” many make him out to be.

  • Dirk22

    I wonder how all of these Benning apologists would feel about trading Gaudette, Lind and a 4th for Gudbranson and a 5th. Not a big deal. Got to fill that age gap right?

    • Defenceman Factory

      who are all of these Benning apologists you speak of? I don’t see any comments here saying the Gudbranson trade was a big win for the Canucks. Some believe re-signing him was better asset management than letting him walk for nothing. Time will tell on that question. I hope he is moved as soon as possible.

      Your comment about trading Gaudette, Lind and a 4th is just petty and stupid but you already knew that.

      • Dirk22

        Petty? Sure I’ll give you that. Stupid? It’s a dead-on comparison of what they gave up for Gudbranson. How could one argue that it isn’t?

        The apologists are out in full force whenever Benning’s poster children (Guddy, Sutter, Eriksson) are brought up. Today is no different.

  • Ronning4ever

    “The silver lining in Gudbranson’s performance is that he actually did an adequate job defensively.”

    Gawd I love the analytics community. Doing “an adequate job defensively” isn’t a silver lining…it’s his job!

      • Dirty30

        Defensive backs intercept passes, create fumble and block kicks that lead to scoring. And many running backs, provide blocking for a runner or a passer. Tight ends are often deployed defensively on the offence.

        Heck, even Big Ben provided some defence with his ‘shoe-string’ tackle in a play-off game.

        Guddy’s problem is that he’s just not very good at defense or offence .. but there’s some GM that is likely to overlook those faults.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    If you look at the stats for last season, when Gudbranson was in the lineup the Canucks had a better record then when he was out of the lineup. Advanced Stats are a great too to learn tendencies but don’t tell the who story.
    An example you ask? Luca Sbisa played well at the World Cup last year and was on the ice a lot for the Vegas Knights late in games to protect leads against the Jets. Yet many advanced stats writers wanted Sbiza out of Vancouver?
    I like Gudbranson, he is physical, stands up for team mates, and provides veteran leadership for young players, (hard to measure these traits).
    A very good technical article.

  • Kootenaydude

    Benning was going to get zero if he tried to trade Gudbranson as he had a bad shoulder. If he let him walk for nothing. All you posters would be wanting his head on stick. I think Benning did the best he could do with an injured Gudbranson. One day he will trade him for an asset. If that asset turns out better than McCann. Then Benning was right and you were all wrong! It made sense to trade an underachieving forward for a defenceman. Unfortunately Gudbranson Hasn’t played up to expectations. Nobody to blame but him.

      • DJ_44

        Gudbranson was about to be a UFA. Three years was probably the minimum he would have accepted. From the Canucks view, three years is ideal; with no trade restrictions, he can be moved if required, or play out his contract until the final year’s TDL. From Gudbranson’s point of view, three years provides stability, and allows him another shot at free agency while still under 30.

        Gudbranson’s contract was a good signing by GMJB. Sbisa’s contract was a good contract — as is being shown now in Vegas. Sutter’s contract is right around his market value based on utilization, production and contract status. Eriksson (and I like Eriksson’s game) is $2M too much, but that in no way will cripple the franchise going forward. It is what it is. Don’t lock up massive dollars in a bunch of older assets.

        That said, I would have had no problem seeing Evander Kane here for 7 x $7M. Signing FA’s at 26 for term is not the end of the world. He is a dominate player in the league.

  • BC SPORTS FAN

    Gudbrandson was our worst D-man. Then Benning resigns him to a 3 year contract. when he handles the puck it looks like he is handling a “live” hand grenade.

  • canuckfan

    How does Gudbranson have any control on his team mates puck possession?
    You know people really hate you when they make statements like “Vancouver’s offensive struggles with Gudbranson deployed are due in large part to his adverse effect to his teammates ability to control puck possession.” What a crazy statement.