Among Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning‘s more controversial decisions was the trade for defenceman Erik Gudbranson. This past spring, Benning traded forward Jared McCann and a second round pick (along with exchanges of various mid-round selections) for Gudbranson, deeming the 25-year-old to be a valuable piece of the team’s rebuild going forward. Since then, Gudbranson’s debut season in Vancouver was cut short due to injury (he’s played just 30 games this season), while McCann has split time between the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
While McCann, a first-round pick in 2014, hasn’t exploded offensively, his departure is deeper pronounced by the Canucks’ inability to develop effective young scorers. Meanwhile, Gudbranson struggled in limited time, with a CorsiFor% and FenwickFor% among the weakest among Canucks blue liners (48.03% and 46.87% respectively). He has also been generally unnoticeable offensively, with just five points in 30 games (a 14-point pace). This has left the Canucks in an interesting spot heading into the trade deadline, and looking further, the expansion draft. The potential for a trade – before or after the deadline – still exists, as does the idea that he is picked up by the Las Vegas Golden Knights, or brought back to prove himself next season.
The emergence of Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin has allowed the Canucks some flexibility in regards to decisions on the blue line. No longer is Gudbranson guaranteed a spot in the top four, even with a trade including one of Alex Edler or Chris Tanev (which is an idea that has been thrown around). With Gubdranson, an RFA at the end of this season, due for a new contract, a trade is a completely reasonable possibility for the club.
The former third overall selection (of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft) currently makes $3.5 million on a one-year deal. Considering his general ineffectiveness on the ice, that’s a hefty price tag, and one that will have to take a relatively significant cut. However, it’s possible Gudbranson will ask for a pay raise. This is the driver behind the trade scenario, and if it works out, he could boast some value. He is a young defender that has shown some upside, and those pieces can fetch a respectable package on the trade market. For Vancouver, the big question is whether a deal could be managed before the deadline, or if it will wait until the draft. The trade route is one that makes sense for this club, and one that could pay off the most in the end (due to their apparent interest in acquiring draft picks).
Additionally, it’s conceivable, though unlikely, that the team is keeping him as expansion draft bait. Benning has been known for questionable value-assessment in the past, so one must keep an open mind to the idea that he could choose to protect Swiss defender Luca Sbisa (who has admittedly shown improvement over the course of the year), over Gudbranson. This is not a scenario that makes a particularly large amount of sense, but it’s possible the team decides a trade is impossible, and a contract extension is out of the question. Of course, the team could also choose to resign Gudbranson at a similar price (or lower) to his current salary, and hope for a rebound of sorts. This is perhaps the safest, and most plausible bet at this point, but one that may not be beneficial in the long-term.
The Canucks have a lot of decisions to make moving forward, and while it may be overlooked, the situation regarding Gudbranson is an important one to keep in consideration. The club has been on record as saying they have a “luxurious defence”, and the right-handed blue liner may just be their most expendable asset in that area.