Would losing Erik Gudbranson for nothing be worse than signing him?
With the Canucks defenceman’s contract set to expire at the end of this year, this is already becoming a major storyline for the team this season.
The entire thing would be easier for Jim Benning to figure out if not for the optics: Vancouver acquired Gudbranson by trading one of their best young prospects Jared McCann to Florida two years ago, the same prospect who became the most promising return in Ryan Kesler’s trade to Anaheim.
The only remaining returns on the Kesler trade disappearing into thin air this summer? Ouch.
On Tuesday, Canucks Army’s Jeremy Davis wrote an article in response to a point made in the Provies where Jason Botchford wrote, “The Canucks have no choice, it’s sign or trade him. They cannot lose him for nothing.”
Davis disagreed, arguing that losing Gudbranson to free agency (aka for nothing) would be a better alternative to signing him to a hefty contract.
This led Botchford to tack an important ending onto his original statement in his next Provies: “The Canucks can’t lose Gudbranson for nothing. And survive.” By that, he meant management won’t “survive” if Gudbranson walks in free agency.
Now that the background’s set, I have one thought to add: if our method of evaluating Vancouver’s options on Gudbranson is through the lens of how it affects management, they really have no choice.
They have to trade him.
Not only can the team not afford to lose him for nothing (meaning watch him go to another team in free agency), they cannot afford to re-sign him either.
See, Gudbranson’s not the only negotiating partner in the Gudbrandon deal who is in a contract year – Benning is too.
Speaking on Sportsnet 650 radio Tuesday, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini was asked what he’ll need to see to re-sign Benning. While he understandably didn’t provide a straight answer, the Canucks owner did say he “can’t complain” with the current direction of the team and how the season has gone so far.
To me, the translation is he’s happy with the results on the ice, and even happier about the optimism within the fanbase.
If the team re-signs Gudbranson at market value, however, that current belief in management will be significantly eroded.
The issue is the big defenceman’s sticker price.
During his weekly afternoon appearance on TSN 1040, ex-Canucks assistant GM, Laurence Gilman said, “I think the number for [Gudbranson] based on the market that’s been set the last couple of years is probably north of $4.5 million to the low fives.”
Now, realize Gilman’s simply providing his best guestimate of the defenceman’s value, using his experience and knowledge of how the league works. Still, when Vancouver’s former ‘capologist’ evaluates Gudbranson’s worth, you have to understand his guess is better than your average fan or media member.
Now just think about how signing Gudbranson to a $4.5-million/year contract would play in this city. Vancouver finally just got out of their worst defenceman’s contract because the Vegas Golden Knights saved them from it – talking of Luca Sbisa’s $3.6-million/year deal of course.
In case you forgot, that was the contract that had fans at the Canucks’ Summer Summit literally yelling at Benning, telling him to never sign another contract like that.
Most eye-test and analytics guys agreed – Sbisa had significant issues on the back end. Similarly now, many agree about Gudbranson’s negative effects on the team, with the usual suspects who defended Sbisa’s “intangibles” doing the same for Gudbranson.
Gudbranson has the worst shot-attempt differential on the team, meaning he’s a defensive liability on the ice. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t appear to have the confidence of the coach, who’s played him an average of 17:25 per night – fifth-most among Canucks defencemen.
The big defenceman has zero points this season, and his career high is 13, so he doesn’t provide offence either.
Last summer the Canucks made a similar judgement error on Loui Eriksson’s contract – signing him at $6-million for six-years.
The Sbisa and Eriksson contracts didn’t play well in Vancouver, and this one would be worse.
There is significant optimism from fans surrounding the team. Part of it is the on-ice results, and another is the fact management has finally openly embraced the rebuild.
This past summer they avoided any Eriksson-style deals – contracts that would be impossible to get out of just a few years into them. Signs point to Linden and Benning learning on the job.
In a city just starving for a hint of improvement in their hockey team – a reason for hope – that learning, as well as the development of younger players, was all fans needed to start believing again.
They may not have agreed with the Eriksson or Sbisa contracts to begin with, but as long as Benning is learning from his mistakes, that’s enough for many.
Signing Gudbranson at north of $4.5-million, then? Not only is that even worse than Sbisa’s contract, it would be a sign no learning has taken place. Paying that price for him would cause a negative Twitter-storm and reaction amongst fans, the likes of which the team hasn’t seen in a while.
That would erode any confidence in Benning, and hurt a lot of the good-will the team has built up with fans so far this season.
Remember the results of the “Fire Gillis” chants at Rogers Arena? Of course you do.
This management team wouldn’t survive that type of treatment. So really, they have no choice.