With the March 1st NHL trade deadline less than two weeks away, teams need to decipher whether they will be buyers or sellers.
The Vancouver Canucks currently sit in 25th place in the league with 54 points, five points out of a wild card spot.
Sure, they can still play hard and try to make a playoff push, but the smart play is to sell off some players for draft picks and other future assets.
Whether or not Canucks management will actually do that remains to be seen.
Benning says problem is teams want to wait until deadline to decide if they're buyers or sellers.
Imo: Isn't that the #canucks problem??
— Omar A (@omarcanuck) February 16, 2017
Trading UFAs like Ryan Miller or Alex Burrows would be nice if the Canucks don’t plan on re-signing them, and Jannik Hansen is probably the most talked about trade chip right now given the looming decision the team will need to make before the expansion draft.
There is one player that hasn’t been talked about much that the Canucks would be especially wise to part ways with at the deadline: Erik Gudbranson.
Currently injured, the former third-overall pick in 2011 has only played 30 games in a Canucks uniform after they acquired him last summer. But 30 games is enough to see that Gudbranson did not come as advertised.
His 0.2 points-per-game as a Canuck is actually above his career total, so we’ve probably seen all he has to offer offensively. To be fair, Gudbranson wasn’t acquired for offence. He was acquired to be a big, shutdown d-man. Someone who would be hard to play against.
But 25-year-old hasn’t been good defensively either. His plus-minus rating of -14 is still the worst among Canucks blueliners. That’s -38 over a full season, which would put him among the worst in the NHL.
Looking at advanced stats, Gudbranson doesn’t look good in the Corsi-For percentage (CF%) stat either.
He ranks last among all Canucks blueliners in CF%, and his CA60 (Corsi-Against per 60 minutes, a stat that essentially shows who is hard to play against) is only better than Philip Larsen.
Using the ‘with-or-without you’ test, the results again shine poorly on Gudbranson.
In the 30 games played with Gudbranson, the Canucks went 12-16-2 and allowed 3.1 goals-per-game on average. Since his injury, the Canucks have gone 13-11-4, allowing just 2.4 goals-per-game. That’s a pretty significant swing.
All this evidence suggests that the Canucks are better without Gudbranson in the lineup. But the reasons for trading the 6-foot-5, 220-pound defenceman don’t stop there.
With Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin coming in and playing so well this season, the Canucks have a log-jam on defence. It would actually be a much more pressing issue if the team hadn’t been hit with so many injuries to the back-end early on.
Before acquiring Gudbranson, defence was a position of weakness on the Canucks. That trade solidified it (at least we thought), but the unforeseen leaps made by Tryamkin and especially Stecher meant that the team suddenly had more than six NHL-ready blueliners.
The Canucks defence is playing fine right now without Gudbranson, and him returning would likely mean one of Tryamkin, Stecher, or Sbisa (who has had a strong season) coming out.
There’s one last problem with Gudbranson, and it’s possibly the biggest of them all – money.
"Sir, it says you added 2 million to Gudbranson's contract 'For being super handsome', I don't think that's legal."
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) January 7, 2017
Gudbranson becomes an RFA at the end of this season, and his rumoured asking price is scary.
He reportedly turned down a four-year/$4 million per season extension with Florida last summer before signing his current one-year deal that pays him $3.5 million.
Giving Gudbranson is a scary thought, because you can make a case that he’s not worth his current deal. He’ll likely be looking between $4-5 million for his next contract and the Canucks (or any team) would be foolish to oblige based on his resume.
Having given up Jared McCann (a former first rounder) and a second round pick, it’ll take a big turnaround by Gudbranson in order to say Vancouver won the trade.
They likely won’t get what they paid for him, but it would be a smart decision by Canucks management to cut their losses and get what they can for Gudbranson.
Roman Polak fetched two second rounders for Toronto at the trade deadline last year. Kris Russell got a second round pick and a decent prospect for Calgary.
And those were rental players with less value than Gudbranson.
The market is always there for defencemen, and it’ll be no different for Gudbranson. The Canucks just have to be willing.
The wise thing for Canucks management to do now is to cut their losses, rather than dig a bigger hole.