The Vancouver Canucks finsihed 12 points behind Minnesota for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference in 2015-16 and with many of their best players – Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Edler and Ryan Miller – all on the wrong side of 30, many thought it was time for the organization to embrace a full rebuild. Instead Vancouver inked veteran scoring forward Loui Eriksson in free agency and dealt young prospect Jared McCann along with a second-round pick to Florida for experienced defenseman Erik Gudbranson; moves that suggested the front office had every reason of contending in 2016-17. While the team sits just three points out of a playoff berth and with roughly two-thirds of the season remaining, it’s still more likely Vancouver will be a lottery team as opposed to a serious postseason contender. Now, with Gudbranson scheduled to reach restricted free agency next summer and likely in line for a marked raise over his $3.5MM cap hit, Vancouver will have to make a tough decision on what to do with the physical blue liner, as Jason Brough of Pro Hockey Talk writes.
As Brough explains, the Canucks have unexpectedly received strong play from rookie Troy Stecher, who has six points in 18 games, and already have Chris Tanev signed long term. Both are right-side defenders, as is Gudbranson, and a strong case can be made that they deserve top-four slots ahead of the former Florida Panther. In that case, Vancouver GM Jim Benning may not want to pay market value for Gudbranson, assuming he would be no more than a third-pair blue liner.
Benning has indicated that his newfound back end depth may allow him to trade a defenseman for a forward:
“We have depth on defense. We’ve rebuilt our defense. (Nikita) Tryamkin is 22 years old, (Troy) Stecher is 22 years old. (Alex) Edler at 30 is our oldest defenseman, so we have a young, good group back there. We have depth back there. So if we look to make a move, we’d have to use some of our depth on the blue line to add a forward.”
Gudbranson’s value is also difficult to project. The analytical community is not a fan, citing his substandard possession numbers – 48.7% career CF% – and his lack of offense. The towering blue liner has tallied just 48 career points in 336 NHL regular season games; good for a per-82-game-average of 11.7. With the league always looking for more offense and team’s prioritizing puck moving capabilities from its blue liners, there may not be as much of a trade market this summer for a player of Gudbranson’s ilk.
However, teams that value intangibles may be willing to overlook the advanced stats. But first, Vancouver has to decide whether they project Gudbranson to be a top-four defender and if not, are they going to be willing to extend the former third overall pick to a contract with an AAV in excess of $4MM or $5MM.
Elsewhere in the Pacific Division:
- Defenseman Mirco Mueller has been recalled by the San Jose Sharks, according to the official website of their AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda. Curtis Pashelka of the San Jose Mercury News relays that the team’s head coach, Peter DeBoer, has not yet decided whether Mueller will be in the lineup this evening. However, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area believes it is likely the former first-round pick will sit out tonight. Mueller has appeared in 50 NHL games with the Sharks, netting one goal and four points. He has yet to suit up this season for the Sharks. Mueller has six points in 17 games with the Barracuda.