The Vancouver Canucks were in a strange situation this past summer when it came to extending restricted free agent defenseman Erik Gudbranson. After trading away Jared McCann and a pair of draft picks to the Florida Panthers to acquire Gudbranson the off-season prior, the big rearguard was held to just 30 games in 2016-17 due to injury. Still unsure of what kind of player Gudbranson could be in Vancouver but cognizant of what it took to get him, the Canucks gave the 2010 #3 overall pick an identical contract to the one inherited from Florida: one year and $3.5MM. Fast-forward to today, and the situation is still unclear for the Canucks. Gudbranson will now be an unrestricted free agent this off-season and the struggling squad faces pressure to get what they can for him by the trade deadline. However, even in another limited season – having missed 17 games due to injury and suspension – Gudbranson has shown his capable defensive game and, at 26, still has room to grow. So what do they do?
Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre has an idea. MacIntyre spoke to GM Jim Benning, who made it clear that they would like to extend Gudbranson if possible. “I know he’s had some ups and downs, but until he got hurt he was playing well for us. As long as a player can play in today’s game, you’re always going to need a defencemen who can play physical, especially in our division. There’s always going to be room for a guy like that”, Benning stated, summing up the value that Gudbranson brings.
However, an extension is not done yet and the clock is ticking toward the February 26th NHL Trade Deadline. If a deal cannot be struck, the rebuilding Canucks have no choice but to trade Gudbranson and hope that they get a good return for him. Gudbranson’s agent, Mark Guy, said as much in talking to Sportsnet’s Rick Dhaliwal, ackowledging that the season will likely either end with an extension or with a trade. Benning knows that his job may be on the line and needs to get whatever he can for Vancouver’s impending UFA’s. A trade also wouldn’t rule out the team simply bringing Gudbranson back in free agency too, perhaps adding to the intrigue of shipping him out in the next month. Benning may prefer to re-sign Gudbranson, but it still seems like all signs point to a trade.