The Pittsburgh Penguins suffered some injuries in their defense corps recently, so have moved quickly to strengthen the group. Pittsburgh has acquired Erik Gudbranson from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for forward Tanner Pearson.
Gudbranson, 27, is in the first season of a three-year extension signed with Vancouver last February and will carry a $4MM cap hit through the 2020-21 season. That makes this a somewhat surprising move given the Penguins already have a fair bit of money invested into their blue line. The team just gave Jack Johnson a five-year deal last summer and have gotten little back for their money, and still have Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maataa all earning at least $4MM per season. While sending Pearson the other way clears out $3.75MM itself, the team has moved money out of the forward group that had already been criticized for not being deep enough.
GM Jim Rutherford explained the move this way:
Getting the type of player that Gudbranson is was something we’ve talked about for a while. He wasn’t available, to my knowledge, until today. We are very pleased to bring Erik in to join our team. The nice thing about Erik is he’s a character guy, he’s a team guy. He’s going to help the room. He’s going to make guys feel more comfortable. He’s got experience playing in the league.
Perhaps most notable in that explanation is the idea that Gudbranson is going to make his teammates “feel more comfortable.” While Rutherford doesn’t specify exactly what he means, it very well could be that he wanted a player who could stand up for his teammates on the ice. The Penguins have been looking for an answer to Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson’s physical style for some time, and after trading away Jamie Oleksiak didn’t have a player who measured up. Gudbranson certainly does that, though the rest of his game brings about more questions.
Selected third overall in 2010 by the Florida Panthers, Gudbranson never did develop any offensive game and is strictly a defensive defenseman. In 448 career regular season games the 6’5″ behemoth has just 62 points and hasn’t recorded more than ten in a single season since 2014-15 (the only year he has done so). He has also posted incredibly low possession statistics because of that lack of offensive skill, something that the Penguins will have to hope doesn’t hurt them down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Obviously Pittsburgh has other options to move the puck, including two elite offensive options in Letang and Schultz, but in today’s NHL Gudbranson may continue to struggle even in a sheltered role. That’s obviously why Vancouver made him available just a year after extending him, and for a player who has experienced struggles of his own in Pearson.
The 26-year old Pearson was only acquired by the Penguins a few months ago in exchange for Carl Hagelin, and didn’t quite find the success that the team had hoped for. After failing to score a single goal in 17 games to start the season with the Los Angeles Kings, he recorded just nine goals and 14 points for the Penguins through 44 contests. If Pearson can get back to the perennial 40-point player that he was for a few years in Los Angeles the Canucks could have a perfect winger for one of their good young centers, but that may be asking a lot at this stage in his career.