On Saturday night’s Coach’s Corner segment on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, legendary broadcaster Don Cherry gushed over Vancouver Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson, saying, “ooooh do I like that guy, he played for Kingston, Ontario he’d love to play here (Toronto).”
We’ll… that certainly won’t put the Gudbranson to the Toronto Maple Leafs rumors to rest. Fans and analysts have been connecting the dots between the two Canadian franchises on a potential deal for weeks now, but with the NHL trade deadline quickly approaching, are we getting closer to a deal?
On paper, at least, the deal certainly seems to make sense from both team’s positions. The 26-year-old Gudbranson is on an expiring contract, but he’ll become a restricted free-agent, rather than an unrestricted free-agent this offseason. This means that whichever team acquires him will be afforded the flexibility of retaining his rights and negotiating a new deal with him throughout the summer, without risk of losing him to the open market.
The shocking proclamation from Cherry last night wasn’t Gudbranson’s availability, but rather the price he feels the Leafs should pay to acquire him. “They’ll have to give up a guy like (Connor) Brown or (Mitch) Marner or something and they’re not gonna give him up, but they’d pay dearly,” said the former Boston Bruins bench boss.
The 26-year-old Gudbranson was acquired by the Canucks in the summer of 2015 from the Florida Panthers in exchange for youngster Jared McCann, but has had two inconsistent season with his new club. In 58 games over the past two seasons, Gudbranson has managed just one goal and eight points. He’s been injured frequently, but even when healthy he’s struggled to find a place on the Canucks’ lineup. With Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, Michael Del Zotto, Ben Hutton and Derrick Pouliot all playing more meaningful minutes than Gudbranson… where does he fit in?
Certainly the Canucks would LOVE to get a player like Brown or Marner back for Gudbranson, but what’s the likelihood that it happens? Probably next to nil. In fact, The Province newspaper’s Patrick Johnston reported this morning that the Leafs have already made an offer on Gudbranson and it didn’t include either player mentioned by Cherry.
It sounds to me like they do have something on the table for Erik Gudbranson — the Leafs are said to have offered a pick and Andrew Neilson — and he was non-committal about re-signing Jim Benning.
Interesting. Andrew Neilsen is a 21-year-old former 3rd round (65th overall) pick of the Leafs in 2015 and he’s played the past two seasons with the team’s AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies. The 6’3”, 207 pound defenseman has just two goals and 11 points in 33 games with the Marlies this season, but he’s a rugged blue liner unafraid to drop the mitts… kind of like Gudbranson, himself.
Time will tell if Neilsen ever develops into a capable NHL defenseman, but with the Leafs in need of one NOW and the Canucks in the middle of a rebuild, this deal almost makes too much sense. The question really is… what’s the pick included along with Neilsen? Canucks GM Jim Benning should be listening in on any and all offers for Gudbranson at this point. So, don’t be surprised if the two Canadian teams hook up on a deal before the February 26th NHL trade deadline.
Whether it’s Toronto or elsewhere, one thing seems certain: Gudbranson will be traded this season. The question now is where?