It seems like only yesterday that the Florida Panthers were raving about Erik Gudbranson.
Except it wasn’t yesterday.
It was earlier this month.
“Guddy has taken a big step for our team this year,” coach Gerard Gallant said, per the Sun Sentinel. “He’s very confident, moves the puck real well and is a big part of our blue line.”
“He’s really going to be a special player for a lot of years in this league and hopefully for a lot of years with the Panthers,” said veteran d-man Brian Campbell.
Now, Florida had just signed Gudbranson to a one-year contract extension, so of course there was raving to be done.
But it still surprised a lot of people when he was traded to Vancouver yesterday.
Not that Gudbranson was given away for nothing. The return the Panthers got from the Canucks was considerable. Jared McCann could be a top-six forward one day, and there was more.
“The fact we were able to add draft picks this year, second and fourth round, 33 and 93, we felt gave us two picks that we got back that we lost on the trading deadline,” general manager Tom Rowe told reporters.
Rowe also conceded that trading Gudbranson was a “very, very difficult decision.”
The timing, though.
The timing was pretty hard to ignore.
Rowe, of course, was just named Florida’s new GM. He replaced Dale Tallon, who was “promoted” (or demoted, depending who you ask) to the role of director of hockey ops. It was all part of a big, managerial shakeup — one that was driven in large part by analytics:
Would you be surprised to learn that Gudbranson did not have a particularly high Corsi?
Now, we’re not saying the Panthers made this trade solely because of advanced stats. When there’s a salary cap, difficult decisions need to be made. Gudbranson will need a new contract next summer, and he won’t be cheap to re-sign.
Added Rowe: “The way [Michael Matheson] played in the playoffs and at the World Championship for an outstanding Canadian team really gave us more of a comfort level to do this.”
Still, it was only two years ago that Tallon was saying Gudbranson was “likely going to be the captain of our team some day.” And it was only a few weeks ago that Tallon called Gudbranson “an important part of our young core who has continued to develop into a reliable, physical presence on our blue line and a strong leader in our locker room.”
So yeah, whether or not you like the deal for the Panthers, it’s more than fair to wonder who, or what, was the driving force behind it.
One thing’s for sure — the Panthers are going to look very different on the back end next season. Gudbranson’s gone; Willie Mitchell is unlikely to be back; and Campbell is an unrestricted free agent who may test the market.
In the playoffs, no defenseman played more for Florida than Gudbranson. After him, it was Campbell.