The Pittsburgh Penguins marched to what felt like an anti-analytics drum by bringing in Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson during recent years. It only makes sense, then, that they got rid of Gudbranson by sending him to the Anaheim Ducks, a team that also has a reputation for placing analytics at such a low priority.
Ducks receive: Gudbranson
Penguins get: Forward Andreas Martinsen, 2021 seventh-round pick
The most important thing the Penguins will receive is financial flexibility. Gudbranson, 27, carries a $4 million cap hit for 2019-20 and 2020-21. This provides much-needed savings for a Penguins team that might have needed to move money around once their assortment of IR (Alex Galchenyuk, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bjugstad) and LTIR (Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust) players start coming back.
There’s a decent argument that Gudbranson takes more away from the table than he brings to it, as you can see from metrics such as Evolving Wild’s multi-season RAPM chart:
Interestingly, Gudbranson actually was strong from a possession standpoint in the 19 games he played with Pittsburgh following a trade with the Vancouver Canucks that sent Tanner Pearson out of Pittsburgh. Much of that hope dissipated to start 2019-20, as Gudbranson’s underlying numbers were as ugly as ever, while he also failed to score a point while averaging 15:09 TOI in seven games.
The Ducks could think of that brief surge in competence, and there’s a minor argument to be made that the truth is at least somewhere in between his lowest moments and the brief flashes of brilliance.
For one thing, Gudbranson spent most of his even-strength minutes this season with Jack Johnson, one of the only big-minutes, first-rounder defensemen who is more notorious than Gudbranson for being underwater.
One would guess that the Ducks look at other, “looks good in jeans”-type factors. Gudbranson’s a big defenseman, has the pedigree that comes with being the third pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, and maybe most importantly … they just lost Luca Sbisa to waivers after signing him, so it’s obvious that the Ducks are hurting for defensemen.
Credit the Penguins for taking advantage of that vulnerability, as now Pittsburgh has flexibility this season — maybe during the trade deadline? — and also maybe a little more room to work with next offseason.
Now if they can somehow trick a team to take Johnson’s horrifying contract off of their hands …
(Note: as you can see here, Andreas Martinsen is somewhere between an AHL/NHL tweener and a flat-out AHL player, so the pick and player are nowhere near as important to Pittsburgh as the cap relief.)