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Blue Jackets sign defenseman Erik Gudbranson to four year deal

Uhm... what?

Edmonton Oilers v Calgary Flames - Game Five Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a four-year deal worth sixteen million dollars.

He’s big, experienced, and he had a career year last year.

That’s about it in terms of good news. Over his career, he’s scored 27 goals and 67 assists in 641 games. Gudbranson did put up career highs in goals, points, and assists last year. He had a 6-11-17 stat line, along with 145 hits and 92 blocked shots, and he turned 30 in January. This deal carries him through the 2025-26 season, and he will be 34 at the end of the contract. He’s also 6’5” and 222 pounds, and can play on the right side.

That technically fills the Blue Jackets’ need for a big defenseman on the right side. Columbus gave up the most goals in franchise history last year, necessitating an investing in preventing that. This was reflected at the draft when the Jackets got defensemen David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk with the 6th and 12th picks overall, respectively. To quote GM Jarmo Kekalainen:

Jarmo makes a fantastic point here; it’s preferred to target NHL defensemen who are “mobile and skilled and good.” Unfortunately, Erik Gudbranson is none of these things.

JFresh is considered to be one of the go-to guys for advanced hockey stats. I heavily relied on him for my defense free agency preview, but I didn’t really go over what any of these stats mean. So let’s go over this chart now.

First, a Projected WAR% of 11%. Wins Above Replacement is a common stat in the sports world which typically asks the question “How many wins can this player earn over a replacement-level player?” JFresh chooses to express this, and all his other stats, as a percentile. Gudbranson is in the 11th percentile, which means that he is better than or equivalent to 11% of NHL defensemen. This means that, according to this model, 89% of NHL defensemen are better than Erik Gudbranson. This stat is tracked over the last three seasons in the chart in the upper right.

Next, EV Offense and EV Defense. This is basically the same thing, but only 5-on-5 and divided among offensive and defensive impact. Good news: Gudbranson is better than half the league’s defensemen at offense! Also known as, average. Bad news: That’s the opposite of what we need, opposite of what Jarmo claims he was aiming for, and worsens the “no defense lol” problem. A whopping 91% of NHL defensemen are better than Gudbranson at keeping pucks out of the next. The chart in the bottom right shows this stat over the past three seasons. PK WAR is the same as EV Defense, but on the penalty kill, where Gudbranson again escapes by the skin of his teeth into the average territory.

Finishing WAR! According to JFresh, this is “The estimated value a player provides to his team based on his ability to score at a higher rate than expected based on the quantity/quality of his shots.” I’m not sure how to read that but I think it means Gudbranson is lucky and could feasibly come back down to earth. Fun! G/60 and A1/60 measure how many goals and primary assists a player scores respectively, relative to his time on ice. Gudbranson is average and trash respectively.

Penalty WAR is a pretty simple question: How many penalties to you take? Answer: A lot.

Competition measures the quality of the opposition a player plays against. Or, how sheltered is/should this player be? Gudbranson’s blistering 13% means that he was mostly matched up against bottom six forwards and third pair defensemen, in a Pacific division which was not very competitive to begin with. Teammates represents the average quality of Gudbranson’s line mates in Calgary, and since this is a 13% I’m assuming that means he played mostly on the third pair.

And Jarmo paid sixteen million dollars over four years for that. None of the needs he wanted to address were met, there’s evidence Gudbranson overperformed last year, and he’s on the wrong side of 30. It’s inexplicable.


How would you grade the Erik Gudbranson signing?

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  • 57%
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