On Monday, the Florida Panthers announced that they had signed Erik Gudbranson to a one year contract extension. Terms were not announced by the team, but quickly appeared on CapFriendly and GeneralFanager: Gudbranson will make $3.5 million next year.
As Florida makes a turn towards a more analytical model, I thought it might be interesting to see what the numbers available to us say about Gudbranson. We’ll start with the basics:
Gudbranson plays an average 20:07 minutes a night, with 3:14 of that spent on the PK and a negligible amount on the power play. He had two goals and seven assists, three of which were primary assists.
These aren’t the only numbers we can — or should — look at. Gudbranson is meant to be a shutdown defenseman, the guy you count on to stop the other team from scoring, more so than a puck-mover who drives offense.
Our best proxy for this is shots. (I will be using shots here to include blocked shots, missed shots, and shots on goal — all of which are types of shots, though most commonly referred to as shot attemtps.) How many shots is the goalie facing while this player is on the ice? Here’s the even-strength shots against per 60 minutes 5v5 for the seven defensemen Florida used most last season:
Brian Campbell – 47.02
Aaron Ekblad – 47.77
Dmitry Kulikov – 52.65
Alex Petrovic – 52.91
Steven Kampfer – 55.11
Erik Gudbranson – 55.89
Willie Mitchell – 58.97
“Okay,” you’re saying. “But what about shot quality?” Well, my friends: we track that, too. Here’s the location data for the even-strength shots against Florida while Gudbranson is on the ice (left) versus when he’s off the ice (right).
Red is bad, blue is good, grey is neutral when looking at this. You’ll note that Gudbranson is worse than the team average in every area, though only slightly worse in close.
Here’s what that same chart looks like for Ekblad, Campbell, Kulikov, and Mitchell.
Ekblad, Campbell, and Kulikov all perform better than average, both relative to the league and relative to their team without them, at least for the most part. Campbell is weak in front of the crease, which is something anyone who watches the team will already know: he can’t clear the crease.
Now, if you think goals are all that matter — yep, I’ve got those numbers for you, too. At even-strength, here’s the absolute numbers of goals against for the same seven defensemen we looked at earlier:
Aaron Ekblad – 43
Dmitry Kulikov – 43
Brian Campbell – 38
Erik Gudbranson – 35
Alex Petrovic – 30
Willie Mitchell – 29
Steven Kampfer – 16
“Aha!”, you may be saying to yourself. “Those shot numbers are meaningless!”
Those are the absolute numbers. Here’s the goals against per 60 minutes played for the above:
Willie Mitchell – 2.43
Dmitry Kulikov – 2.18
Erik Gudbranson – 2.11
Aaron Ekblad – 1.99
Alex Petrovic – 1.91
Brian Campbell – 1.67
Steve Kampfer – 1.55
Rate stats are important because the difference in minutes played is going to impact the absolute results. If I give up one goal every ten minutes and play twenty minutes, and you give up two goals every ten minutes and play ten minutes, we’ll give up the same number of goals … but I’ll be doing it less frequently, which is ultimately better.
Gudbranson isn’t great at preventing shots against and he isn’t great at preventing goals against. That sounds like the exact opposite of a shutdown defenseman to me.
I’m not sure where Florida plans on going with Gudbranson. Given the one year term, it appears that the team is prioritizing longer term extensions for pending restricted free agent Vince Trocheck and other RFA players whose deals expire in 2016-17 in Reilly Smith, Aaron Ekblad, and Jonathan Huberdeau. This is a promising sign. Ekblad and Huberdeau in particular must be dealt with before lesser talents like Gudbranson. While Gudbranson has been touted as the future captain of this team since he was drafted, I would suggest that the more skilled young players on this team — Barkov, Bjugstad, Huberdeau, Ekblad, Trocheck, and Matheson — are all known to be young men of high character and that you cannot extend a player long term solely for their intangibles. For a team built on character, it should take more than that to receive a long term contract — and thus far, Gudbranson hasn’t proven that he has more than character to offer.
The price is steeper than I might like were this for a longer term, but for a one year deal while a decision is made on Gudbranson’s longterm future with the team, it’s a solid move. 2.11 goals against per 60 may not be great, but like Darryl Sutter said, it’s a 3-2 league. Signing him now also allows the Panthers to avoid a potentially ugly arbitration battle — players with the kind of hype Gudbranson has and the amount of time on ice he has get at least this much. This way, the Panthers know what they’re dealing with as they enter free agent signing season.