General manager Jim Benning confirmed to Sportsnet today that he will try to sign the 26-year-old to a contract extension ahead of the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline. But if contract talks fail in the next couple of weeks, the Canucks will trade Gudbranson rather than lose him as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
“He’s a physical, stay-at-home defenceman who helps us,” Benning said. “We have other defencemen who are more puck-moving guys, but we don’t have anyone else with Gudbranson’s style of play.
“I know he’s had some ups and downs, but until he got hurt he was playing well for us. As long as a player can play in today’s game, you’re always going to need a defencemen who can play physical, especially in our division. There’s always going to be room for a guy like that in your top six.”
Gudbranson has missed the last four games due to back spasms and wasn’t expected to play Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche. The challenge for Benning is to find salary and term for Gudbranson that makes sense for the Canucks because the defenceman’s market value as a UFA probably exceeds his role as a third-pairing blue-liner.
Gudbranson has three points in 32 games this season, averaging 17:44 of ice time while playing on a one-year, $3.5-million contract.
Benning agreed that Gudbranson’s value to the team has gone up due to the forced retirement two months ago of combative Canucks winger Derek Dorsett. The Canucks’ lack of overt toughness was exposed last week when rookie-of-the-year candidate Brock Boeser was cross-checked into the boards by Los Angeles King Trevor Lewis.
“I don’t know if Elias Pettersson will be ready (for the NHL) when he comes to training camp next year,” Benning said of the Canucks’ top prospect. “But we want our young players to be able to play and develop without worrying about getting picked on.
“We need to have guys on our team who will stand up for them.”