Vancouver Canucks: No surprise that Hutton is carrying Gudbranson

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers skates against Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Vancouver Canucks at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 12: Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers skates against Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Vancouver Canucks at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The points are nice for now, but let’s not pretend that Erik Gudbranson has suddenly turned a corner for the Vancouver Canucks. What’s different this year is that he has a partner who can carry him well.

Recency bias is a funny thing. I know it looks like Vancouver Canucks fans make certain players their whipping boys, but there is a reason behind it. These players are ludicrously overpaid and we are told by the team’s general manager they will be worth it.

Then we learn later that everyone who said the signings were a bad idea are repeatedly proven right, no matter how many times the team doubles down on mistakes. I understand why people think we give Erik Gudbranson too hard of a time. That we are too mean and can’t recognize what he can contribute. So I ask, what does he do that any other defenceman on a league-miminum deal can’t? Sorry, modelling is not an acceptable answer.

He doesn’t defend our younger players consistently, something boasted about by JIm Benning. In fact, it seems he only goes after players when it suits him. I guess Erik Gudbranson only plays for Erik Gudbranson. He throws a good number of hits, but we learned with Michael Del Zotto that hitting that often means you spend more time chasing the puck instead of controlling it.

It’s not a bad thing that is producing points now and in short stretches he has looked like a legitimate third-pairing defenceman. However, how much of that is him and not his partner? Let’s look at his most common partner, Ben Hutton.

His rise from the doghouse to penthouse has been nothing short of spectacular. Although, if we’re being honest here, Hutton played similar minutes last season at this time before getting scratched regularly. He is in better shape, but the big difference is fewer mistakes are being made. It’s almost like giving good players opportunities lets them show you what they have to offer.

More from The Canuck Way

Anyway, let’s get to the numbers. Using data from Natural Stat trick, we can see how Gudbranson does with and without Hutton. We are just going to look at even strength shot attempts, adjusted for score effects (down a goal, tied, up a goal, etc.) and venue (home and away). The pair have logged over 239 minutes at even strength this season.

When together, the pair controlled 45.32% of the shot attempts, surrendering 62.76 attempts per hour. Now, if I’m saying Hutton is carrying Gudbranson, shouldn’t he able to pull his partner above 50%? Well, Hutton is good, but he’s not a miracle worker.

Away from Gudbranson, Hutton controls 54.38% of shot attempts and gives up 56.47 per hour. His ability to generate offensive attempts is up 67.33 per hour away from Gudbranson compared to 52.05 with him.

How about Gudbranson? You should see where this is going. When away from Hutton, Gudbranson controls 43.56% of shot attempts. Do you know how well the Canucks control attempts when neither player is on the ice? 47.57%. What I am saying is that Gudbranson is not having a small negative effect on Hutton’s game.

He is an anchor and with the Canucks’ early season play, is being lifted by a much bigger buoy. At the moment, the anchor is not heavy enough to drag his pairing down to the bottom. But it was for the first two years Hutton played with Gudbranson. Also, Hutton isn’t completely off the hook for last season.

Addressing the criticisms

And don’t get me wrong, Gudbranson is not the only defender on this roster that gives the team poor results. He is just the highest paid one who keeps being pushed down our throats as this good defenceman when history has shown that he is not.

Most of the criticism stems from his contract. A smaller issue, but still notable is how he talks a big game about standing up for his teammates and then disappears when there is an opportunity And it is not just about Elias Pettersson. Brock Boeser has been cross checked into the boards multiple times this season. No response. Sven Baertschi was concussed. No response. He starts things, but rarely responds in a timely manner. I don’t think tough players have any effect on preventing this, but if you are saying they do, these guys better show something.

Like I said, he plays for himself and that would be fine, if he wasn’t making $4 million and being sold to us as this protective figure for our players. Even at $2 million, I don’t think it would be a problem in isolation. The criticisms are amplified by the cost of acquisition that struck a blow to the rebuild. As good as the rebuild is now, it would have been much stronger with two rebuilding pieces that would be in the lineup right now. What made it worse was doubling down to save face when the team could have added through subtraction.

Next. Vancouver ranks high in U24 rankings. dark

I think it’s admirable that Gudbranson can tune out the criticism and the noise. Nobody ever questioned his mental toughness. But it doesn’t change the fact that is he not a very good player, no matter how many early season points he gets. Because at the end of the day, if the other team is sending more shot attempts to our own net, that will lead to more goals against. The team that wins the game scores more goals than the opposition. It doesn’t help if the player involved is unable to move the needle in a positive direction.