The much talked about offseason for the Blue Jackets continues as the entire roster has been reshaped seemingly overnight. Johnny Gaudreau shocked the world by choosing Columbus over any other destination – a move that seems to have surprised everyone who has never been to Columbus. But, the Jackets made another splash in free agency this week, signing rugged defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a four year, $16m contract.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen was poignant in his post season comments, making it clear that this team would be better defensively and tougher to play against next season. Enter Gudbranson. At 6-5 and over 220 pounds, Gudbranson brings much needed size to a defense corps that got pushed around quite a bit last season. In fact, just two of their defensemen played in more than 68 games (Vladislav Gavrikov, 80; Andrew Peeke, 82); with every other member missing significant time due to injury. The team was also loaded with offensive-minded guys, and in dire need of a steadying presence.
Gudbranson brings a physical, stay at home style, that should match up well on the team’s second or third defense pairing. At 30 years old, he’s an 11 year NHL veteran with 641 games played in the league. This experience will be enormous for a club whose two most experienced defenders combined for just 459 games played coming into last season. While you can’t expect much offensively (just 94 points over his entire career), you can count on Gudbranson to keep opposing players honest, and drop the gloves if need be.
While his contract is probably $500k too much per year – and likely 1-2 years too long – this signing fills a huge hole for this team and gives them the gift of time with some of their young prospects. Unfortunately, this also likely spells the end for one of the defensemen off of last year’s team, as the club will look to recoup some salary cap flexibility.
With a roster now loaded with gifted scorers, Gudbranson will bring the kind of defense-first play that the team has lacked since trading away David Savard. Whether or not he’s worth the dollars and term is certainly debatable, but when you see an obvious need on your roster, and a player like this available, you have to go get them. That’s what free agency is all about.