Erik Gudbranson, 6-5, 222 pounds
January 7, 1992 (30 years old)
Signed as a UFA (July 13, 2022)
Cap hit: $4M through 2025-26
Role: Bottom four defenseman
Cashing in on a very productive season with a very good team, journeyman defenseman Erik Gudbranson will look to lay down roots in Columbus, inking a four year, $16 million dollar contract with the Blue Jackets. When he takes the ice with the club this fall, he’ll be playing for his sixth team in less than four years, having bounced around the NHL as a depth defenseman (Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Ottawa, Nashville, Calgary); since spending his first 8 years with Florida and Vancouver.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen touted Gudbranson as the team’s #1 target in free agency. Really, it makes sense. We know that the club typically has to overpay to find free agents, and this contract certainly bears that mark. But Gudbranson had a solid 2021-22 season with the Calgary Flames and this contract reflects that as well. Appearing in 78 games, he set career highs in goals (6), assists (11), points (17), shots (129), and plus/minus (+15).
His production isn’t what appealed to the Blue Jackets, however. This team desperately needed to add three things to their blueline this summer: size, experience, and toughness. Gudbranson brings all three things in one massive, mean player. He won’t wow us with his offense or his skating. His defense, honestly, isn’t really that good. But, his presence on the ice alone, will make it easier for every other player on the ice to do their job. He’ll be a leader in the room, a calming veteran voice, and a protector for smaller, less physical guys like Adam Boqvist or Kent Johnson.
Three Keys to Success
- Calm it down. Whoever Gudbranson plays with, he needs to be a leader, keep thing simple, and settle the young group down.
- Protect. In a span of a couple of weeks last season, we saw this team decimated by injuries because of bigger, more physical teams. This group had nobody capable of matching up physically against guys like Marcus Foligno or Tom Wilson. Opponents now have to think twice about sticking out a knee or throwing post-whistle punches.
- Clear the crease. This ties in with key #2 in regards to physical play; this team needs to be better about keeping shot lanes clear for its goaltenders. A big body like this should make the job of any goaltender easier.
2022-23 Expectation: Win the hearts of the 5th line.
They don’t call us the 5th line for nothing. Blue Jacket fans are a passionate bunch, and while many people grumbled about this signing in July, it will be easy to win our love and respect. We want a winner in Central Ohio, and part of that success requires veterans and leadership. If he can bring that along with physical play on a consistent basis, this same crowd will be cheering him on in no time. While the term of this contract is likely 1-2 years too long, and the dollars are likely $500k-$1M too much, bringing this player in actually makes a ton of sense.
Simply put, you have to overpay for good players in free agency … especially when you’re in a smaller market. And even more so, when you have a young team that’s not quite transitioned into winning. A lot of people were saying the same things about Sean Kuraly last summer, and look at how things turned out there. Jarmo knows what he’s doing. Read: 2022 Season Preview: Kirill Marchenko