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Gudbranson - Pearson trade looks ugly for Penguins -- on paper


The Pittsburgh Penguins recently felt pretty cutting edge with their defensemen, valuing speed and skill, even if it meant accepting mistakes. Their recent moves feel decidedly old-school, as they’ve targeted defensemen who tend to look terrible from an analytics standpoint.

No doubt, the Penguins already needed defense before Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin suffered injuries in Saturday’s stunning 5-4 OT loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. This is a desperate situation.

But this trade looks really rough:

Penguins receive: Erik Gudbranson

Canucks get: Tanner Pearson

Update: The Penguins added one other defenseman in Chris Wideman. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Florida Panthers received Sebastian Dea for Wideman.

Penguins march to the beat of their own drums

Gudbranson’s possession stats are horrendous, as are those of Jack Johnson. Both defensemen are highly drafted (each third overall; Gudbranson in 2010, Johnson in 2003), and highly divisive. It really can’t be overstated how bad Gudbranson looks on paper:

With Gudbranson being a right-handed shot and Johnson being left, it’s plausible that the two could be on the same pairing, especially considering injuries. Maybe down the line, they both might settle into a more natural setting down the lineup, but until then ...

Money’s basically even

You can’t simply say that the Penguins are saving money, as the two players are in very similar money situations.
[Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline]

Gudbranson, 27, will see his $4M cap hit run through 2020-21. Pearson, 26, carries a $3.75M cap hit, also through 2020-21. The Penguins continue to make moves that will stay on their cap for term, rather than going for rentals. The good news is that, if they’re right, they’ll get answer for a while. But if not, they’re stuck with an increasing number of problem contracts.

Many of us - myself included - believe that this won’t be a great situation for the Penguins.

Pearson traded again

Now, it’s fair to argue that Pearson wasn’t so great for the Penguins.

He only managed 14 points in 44 games with Pittsburgh, after managing zero goals and an assist during his final 17 games with the Los Angeles Kings.

Looking back, the Penguins likely would have been better off riding things out with Carl Hagelin. Hagelin’s skating fit in well with the Penguins, and his then-$4M cap hit would have evaporated after this season, opening up some room to work with during the summer.

Instead, they pivoted to Pearson, and are now gambling that Gudbranson is better than people think. It’s quite the roll of the dice for a consistently cap-strapped team, where every dollar counts.

Do you think the Penguins see something others don’t in this case, and/or the case of Jack Johnson?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.