I understand the situation.
I understand three of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top-four defenders (Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Olli Maatta) are currently out of the lineup, and we do not really know how long the two best players out of that group (Letang and Dumoulin) will be sidelined.
I understand that, even when they are fully healthy, the Penguins do not have a ton of depth on defense after their top-four and there is always a need to add more depth for the stretch run and the playoffs because, hey, injuries happen. You probably need at least eight or nine NHL caliber defenders to get through an extended Stanley Cup playoff run.
I also understand the team is currently perched precariously on the playoff bubble, and when combined with everything just mentioned there had to be a lot of pressure for general manager Jim Rutherford to make some kind of a trade to fix something.
Trading Tanner Pearson for Erik Gudbranson was not the trade to make.
Sending away Pearson is pretty irrelevant because that always seemed inevitable. He was not a difference-maker, he never was a difference-maker at any point in his career with either the Los Angeles Kings or Penguins, and he was never going to be a difference-maker. If anything it looked like a contract that was going to be a nuisance on the salary cap over the next two years.
But Erik Gudbranson?
There are a lot of problems here.
For one, Gudbranson actually costs more money over the next two years than Pearson would have.
He will also cost more money to probably bring less value to the table. Look at it this way ... when the Penguins’ defense is fully healthy, whether it be this season or next season, where is he going to play?
There is no way he plays over Letang, Dumoulin, Schultz, or Maatta.
We know as long as Jack Johnson is on the roster he has a lock on a game night lineup spot.
So that means there are one of three possibilities — he either plays over someone like Marcus Pettersson, or is a $4 million per year healthy scratch, or a better player gets traded to make room for him on a regular basis.
That is the long-term outlook because I am not sure we are ever going to see a situation this season where the Penguins are totally healthy on defense.
The short-term outlook (and perhaps long-term again, depending on the variables mentioned above) is that the Penguins now have two of the worst defenders in the NHL playing on their blue line and pay them more than $7 million per year to do it.
We know what Johnson’s performance looks like from both a numbers and eye test outlook.
Gudbranson has actually been ... worse.
Of the 232 defenders that have logged at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey since the start of the 2016-17 season, Gudbranson has the fourth worst shot attempt numbers in the league. He is last in scoring chance differential. He is the fifth-worst in high-danger scoring chance differential. He is third worst in goal differential.
(All data via Natural Stat Trick)
When talking about his acquisition the first thing that was said about him was about chemistry, locker-room presence, “deterrence,” and pretty much everything except what he does on the ice. That is never a positive sign for an acquisition.
It also sends the Penguins’ defense in the complete wrong direction.
In a league that is all about speed, mobility, and puck movement now, especially on the back end, the Penguins have now invested heavily in two of the worst players in the league in those areas. It is a strange shift based on what made the team so successful when it was winning Stanley Cups.
I understand the desire and push to make a trade.
Given where this season is sitting and the trade they ended up making they might have been better off just standing pat, seeing where this team as presently constructed would have taken them, and tried meaningfully address their shortcomings in the offseason with a better approach.
Instead all they did was make themselves worse and more expensive.