Canucks acquire Brandon Sutter from Penguins for Bonino, Clendening

Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks have been linked to Pittsburgh Penguins centre Brandon Sutter for years, certainly since he was the rumoured centrepiece in a Ryan Kesler trade at the 2014 NHL trade deadline. 

On Tuesday the club actually acquired the 26-year-old defensive centre in a deal that included the actual centrepiece of the Kesler deal, Nick Bonino. In addition to Bonino the club will send the Penguins a second-round draft pick and defenseman Adam Clendening, while the Penguins will even out the deal (sort of) by sending Vancouver a third-round pick.

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This is a bit of an odd deal, and once again, it would appear is if Vancouver’s new management team recouped iffy value on the trade market.

Sutter is a legitimately good defensive centre in my estimation, and has generally fared well by the shot based metrics when he’s been fortunate enough to play with competent line mates (like healthy Beau Bennett or Steve Downie). He’s not a positive puck possession player though, and he’s scored at a paltry rate during his Penguins tenure. 

Sutter is more expensive than Bonino for this upcoming season, as his annual average value sits at $3.3 million – Bonino’s is at $1.9 million – and his deal comes off the books following this season, whereas Bonino remains an extremely affordable commodity for the 2016-17 campaign. 

Bonino’s two-way game exceeded all reasonable expectations in his first season with the Canucks, and he’s a much more prolific offensive player than Sutter. He’s also basically the same age. You could probably argue that he’s more valuable than Sutter is, which makes the draft pick swap and the inclusion of Adam Clendening a bit tough to swallow.

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Generally speaking though I think Bonino’s two-way game is flawed, and he was only really good at 5-on-5 when he was playing with both Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows (both of whom are excellent defensive wingers). Though Bonino has got decent edge work down low, a dangerous shot and is an all-around clever player, the affordable American-born pivot’s lack of physicality and foot speed was pretty evident last season – and particularly in Vancouver’s first-round series loss to the Calgary Flames. 

Sutter’s puck possession game – so impressive during his time with the Carolina Hurricanes – has suffered enormously during his time with the Penguins, but he’s bigger, faster and better in the face-off circle than Bonino, and he’s also right-handed, which will help the club replace what they lost in Brad Richardson.

On a superficial level I’d almost look at it like Sutter is an upgrade on Richardson, while the Canucks will hope that 20-year-old Bo Horvat – who was dynamite in the second half of the season – can fill in for Bonino. 

The value isn’t there for the Canucks in this transaction, but I’d argue that the fit is.

  • wojohowitz

    “Does Benning even know what Benning is doing?”

    Just because you don’t doesn’t mean he and the rest of us don’t. For all the reactionaries that are so apparently baffled, let the dust settle like after the other moves and you might start to see the bigger picture emerge.

  • Spiel

    As an Oiler fan certain that Bonino would be a huge bust when they traded Kesler for him last year, I am now stupefied as to what the hell this organization is doing. Bonino was better than he had any right to be, and instead of going forward with him, now they have an older, less effective player who will be a free agent at the end of the year? Wow.

    I once compared former 4th line center Boyd Gordon, with former 2nd / 3rd line center Sutter and found they got nearly the same points, only Gordon did it in fewer games, and played the second most difficult minuets in the entire NHL.

    Yep, Canucks got a real player there. Also, why did they get a worse draft pick out of this deal? I would almost guess another larger deal is coming, like say Seasbrook, and this was needed to clear cap or something, but I’m pretty sure Van actually took back more cap then they traded.

  • wojohowitz

    Oh, and if you are wondering if Pensburgh thinks that Rutherford made a bad deal, here’s their analysis, including the signing of Eric Fehr (why didn’t Benning think of that, even Canucks Army bloggers thought about it):

    “This is pretty much a best case scenario. Fehr and Sutter are very similar players: they’re both tall, non-physical, right handed centers that are above average in faceoffs, and usually score 20g- 15a in a season. They even both wear the #16. The Penguins switch the two out and save $1.3 million to the cap due to Sutter making $3.3 and Fehr signing for $2.0.

    Fehr also has a huge advantage over Sutter: he drives play and possession a heck of a lot better.

    Add in Nick Bonino (a solid NHL player) and Clendening (a good prospect who can skate and move the puck) PLUS an upgrade from a 3rd round pick to a 2nd round pick, and it’s all coming up roses.”

    Yup, we “negative” Canucks fans get the bigger picture: Benning was schooled.

    And anyone who thinks that Sutter is “gritty”, please provide some evidence.


  • wojohowitz

    Haven’t got a clue how its all going to turn out, but at least Benning is giving us something to scream at each other about in August. Beats end of the year player profiles and anticipation of the mediocrity to come.

    I love to share a passionate opinion on this topic, but having literally never watched an NHL game with Brandon Sutter in it, I think I’ll keep my powder dry for the time being.

  • Spiel

    The ridiculous negativity that is spewed by writers and fans on every deal is amazing.

    I get that puck possession and advanced analytics are the main idea of this blog…. But it’s obvious what the Canucks are doing and that’s getting bigger and tougher. Bonino wasn’t a bad player but he was and is a 3rd line center that started last season off great then was ok the rest of the way.

    With Horvat and Sutter the Canucks now have 2 big centers tan at can take face offs and play well in all three zones, not just one. Add in Prust and just the Sutter name and the team gets tougher. Some guys just don’t fit in a system and Sutter née seemed to fit in Pittsburg. I like the addition especially when we play Calgary LA and Ducks in Pacific.

  • ikillchicken

    I like Sutter as a player. I feel like he could certainly be a moderate upgrade over Bonino or at the very least could be one more suited to a 2/3 line checking role. I appreciate the advanced stats argument for Bonino but after that Calgary series I just see his lack of speed as a massive issue.

    Not sure how I feel about this actual trade though. Given their respective contracts I’d really have liked to see this as an even swap. To give up Clendenning and move down from what could be a very high 2nd to what could be a very low 3rd is troubling. Seems like yet another overpayment.

    It’s just a weird choice too. Clendenning was the guy he went out and picked up last year. Why drop him now before he even really got a chance? Especially now that we moved Bieksa, why move out another right side D? What happened to “I want to have 10 [it was 10 right?] NHL D men next season”???

    What worries me most though is what comes next. I’d be shocked if we didn’t re-sign Sutter given what we just gave up to get him. This is a guy who is already on a marginally inflated salary though and who in all likelihood tops out as an above average 3C. Yet Benning is already calling Sutter a “foundation piece”. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this turns into another terrible contract extension.

    • Spiel

      “To give up Clendenning and move down from what could be a very high 2nd to what could be a very low 3rd is troubling. Seems like yet another overpayment.”

      1. I suppose anything is possible, but the 2nd given up is Anaheim’s. It would be very surprising if Anaheim is picking very high.

      2. Again anything is possible, but the 3rd rounder coming back is, at Vancouver’s option, their own 3rd or the NYI 3rd. Both the Canucks and the Islanders would have to do very well for the 3rd to be a very low 3rd.

      3. That doesn’t completely negate your argument about value, though, as you’ve stated you would have liked to see an even swap, while the Canucks have added Clendening and an exchange of what will probably be a very low 2nd for what will likely be a middling (middle 10, perhaps, though some are more pessimistic about the Canucks’ prospects of success next season) 3rd round pick.

      4. As an interesting aside, other than for purpose of adding toughness (Prust, Dorsett), this is the first example I can think of in which Benning has broken the Canucks’ stated mantra of not trading picks or prospects for immediate help. Here he has done both. Sutter isn’t exactly old (about 10 mos younger than Bonino) but they’ve given up a prospect and exchanged for a lower pick.

      • ikillchicken

        Yeah, I originally assumed we were swapping our own 2nd for their own 3rd. My mistake. If it’s Anaheim’s 2nd for ours or the Islander’s 3rd the difference is probably more or less negligible. Still, it does bug me a little just because it emphasizes Benning’s apparent inability to at all dictate the terms of a trade. I mean, the two guys seem at best pretty comparable to begin with and Sutter’s contract is unquestionably less favorable. The idea that we had to throw in Clendenning and *still* also move down a bit in the draft to get this done is just mind boggling. I mean, did he even try to negotiate or did he just agree to literally the first offer Pittsburgh made?

  • ikillchicken

    Everyone is bound and determined to over analyse this trade. We traded a late 2nd round draft pick for an early 3rd round pick. As far as the quality of talent available its probably a wash. The Canucks have two D-Men who are subject to waivers, Corrado and Clendenning. Corrado is supposed to be better defensively but Clendenning is better offensively. We have to either trade one of them, carry one of them as an 8th D-Man (not very productive and expensive)or lose one on waivers. The Canucks chose to keep Corrado and use Clendenning to complete the Sutter deal. Sutter is bigger, faster, and, most important, much better in the face-off circle. You can use all the statistics you want to get the answer you expect to see but none of those take into consideration the quality of the line mates (in my opinion Bonino was carried by Higgins and Burroughs)or a multitude of other factors. This is probably a good deal for both teams (i.e. there are no winners or losers) and I think the Canucks are a slightly better team because of this trade and that’s what is important.

  • andyg

    “Sutter’s puck possession game – so impressive during his time with the Carolina Hurricanes”

    Which year was it so impressive during his time with the Canes? 1st year: -6.06% CF Rel, 2nd year: -4.01% CF Rel, 3rd year: -4.23% CF Rel, 4th year: -2.65% CF Rel.

    Would like to see you respond to this because before I looked at it, this sentence gave me hope that he could return to being a positive possession guy (and it’s still conceivable).

    It’s hard to evaluate how he played with the Penguins given his often subpar linemates and Malkin/Crosby taking up the vast majority of the Pens ES TOI when Sutter was off (so of course his corsi rel was going to be negative…) but I’d be curious to see how you justify that statement.

  • ikillchicken

    I’d say both teams did okay on this trade.

    I, for one, liked Bonino. He was a slippery forward (and I mean that it a good way), money in the shootout, and okay defensively between Higgins and Burrows. So, a good complimentary player, but not quite physical or fast enough to be a #2C in the West. However, I’m sure he’ll perform better in the East sheltered behind Crosby and Malkin as a #3C. And he helps the Penguins out on the cap front.

    Sutter brings more tools to the game. He’s bigger, faster, better on the draw, hits, and can anchor a PK as well as a bona fide checking line. Also, 21 goals as a third liner is nothing to sniff at. That would have placed him as second on the Canucks last season. And he’s a Sutter – so stock up on nails, because there may be a shortage locally when he starts buying them for breakfast.

    I agree with the author of the post that this trade makes more sense from a fit perspective than a value perspective for the Canucks. With the emergence of Bo Horvat in the playoffs as the Canuck’s second best centre, Bonino became replaceable. Especially by a #3C who can play in an unsheltered checking role against the big boys of the West – which describes Sutter’s game.

    So, I’d say win-win.

    Now, how much will Sutter agree to extend for?

    • Spiel

      I like how you mention Bone’s sheltered minutes. I tend to agree. I also prefer Sutter at 3C than Bones.

      I see the analysis on Bonino’s season. Has anyone posted his first and second half totals? If you remove his first couple months last year, he’s a hurtin’ unit.

  • ikillchicken

    Im so sick of this site. Im so sick of analytics as well. You guys are so depressing how you destroy my hope that Jim Benning has any idea what he is doing. But the reason I am so depressed is because I am starting to believe you. I am starting to think he is really stupid, and aside from the Bieksa trade has been fleeced in every trade he has made. But I still want to give him the benefit of the doubt, and wait and see what he can do in the next few years, and how good our prospects can be. I do think Sutter will be an upgrade over Bonino. Im even ok with Bonino & Clendening for Sutter. But including a 2nd rounder is complete stupidity.

    I’m not ok with this trade so far. I really really really want him to stop throwing in the extras in all these trades. It started with the 3rd round pick in the Kesler trade. It should have been Kesler for Bonino, Sbisa, and 1st and 3rd round picks. Not also our 3rd round pick in 2015 draft, which I believe added to trading our 2nd for Baertschi, and 3rd for Audrey Pedan, and the 2nd from the Garrison trade for Vey. All those moves left us with hardly any draft picks in the draft. And consequently lead to bonehead trades this summer in my opinion to recoup draft picks. When he should have traded Shawn Matthias at the deadline for a 2nd or 3rd rounder.

    Then this summer we add a 5th rounder to get rid of Zack. And now the only good trade Benning made getting a 2nd for Bieksa means nothing to me anymore because Pittsburgh has it. Sure we got Buffalos 3rd but Pittsburgh fleeced us on this trade. GRRR.

    Already for next draft which is said to be another good one, we are minus the 2nd from the Bieksa trade, and the 5th rounder from the Zack trade. All we have gained is a 7th from the Lack trade, and the 3rd from the Sutter/Bonino trade. GRRRRR. Stop trading away our future Benning. I was so excited to have a 1st and two 2nd round picks already. Now we have a 1st, 2nd, and only one 3rd because he already traded our own away. So stupid. Like really really stupid. And knowing Benning he won’t have the balls to trade Vrbata and Hamhuis at the deadline, because we might make the playoffs for another 1st round embarrassment. And we will only have a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick if we fans are lucky. And then to try and get more draft picks we will make another desperate trade at the draft like we did with Eddie Lack and get far less than the players worth.

    NHL DRAFT NHL. Teams get fleeced trying to recoup draft picks and every GM who has a brain knows this. It is a SELLERS Market

    NHL TRADE DEADLINE NHL Teams get fleeced trying to make a run at the Cup or at least make the Playoffs. It is a Buyers Market.


    I just hope we as fans are not sitting at the draft watching our GM making desperate trades to recoup draft picks that we traded away during the season, when we could have recouped some at the trade deadline so that we didn’t have to be so desperate.

    The reality of this trade is we got fleeced by a GM who was desperate to open up salary cap space, and trade a player on an expiring contract. We should have been dealing from a position of strength and not the position of weakness that us fans are so used to witnessing our GM do in the Schneider, Luongo, and Kesler trades.


  • ikillchicken

    Thanks to those who have at least tried to add some evidence to back up “big, gritty center” to Sutter. (Btw, those who don’t like the “negativity”, meaning you don’t like to produce evidence for your points, there’s lots of other blogs and forums where you can get people to reinforce your biases.)

    For those who are writing “well, OF COURSE Sutter’s WOWY wasn’t strong, everyone was playing with Crosby or Malking when they weren’t playing with sutter”–go read the discussion on Pensburgh that Jack Soul linked (and then I did too). One of the commenters deals with that argument: “That’s why you look at relative Corsi and WOWY. Downie was the only forward that played significant minutes on Sutter’s line to not suffer a decrease in Corsi when together. Sutter blackholed pretty much everyone else he played with to include Malkin. It’s not coincidental.”


    I’m not saying this is the be all and end all, and I’m open to being wrong. But here’s the big question: if Benning wanted a center like Sutter, why wouldn’t he sign Fehr for LESS MONEY (which even bloggers were suggesting!!!), and then use Bonino/Clendenning as trade bait for a different need?

    That’s a way more efficient use of resources. AND THE STATS INDICATE THAT FEHR IS A STRONGER POSSESSION FORWARD!!

    • Dwj

      “But here’s the big question: if Benning wanted a center like Sutter, why wouldn’t he sign Fehr for LESS MONEY (which even bloggers were suggesting!!!), and then use Bonino/Clendenning as trade bait for a different need?”

      I got this one — because Benning wanted Sutter, just like Benning wanting Prust. That also explains why the extra picks have to be thrown in to close the deals, the seller has the leverage in each case.