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.
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.
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.