5 Things: Projecting Brandon Sutter’s next contract

In his 5 Things column, our old pal Ryan Lambert takes a stab at projecting how much more the Canucks are going to keep overpaying for their newest addition: Brandon Sutter.

1. Stating the obvious

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So yeah, we all know by now that the Canucks dramatically overpaid for Brandon Sutter. In that they gave away a player who is better than him, and only 10 months older, plus a decent defensive prospect, plus a second-round pick.

The reason why they did this is obvious: Jim Benning significantly overrates Sutter’s quality for unknown (or perhaps unknowable) reasons. We have plenty of evidence to suggest that Sutter is both currently overpaid and wildly overrated. His 2014-15 career year compares pretty closely with that of Eric Nystrom’s age-26 season back in 2009-10. And let’s put it simply: When your best season ever is statistically comparable to Eric Nystrom’s second-best season ever (shout out to 2011-12), that is concerning as a baseline.

Not to say that Sutter is without value, because he is good at certain things. Those things are not “helping his team” in a lot of ways, but if you’re relying on him as your fourth-line center, there are worse options out there. Most are cheaper than that $3.3 million price tag, of course, but you’ll find it tough to argue with Hockey People on a guy scores 15-20 goals a year and provides the illusion of solid defense.

That’s a Two-Way Player if ever there was one, and no one is saying 15-20 goals isn’t valuable, but the question for Vancouver very quickly becomes what the overall cost is going to be.

2. Stepping in it

The fact of the matter is that Benning has already invested significantly in this player without figuring in the extension that he’s going to get in the next few days. Three assets is a lot to give up for one player, regardless of how good that player is, and Sutter isn’t worth the combined value of those three assets (or indeed, Bonino, the most important of those three [or indeed, probably the combined value of the other two]).

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So, okay, you make the acquisition with the intention of re-signing him, obviously. You definitely want to lock down 26-year-old borderline third/fourth centers for as long as possible, and if you have to give up the assets to get one, that’s just the cost of doing business.

But then Benning, because this is who he is and how he functions in his job, effectively walked into the car dealership, looked at a Ford Focus, and said as loudly as possible to the nearest salesperson, “Well, this car reminds me a lot of a Bentley.”

At this, the salesperson said, “Well heck if he already sold his old car which was pretty good, and some other stuff to lease this car, he’ll pay whatever I want to own it long-term.”

In this case the salesperson is Sutter’s agent, who is going to make a pretty good amount of money on this deal himself, because Benning has a stunning combination of lack of restraint and inability to understand the actual value of hockey players.

3. Starting the bidding

So we have to assume first and foremost that Sutter is probably looking at a decent-sized raise from his current $3.3 million, which is already an overpayment.

It must first be said that I’m not expecting much movement in the salary cap, nor should anyone else even if there will be one more outdoor game this season than there were last year. (The Winter Classic in Foxboro plus two Stadium Series games in Minneapolis and Denver carry a combined approximate capacity of about 172,000, compared with the combined 122,000 for last year’s two outdoor games.) But that hasn’t stopped teams from fervently believing in the “the cap will go up” mythologizing that goes on every year. It might go up thanks to another NHLPA escalator, but the days of 7-plus percent increases are over, and we all have to get used to it.

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And with that having been said, you don’t call someone a foundational player and then give them a
modest bump in pay. You extend him long-term and for big money. Which
makes this contract borderline impossible to predict in a lot of ways.
There are simply no reasonable comparables for Sutter once you get up to
the $4.5 million range or so. I can’t see him making less than that
based on Benning’s comments and what the Canucks have committed to other
players starting in 2016 (when Sutter’s new contract would go into

Is that a crazy amount of money to give Brandon Sutter? You bet it is. But the Canucks are giving a crazy amount of money to so many people at this point that it’s difficult to say with any authority that they can be trusted to approach things sanely here.

4. A weird mix

When you get into that $4.5 million range, there aren’t a lot of guys there to begin with. Only 16 active centers make between $4-5 million against the cap, and a lot of them are guys on contracts that were universally acknowledged as insane.

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RJ Umberger at $4.6 million! Vinny Lecavalier and Brooks Laich at $4.5 million! Tyler Bozak at $4.2 million! And so on. And actually, now that we arrive there, I don’t actually think Bozak is too bad of a comparable for Sutter here. (All stats coming up via War On Ice, obviously).

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Obviously it appears as though Bozak, who himself is weirdly seen as a good two-way center with offensive capabilities despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, outperforms Sutter in a number of ways. More assists and points per 60, with better relative numbers. The one leads to the other in some ways, obviously, but so too does “playing with Phil Kessel,” which is a luxury Sutter never had. Indeed, the number of 5-on-5 minutes he’s played with either Sid Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is less than 250 over the last three seasons. Not a lot at all, so no major impact on his scoring numbers. Meanwhile, Bozak is basically attached at the hip to Kessel for his entire pre-peak run (about 80 percent of his 5-on-5 minutes).

But on the other hand, Sutter’s relative numbers are going to look worse because he can’t compare with Crosby and Malkin (goalscoring, chance-creating, possession-dominating juggernauts who drag the team’s average up sharply), meaning that while he gets tougher zone starts, and Bozak faced tougher competition, their ability to keep opponents out of their own zone is probably very similar, all things considered.

5. Yup, it’s Bozak money

Again, Bozak is sitting on a contract that pays him an AAV of $4.2 million for five years, which went into effect into his age-27 season, back in 2013-14. That was 6.5 percent of the salary cap back then, and its modern-day equivalent is about $4.66 million (about 3.6 percent off from the $4.5 million where I initially pegged him).

So are we looking at a scenario in which we see Benning give Sutter something like $4.6 million for five years? That sounds just about right, doesn’t it? Doesn’t sound good, mind you, but it does sound right.

Unwise contracts are par for the course in Vancouver these days, and there’s no reason this should be any different.

  • Steampuck

    Moving beyond statistics and data, another element to the trade that has been little discussed is that the Canucks shipped out two average/smaller players for a bigger guy. Bonino had some offensive skill, but the eye test says he got pushed around a fair bit by the bigger forwards and defensemen in the Western Conference. I like the potential speed we get from our middle six with Horvat and Sutter.

    I remain neutral on the Clendening addition to the trade until I learn otherwise. I liked his potential, but he’s also another undersized defender (on a team with a lot of them). Corrado’s probably the more mobile of the two. If the Canucks were going to lose Clendening on waivers or have him sit in the press box on a regular basis, I’m not sure we’ve lost much. I’m also assuming that Benning decided that he’d seen enough of him to determine whether or not he was a keeper. Pittsburgh’s D corps is so light, though, that he might get a good chance there, but that doesn’t mean he would have developed the same way on the west coast, behind too many similar players.

    I’m also not convinced that stats, even the WOWYs, etc., acknowledge how or when players are miscast. Sutter’s an odd egg: a guy who is either defensively solid or a liability (depending on who you talk to and what stats you look at) and offensively inept but capable of scoring 20 goals. He’s soft, but good in the faceoff circle (though probably not as good as he’s been hyped—only moderately above 50% last year and playing the bulk of his games against Eastern Conference teams). He’s also been buried behind two of the best centres in the league in Pittsburgh, which is always going to throw his numbers into some disarray, especially on a team that had some pretty violent swings last year and very little team depth. Pittsburgh fans may not have been crazy about him, but they also saw him as the replacement for Jordan Staal (who would be a tough act to follow).

    Some combination of Sutter with Burrows, Higgins, Hansen could be an awful lot of fun to watch. Of course, I reserve the right to contradict any optimism herein. But not before December.

    • andyg

      I was listening to 1040 yesterday and there was a couple of things that made sense. Benning said Sutter was a foundation player. They talked about the 7 key players to build a team around. I have not heard this in years! It is 3 centers,a scoring winger,offensive D,a defensive D and of coarse goal tending.
      They see Sutter as their shut down guy for the future.

      The other thing discussed that was interesting was Sutters style of play. He is not very heavy so can’t use raw force to control the play. He uses his speed and stick. He is not the best stick handler so chips it in and chases it. So he does not enter the zone with the puck which would effect his numbers.

      • elvis15

        I’m fine with that type of definition for ‘foundation player’, so long as it’s what Sutter’s camp understands it means as well and where he fits in from the Canucks’ perspective. I’m sure Benning has discussed it with them in this way but he hasn’t exactly been known for signing good value contracts (at least with players worth more than a million or two) so I’ll wait and see what the result of the extension is and if he fits that definition.

    • elvis15

      Sutter is bigger, but I think we’ll benefit from his speed more than his size. He’s not massively physical for someone who’s 6’3″, and does have some tendency to disappear for stretches in that regard (offensively as well). Bonino actually had a lot more blocks and takeaways last season than Sutter did, so that’s worth noting he won’t be as strong in that department. Kesler played a physical game but was well known for looking to take the puck away rather than go after the big hit as a part of what made him so effective.

      It certainly seemed the Canucks have soured on Clendening (some rumours floating around that they weren’t that impressed with him after the season) so adding him at the Pens insistence isn’t a surprise.

      But you’re right on the WOWY results, they are good as a supplementary piece but don’t paint most of the picture in all cases. Aggregating the feedback I’ve seen, Sutter’s a strong shooter – particularly off the rush near the top of the circles – who is very solid defensively but can be inconsistent (as mentioned previously) and doesn’t really improve his linemates.

  • Larionov18

    When I first came to this site last year. I was like is a joke Canuck fan site created by Oilers fans The writers seem to hate the Canucks. Just saying…crying over losing the playoff pylon Bonino…really..wtf? Sbisa and Benning hate i get but this move seems like an upgrade to me.

  • Oilfaninvan

    Wow. So much negativity! We all know the Canucks are trending down, but over 100 points last year ain’t bad. The tone of all of the articles on this site are very combative and sarcastic these days.