Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports
The Canucks will have a big bodied defensive centre in the middle of their lineup for the forseeable future.
As expected the Vancouver Canucks extended the contract of recent trade acquisition Brandon Sutter on Tuesday, handing the six-foot-three pivot a hefty five-year contract worth $21.875 million (for an annual average value of $4.35 million).
Sutter was acquired in a trade that Rhys Jessop described as an overpay about 10 days ago.
Though Nick Bonino worked out to be a pretty average hockey player on the whole that needed some support to get there, his strengths were at least strong enough to help his team see a small net benefit when he was on the ice. The same can’t really be said for Sutter, even if you’re willing to entertain the notion that Pittsburgh’s depth has been so bad that he’s been completely torpedoed as a hockey player. Accounting for the guys he’s played with and away from doesn’t really help us paint a more positive picture of the impact we project him to have.
Saying right now that a Sutter-for-Bonino swap is a saw-off is being pretty generous about Sutter’s prospects of improving immensely in a different situation in Vancouver, though not completely out of the question. He did have a decent season last year playing mainly with a handful of quality bottom-6 wingers in Nick Spaling, Beau Bennett, and Steve Downie, but out-possessing the opposition has been the exception rather than the rule for Sutter. And even then, he was out-chanced on the ice and was one of the very worst chance producing forwards in the whole league.
Being a 6’3 right-handed centre who is good on faceoffs and a good skater (and named “Sutter”), Brandon Sutter definitely gives the Canucks a different look. Different isn’t always better though, and it’s tough to argue that the Canucks got better unless you’re looking at it in overly simplistic terms, citing stuff such as faceoffs and hits and the like.
The value of the contract itself is similarly rich, but is in-line with what players like Lars Eller, Sean Couturier, and Artem Anisimov received on recent contract extensions. Players perceived to be high-end third-line centres get paid roughly this amount for their unrestricted free agent seasons.
Just because an extension is decent from a market value perspective though, it doesn’t make that contract a good value proposition for the club. I’m all about paying a premium for centremen, but ideally not for a centre who produces as little offense at 5-on-5 as Sutter generally has in his career.
I’m open to the idea that Sutter’s results may improve when he’s flanked by quality defensive wingers like Alex Burrows, Chris Higgins, or Jannik Hansen, but his track record – from both an underlying performance perspective and in terms of his offensive abilities (or obvious lack thereof) – makes a long-term bet of this magnitude a bit of an iffy scheme in my view. That’s particularly true when you’re buying the late prime seasons of a centre whose primary value is on the defensive side of the puck, areas where athleticism and speed are so crucial.