4.375 Million is Not a Reasonable Price For Brandon Sutter

Yesterday
on TSN 1040, midday show co-host Blake Price, whose opinion I am usually
inclined to agree with, delivered an editorial on Brandon Sutter. The gist of
the argument was as follows: Brandon Sutter’s $4.375 million salary is not an
overpayment, by virtue of his goal total, his faceoff prowess, his penalty
killing, and, as the icing on the cake, his willingness to play through injury.

As
respectfully as I could possibly put this, I don’t believe that I could
possibly be more opposed to this argument. While Sutter’s goal total is indeed
worthy of distinction, I would quibble with the value of the rest of the
evidence provided. Indeed, I wouldn’t accept it outright that Sutter is even
benefitting the team.

And so
my theory is going to be the logical opposite of Price’s: No, $4.375 million is
not a reasonable price tag for Brandon Sutter, and I’ll explain why.

I’ll predicate what is going to be a very lengthy essay on Brandon Sutter by saying that I’m not trying to go after Blake Price specifically. After all, as I mentioned, I tend to concur with the majority of his opinions, plus he was nice enough to allow me on his radio show earlier this week (his show, his show, his show). Rather, I just have a special interest in Brandon Sutter – namely that he’s overpaid and his excessive deployment is pumping up what should otherwise be pedestrian counting stats, while in the meantime causing more problems than he solves on the ice.

Nevertheless, Price has afforded me a list of traits that many others have referenced in defence of Brandon Sutter, so they have become convenient points around which to structure my argument. Let’s get into it.

Goal
Total

Brandon
Sutter has two offensive assets going for him: his speed, and his shot, both of
which are above average at the NHL level. He’s been termed a “one-shot
scorer” because he “doesn’t need many chances to get one to go
in”. He possesses a sneaky wrist shot that’s shown plenty of success off
of the rush, particularly from the right side, and he’s had his share of tips,
deflections, and garbage goals to pad his total, as most goal scorers do.

All
told, purely based on games played and remaining, Sutter is on pace for exactly
20 goals this season, which is the expectation that management has generated
for him since acquiring him. He has consistently been referred to as a
“20-goal scorer” because he has reached the 20-goal plateau. He has
done so exactly two times in his eight-year career, both times peaking at 21
goals. So I’d find Blake Price’s presumption of “22-24 goals”, as
noted in the editorial, a bit premature. The low end of that range, meant to
indicate something that he can accomplish with consistency, is one higher than
he has ever managed in his career.

This
isn’t to say that goals are bad, or that scoring 20 goals isn’t impressive in
today’s NHL – we all know the Canucks have precious few players capable of
doing it. But it isn’t the total number of goals that he’s piling up, but how
he’s doing it that is concerning.

Brandon
Sutter is third among Canucks forwards in all situations ice time, behind only
Henrik Sedin and Loui Eriksson. He’d have Eriksson beat if he hadn’t missed
Tuesday’s game again Pittsburgh, and is just three seconds behind Henrik
Sedin in average ice time per game. Even with that missed game, Sutter ranks
22nd in the NHL in total ice time (the Canucks inexplicably have four players
in the top 30 for ice time), sandwiched directly in between Jamie Benn and Kyle
Okposo, and not far off of players like Tyler Seguin, Mikael Granlund, and
Wayne Simmonds. Pretty impressive company. In such company, his 15 goals look
rather modest. His 0.83 all situations goals per 60 minutes (G60) puts him
behind 144 forwards with at least 100 minutes played.

Perhaps
more alarming is his 5-on-4 ice time. His 157 minutes with a single-man
advantage ranks 39th among NHL forwards, within just a few minutes of Patrice
Bergeron, Leon Draisaitl and Max Pacioretty. In this company, his four power
play goals are pretty underwhelming. His 1.52 5-on-4 goals per 60 minutes puts
him behind 98 forwards with at least 50 power play minutes.

The
overarching point here is there Sutter’s goal totals have been, in a way,
manufactured by Willie Desjardins insistence on playing him so much. Those goal
totals then reinforce Willie’s notion that Sutter is a strong offensive player,
and Jim Benning’s notion that Sutter is worth north of $4 million. The massive
amount of ice time is obscuring the fact that Sutter is scoring at the rate of
a middle six forward, then run out on to the ice over and over until he becomes
a 20-goal scorer by sheer stubbornness.

That by
itself is not a crime. However, it takes ice time away from teammates like Bo
Horvat, who is a more efficient scorer in any given situation. What’s worse is
that Sutter’s underlying metrics indicate that the more time he spends on the
ice, the further the team slips into the red. But we’ll get to that later on.

Faceoff
Prowess

Faceoffs
are, to a great extent, overrated by almost everyone in hockey that hasn’t
spent the time digging into or reading up on the subject from a statistical
perspective. Be it a lifetime analyst, a current professional player, or a
brand new fan, faceoffs are seen as vitally important, because their value
appears to be intrinsic. Winning a faceoff means gaining possession of the
puck, and we are told by both the old and new schools that puck possession is
important.

I have
an article in progress on this very subject, so I won’t get too in depth with
it at this point, but the underlying message is this: faceoffs are worth far
less than you think they are
. The data indicating this has been around for
some time. Take for instance Michael Schuckers’ assertion that it requires, onaverage, 76.5 faceoff wins for a single goal. Faceoffs have been analyzed in
excruciating detail since then, but you need look
no further than Jeff Veillette’s article earlier this week
, in which he
assigned goal value’s to each of Toronto’s centres based purely on their
faceoff numbers.

While a
similar exercise for the entire Canucks roster may be of interest, for now I’ll
give you the goal differential Brandon Sutter has generated due to his faceoff
percentages:

Zone Strength FO/G FO FOW FO% Goals +/- GAR
Off EV 80.2 227 129 56.8% 1.61 0.27
Neu EV 170.4 269 138 51.3% 0.81 0.06
Def EV 80.2 291 163 56.0% 2.03 0.31
Off PP 35.4 93 59 63.4% 1.67 0.42
Neu PP 128.6 15 11 73.3% 0.09 0.03
Def PP 35.4 3 1 33.3% 0.03 -0.01
Off SH 35.4 118 64 54.2% 1.81 0.23
Neu SH 128.6 22 10 45.5% 0.08 0.00
Def SH 35.4 118 64 54.2% 1.81 0.23
Total 9.92 1.53

Faceoff data via Puckbase.com

While 9.92 is a decent number of goals over a large portion of the season (it would be worth approximately three standings points, according to Schuckers), we have to remember that if it weren’t Sutter taking these faceoffs, it would be someone else. The far right column of the graphs indicates Goals Against Replacement – a very simple version that fits Sutter’s number against a replacement level centre, given a faceoff percentage of 47.4% (borrowed from Matt Cane’s article on the subject) across the board. This gives Sutter’s faceoff prowess a Goals Above Replacement of 1.53 – just over a goal and a half, or one half of a standings point, roughly three quarters of the way through the season.

If you
find that to be entirely underwhelming, it’s because faceoffs, and faceoff
prowess, are entirely underwhelming. Certainly not something that hockey
executives should be paying extra money to obtain.

Penalty
Killing

There’s
a saying that suggests that all one needs to do to be labeled a “good
penalty killer” is to play a lot on the penalty kill. If the NHL coach
keeps sending the player out there shorthanded time and time again, it must indicate that the player is effective in that role, since coaches want to win.

This is
of course ignores the fact that coaches do a whole lot of things in the name of
winning that don’t necessarily lead to winning.

In this
situation, the perception isn’t entirely wrong. Brandon Sutter actually has
some of the team’s best penalty killing numbers. Although this doesn’t
completely make him good at it, so much as just better than the rest of the
team, which has been largely abysmal when down a man.

Sutter’s
only real competition among centres on the penalty kill is Bo Horvat, seeing as
neither Henrik Sedin, Brendan Gaunce or Michael Chaput has seen significant
time shorthanded: each has each that 30 minutes of 4-on-5 time (with Gaunce and
Chaput closer to 10 minutes), compared to Sutter and Horvat’s 107 and 99
minutes respectively.

As for
Horvat, it pains me to say that he’s been terrible on the penalty kill. Of all
Canucks players with at least 20 minutes of 4-on-5 time on ice, Horvat has the
highest (read: worst) rate of unblocked shots against, expected goals against,
and actual goals against. Sutter, meanwhile, is bested only by Loui Eriksson in
unblocked shots against per 60 minutes (FA60), and by a handful of players in
expected and actual goals against per 60 minutes.

Of
course, that’s only relative to the rest of the Canucks. Against the backdrop
of a team with the seventh worst penalty kill in the NHL (78.6%), it isn’t hard
to look impressive. Against the rest of the NHL, Sutter looks decidedly more
average.

There
are 65 NHL forwards with at least 50 minutes of 4-on-5 time this season that
have allowed a lower rate of unblocked shots per 60 minutes, out of a sample of
170. There are 83 such players allowing a lower rate of goals against, and 136
such players allowing a lower rate of scoring chances against.

Compared
to the rest of the NHL’s penalty killing forwards, Sutter is performing just
slightly above average in some areas, like suppressing unblocked shots and
shots-on-net against, but slightly below average where it counts, like
suppressing scoring chances and expected goals against.

All in
all, Sutter appears to deserve the distinction of “adequate penalty
killer”, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. But as with faceoffs,
it’s not something that you should be paying through the nose for. After all,
the vast majority of those players that are suppressing power play offence more
effectively than Sutter are doing so for much less money.

Willingness
to Play Through Injury

This may
be far and away the toughest trait to quantify, for a variety of reasons. While
we have ways of assessing the how a team is disadvantaged (and in some cases,
aided) when players are out of the lineup thanks to websites like Man Games Lost, we have a much tougher
time analyzing players who are playing hurt. This is because our main source
of determining injury in large sample is when players miss games due to
injury
. If the player is playing the game, we don’t know that they’re injured
unless we’re following closely – easy enough to do for single cases, but
impossible to do for every player, every game, every year. That doesn’t make
for very reliable testing under the scientific method.

This
doesn’t even begin to cope with the fact that injuries can be perceived on a
continuum, and some are obviously worse than others. Playing through a bone
bruise is surely not the same as playing through cracked ribs, which in itself
is very different than playing through a broken foot or hand – and yet each
injury most certainly effects a player’s performance.

One of
the only indicators we have of how much pain a player is playing through is by
self-report, in addition to their general pained expressions. Of course, each
of these is entirely subjective and directly tied to a player’s pain tolerance,
which we have no method of measuring.

In the
end, the only thing that we are capable of measuring is a player’s performance
on an individual basis. Thursday night in St. Louis, Sutter scored a goal and
won 50% of his faceoffs, which certainly makes it seem like a success. Granted,
the goal was a deflection (deft as it was) that had no business beating a
goalie like Jake Allen through the five-hole, and we’ve already gone over the
true value of faceoffs. Even then, Brendan Gaunce, who was in the press box
last night, is 51.0% in the faceoff circle this year. Additionally, he also deflected a goal into his own net, which should probably make his goal a wash.

Outside
of the actual results, Sutter was having an off night, even by his standards.
An injury in his right wrist made it difficult to put any velocity on his shot
(as pointed out by John Garrett in the broadcast), and likely resulted in him
taking fewer faceoffs than normal. He was replaced Jayson Megna for the most
part on the top unit power play, and while he was on the ice when the Canucks
pulled their goalie for an extra attacker in the waning minutes, trailing by a
goal, his most noticeable contribution was an errant pass that fled the
attacking zone and killed the play.

Hockey
culture tends to deify players that “gut it out” and play through
various injuries and ailments, without really ever asking this simple question:
at which point does the player’s injury make him less valuable than the next
available player on the roster? Even if the question is asked, a satisfying and
scientific answer is never attempted.

It’s
just one more thing that I am hesitant – bordering on resistant – to put a
dollar amount on in contract negotiations.

True
Player Value

So we’ve
gone through each one of the individual traits and discussed why I would not
be placing a premium on them. So what is Brandon Sutter’s value?

Before
answering that, we’ll go back to the fundamentals of hockey analytics – namely,
the first two of the Ten Laws of Hockey Analytics.

The
first rule is that nothing is more important than wins. They are why you play
the game (outside of enjoying it of course), and they are the most necessary
ingredient in climbing the standings, making the playoffs, and succeeding in
the playoffs.

Wins, of
course, only come about because of goals. That’s why the second rule is that
goals are the most important factors in wins. Sure, everything else in the game
of hockey is a component of goals, be it shots, saves, passes, turnovers,
takeaways and so on. Even intangibles like compete level and leadership only
have value because somewhere done the line, they eventually lead to goals, and
subsequently wins.

With
that in mind, one of the most important things for a player is to be on the ice
for more goals for than goals against. This is extraordinarily simple logic.
The logic that makes it obvious that scoring more goals than an opponent means
winning. It’s the same logic that prompts old school hockey people to pour
faith into plus-minus. And it’s the same logic that keeps risky, high event
players like Jordan Subban in the minors until they can sufficiently dull their
game to the point where their goals against are clearly and consistently fewer
than their goals for.

Apply
this logic to Brandon Sutter, and you will be left wanting. Among 436 NHL
forwards with at least 100 minutes played at 5-on-5, Sutter’s 40% goals for
percentage ranks 357th. On the Canucks, he ranks 12th out of 14, with Jayson
Megna, Michael Chaput, and Jack Skille all netting better results – and each
for less than $1 million.

Even
outside of comparing him against other players, that abysmal ratio means that
for every two goals he is on the ice for, he’s on the ice for three against.
When you consider that this player averages the fourth most 5-on-5 time on ice
per game on his team, it’s no wonder that the Canucks struggle to keep their
heads above water. One of their most used players is an anchor dragging them
under.

Even if
you were to control for save percentages (which forwards have little to no
influence on), Sutter doesn’t show well by any method of shot shares.

Player Season CF% FF% SF% xGF% SCF% GF%
BRANDON.SUTTER 20162017 47.18 46.1 46.53 46.03 42.31 39.89

Score and venue adjusted data via Corsica.hockey

While
some may still scoff at analysis based on these numbers (though that group is
growing ever smaller), the fact of the matter is that the statistics are highly
predictive of future success (and failure) – expected goals in particular.

Another measure with a high degree of predictability is DTMAboutHeart’s attempt at a single-number metric, WAR. Due to his series of injuries last season, you won’t find a WAR value for Sutter’s 2015-16 season. Nor will you find one for his 2014-15 season with the Penguins. You can however find a value for each of the six prior seasons, ranging from 2008-09 to 2013-14. The results are not appealing.

Season Team EV_O

WAR

EV_D

WAR

PP_O

WAR

DRAW

WAR

TAKE

WAR

FAC

WAR

OVERALL
20132014 PIT -0.11 0.03 0.0 -0.53 -0.23 0.01 -0.83
20122013 PIT -0.05 -0.04 0.0 -0.34 0.26 0.02 -0.15
20112012 CAR 0.09 0.03 0.0 -0.39 -0.12 0.07 -0.32
20102011 CAR 0.02 0.05 0.0 -0.31 -0.16 0.01 -0.39
20092010 CAR 0.11 -0.08 0.3 -0.23 0.15 0.03 0.28
20082009 CAR -0.02 0.03 0.0 -0.13 -0.36 -0.14 -0.62

Data via DTMAboutHeart and Hockey-Graphs.com

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of WAR, it’s originally a baseball statistic that stands for wins above replacement. Attempts have often been made to convert it to hockey, and DTMAboutHeart’s version is the latest and most prevalent iteration. The basic idea is that each component is compared against a pre-determined replacement level (in rough theory, the best player outside of all 30 NHL lineups), and then converted in to Wins. The overall total represents the total wins above (or below) what a replacement level player with be worth under the exact same circumstances.

From left to right, the components are even strength offence, even strength defence, power play offence, drawing penalties, taking penalties, and faceoffs. As you can see from the final column, Brandon Sutter has been below replacement level for most of his career. And it’s not like he was trending upward with age.

It’s likely that he would have been a positive player in WAR in 2014-15, scoring 21 goals that year (much like in 2009-10, the only other year he was above replacement level. It’s also possible that he will be above replacement level this season, given his goal trends. That’s the nice thing about pumping out offence: it covers the warts. But it doesn’t eliminate them. Even in season above replacement level, he is only just so. The 2015-16 Canucks, as bad as they were, finishing 28th in the league, had 13 players with a higher WAR than Sutter accrued in 2009-10.

The long and short of it is that Brandon Sutter does not add much value beyond a replacement level player, and as such he shouldn’t be compensated much more than one. Of course, the fact that given the opportunity, Sutter can produce offence provides him with some intrinsic value. The opposing fact that he damages the team by consistently getting scored on, thus making it more difficult for them to win the more they play him should put a serious dent in his value. Though that doesn’t appear to be the way that current NHL executive’s think.

Sutter’s Market Value

Actual player value is incredibly difficult to determine, because value is largely dictated by the rest of the market. And the rest of the market is consistently willing to shell out large sums of real money for bad reasons.

When the market assesses Sutter’s value, the first thing it looks at is his goal and point totals. Sutter has scored 20 goals in a season before (twice), and thus he is considered a 20-goal scorer even if he’s only done it twice and peaked at 21. The market does not care how he got to 20 goals, nor does it care if more goals are routinely scored in the other direction.

Last season, the average cap hit for forwards that scored between 19 and 23 goals (Sutter’s career high plus-or-minus two goals) was $3,866,563. Of course, that average includes salaries players like Joe Thornton, Nick Backstrom, and Ryan O’Reilly, players in the $6-8.5 million range that scored 82, 70, 67, and 60 points respectfully.

Meanwhile, Brandon Sutter has topped out at 40 points, and is on pace for 38 points this season, despite his inflated ice time. Reducing the list to players that scored at least 20 goals but no more than 40 points, the average salary falls to $3,270,833, more than a million dollars less than Sutter’s average salary. This list also includes players that are reaching these goal and point totals with second or third line minutes, rather than having their ice time in the top 30 of the NHL as Sutter’s is.

To compensate for that excessive ice time, we move to rate stats. Corsica’s Similarity Calculator allows us to find Sutter’s closest comparable players based on individual shot generation (iCF60), expected shooting percentage (ixFSh%), expected on-ice goal data relative to team, and actual production (deployment variables were removed from the formula, but it otherwise remained standard). I’ve added the cap hits of each of the top closest 20 matches (ELC players not included, since their salaries are capped at an outrageously affordable number).

Similarity Player Season iCF60 ixF

Sh%

Rel. x

GF60

Rel. x

GA60

G60 A60 P60  Cap Hit 
100.00% BRANDON.SUTTER 2016-17 11.49 6.63 -0.07 -0.02 0.62 0.62 1.24  $  4,375,000
98.27% DANIEL.PAILLE 2009-10 11.34 7.68 -0.08 -0.04 0.53 0.65 1.19  $  1,125,000
97.64% JAMIE.LUNDMARK 2009-10 10.08 8.79 0.00 -0.01 0.58 0.58 1.15  $     600,000
97.57% TORREY.MITCHELL 2011-12 10.9 6.66 -0.15 -0.05 0.53 0.73 1.25  $  1,366,667
97.52% KYLE.TURRIS 2015-16 10.72 7.75 0.05 -0.1 0.65 0.65 1.29  $  3,500,000
97.47% JASON.ARNOTT 2010-11 13.54 6.81 -0.01 -0.06 0.64 0.64 1.28  $  4,500,000
97.43% JOHN.MITCHELL 2015-16 9.76 7.76 -0.11 0.05 0.57 0.65 1.22  $  1,800,000
97.22% BYRON.BITZ 2009-10 10.25 6.82 -0.21 -0.01 0.56 0.68 1.24  $     687,500
97.11% CURTIS.GLENCROSS 2014-15 10.65 7.67 -0.17 -0.1 0.54 0.72 1.26  $  2,550,000
97.05% MICHAEL.RYDER 2013-14 12.61 6.96 -0.19 0.03 0.69 0.64 1.33  $  3,500,000
97.04% SCOTTIE.UPSHALL 2014-15 13.24 6.22 0.00 -0.11 0.64 0.55 1.19  $  3,500,000
96.88% JANNIK.HANSEN 2013-14 11.09 6.58 0.04 -0.02 0.57 0.51 1.08  $  1,350,000
96.83% MARTIN.HANZAL 2010-11 14.22 6.66 -0.08 -0.09 0.62 0.62 1.25  $  1,800,000
96.77% SEAN.COUTURIER 2014-15 11.44 6.42 -0.09 -0.04 0.55 0.83 1.38  $  1,750,000
96.73% RENE.BOURQUE 2016-17 12.83 5.17 -0.03 0.01 0.6 0.48 1.08  $     650,000
96.70% DEREK.MACKENZIE 2013-14 11.62 7.27 -0.29 -0.01 0.61 0.61 1.21  $  1,000,000
96.60% MICHEAL.FERLAND 2016-17 11.67 6.66 -0.18 0.12 0.67 0.56 1.23  $     825,000
96.60% VIKTOR.STALBERG 2013-14 13.86 6.03 -0.16 -0.06 0.58 0.73 1.31  $  3,000,000
96.59% BLAKE.COMEAU 2012-13 12.21 6.26 -0.21 -0.12 0.67 0.67 1.34  $  1,250,000
96.55% BRAD.BOYES 2011-12 10.79 6.37 0.02 0.11 0.53 0.71 1.24  $  4,000,000
96.49% STEVE.BERNIER 2012-13 12.05 9.12 0.10 0.06 0.57 0.57 1.14  $     775,000 

The average salary of these players is $1,976,458, roughly $2.4 million less than Sutter’s salary.

If there is anything that makes Sutter’s salary reasonable, I have yet to find it.

Conclusion

After considering a great deal of evidence, I am left with the following conclusions regarding the original four points in Sutter’s favour:

  • His goals, while earned, are the product over being overplayed, which damages the team’s chances of winning.
  • His faceoff prowess, while legitimate, carries little actual value.
  • He is not a “good penalty killer”, but rather an adequate one.
  • His willingness to play through injury, while somewhat admirable, is largely unquantifiable, and may easily have done as much harm as good.

None of these factors should lead to a player being paid $4.375 million. Sutter’s statistically assessed value places him closer to replacement level than core player. And finally, players that do what he does – even by raw numbers – can be found around the NHL doing so for much cheaper.

The final conclusion is this: Brandon Sutter is absolutely overpaid at his current wage. The goals, the faceoffs, the all situations play, and the gutting it out form a mirage that influences people into thinking that he is worth far more to his hockey team. They are in fact, to borrow a phrase from Blake Price, just lipstick on a pig.


Faceoff data from Puckbase.com. Salary data from CapFriendly.com. All other data from Corsica.hockey.

  • Bud Poile

    As I scrolled down through the negatives I read:

    “His faceoff prowess, while legitimate, carries little actual value.”

    And the rubber hits the road right there.Sutter ranks 13th in the entire NHL in faceoff wins %.If the author has no idea why teams value or want to gain possession then he is indeed lost.

    “Actual player value is incredibly difficult to determine, because value is largely dictated by the rest of the market. And the rest of the market is consistently willing to shell out large sums of real money for bad reasons.”

    So,you can’t determine his value while faceoffs have no value,yet he’s over paid. Sure.Really convincing somebody there,just not sure whom it is.

    “Sutter can produce offence provides him with some intrinsic value.”

    You think,huh? Wow.

    “All in all, Sutter appears to deserve the distinction of “adequate penalty killer”, which in and of itself is not a bad thing.”

    Damned with faint praise,which is what the author has done to Sutter in this article.

    • Freud

      Bud, you must be totally overwhelmed with all this evidence because your response is completely incoherent.

      You missed the point on face offs, we all know Sutter has a good winning percentage, the argument, linked to overwhelming evidence, shows it doesn’t matter.

      • Bud Poile

        “Sutter gets top PP ice time, yet the powerplay is ranked 27th.

        Sutter gets the most PK ice time for forwards and the penalty kill is 24th.” Freud

        It’s a team game,Freud.

        I see you (and your CA cohort) refuse to acknowledge Sutter’s faceoff dominance.

        Isn’t that convenient?

        FYI,Bonino has 8 goals and 14 assists for 22 points and is a -4 on one of the top offensive teams in the league.He is the only player on the entire team that is a negative +/- player.

        Sutter is one goal shy of doubling Bonino’s offensive output-on a 27th place team.

        • J.D. Burke

          Bud, you keep referencing faceoffs as the smoking gun that shows Sutter’s value. There is no direct correlation between being strong in the faceoff circle and strong underlying shot metrics at the team or player level. In fact, the impact is negligible. You can keep yelling to the contrary, but this is a fact. Sutter has the seventh worst Corsi on the team and has basically been a negative possession impact player his entire career.

          Obviously I’d rather a player win more faceoffs than they lose. This doesn’t mean they hold anywhere near as much value as people tend to think they do, and there’s ample proof to suggest as much.

          Then again, Jeremy pointed all this out in the article.

          • TheRealPB

            I don’t think face-offs are everything but it’s hard to see them being as dismissed as Jeremy’s article (and other’s) seem to suggest. Just linking them to offensive production doesn’t seem to adequately capture their impact. If you win the face-off to start a PK, you have a much greater chance of not running down your penalty killers, for example, or conversely on the PP it allows you to set up. It might not always result in a goal, but there is more value to the face-off than I think you’re acknowledging. Additionally, having a strong face-off man gives cover to the others — in Horvat’s case alone he clearly has benefited from Sutter being in the lineup than he did last year; Horvat was stuck (especially with Henrik’s injury) with basically having to take every important draw. There are many other players in the past — Doug Jarvis and Manny Malhotra to name just two — who didn’t produce a lot of points but were heavily relied upon to win the draw. Unlike fighting or the “stay at home” defenseman I think face-offs actually are an integral part of the success of a team, but not in a way that’s easy to quantify in terms of the effect on other players (at least not insofar as non-scoring impacts go).

            I also think the idea that we should dismiss Sutter’s scoring because he gets more minutes is ludicrous. We don’t do that with the elite scorers and call into question the point totals of the Crosbys or McDavids. Why would we do that with a Sutter?

            At the end of the day I don’t think he’s all that overpaid. It’s not like we are losing players because of the contracts to Sutter, Dorsett, Sbisa or Miller. And Sutter is the eighth highest paid player on the team. To be paying $4 million plus for a center who can score goals and win face-offs is in this league not too bad. I don’t quite get why Sutter is such a whipping boy for CA. On the basis of actual point performance (not past and not the rest of the leadership package etc) the $7 million each to Daniel and Henrik for less than 40 points seems far more egregious, not to mention the $5 million to Edler for his half a season or the money to Burrows, etc.

          • I am Ted

            Some good points. I don’t think Miller has been overpaid and if you look at the starting goalie salaries, Millsy is not on the high end.

            Dorsett is overpaid but not by a ton. Sbisa is overpaid and I’d be happy if he was qualified and kept at 2.9 but he is looking solid now.

            The only contract I really don’t like is Eriksson’s. That will be a tough one unless the Canucks get a centre that has chemistry with Loui in the near future. I never wanted that guy and really didn’t like that contract to boot.

          • Vanoxy

            Miller is the 7th highest paid goalie in the league.

            That is, by definition, on the high end.

            And, his deal looks slightly better now than it did the day he signed it. After fizzling out in St Louis, when only 2 teams were in the market for a goalie. Benning had the leverage, but he still chose to throw a deal at him for Schneider, Holtby type money.

            Benning has always overpaid his pals. every deal you mentioned was an overpayment.

          • Assigning goal differentials to faceoff wins takes into account subtleties like clearing the puck on the PK. That’s why the Goal Differential per Faceoff from the Schuckers chart indicates much different values for defensive zone PK faceoffs and neutral zone even strength faceoffs.

            All other evidence in support of faceoffs is based on circular reasoning. Sutter’s faceoffs are important because they boost Horvat’s faceoffs. That may be true. But it’s also true that Horvat’s faceoffs are of little value to actually winning the game.

            Faceoffs are just one more puck battle in a game containing hundreds of 50/50 puck battles. It takes a lot of wins to push the needle.

            As for your second point on scoring rate, Crosby and McDavid are also near the league leaders in rate scoring. Crosby, McDavid and Sutter all play similar amounts of ice time. Yet Crosby and McDavid are on pace for 100 and 90 points, while Sutter is on pace for 38. I thought this would be inherently obvious.

          • TheRealPB

            I appreciate the effort to try and develop proxies for the value of face-offs as well as the attempt to translate baseball-specific statistics (like replacement levels) to hockey. I just don’t think in this case it necessarily makes sense. Perhaps it’s me that needs more education on it and I’m off to look at some of the other articles that dive into the issue in greater depth.

            To be clear, I don’t think the Sutter contract is defensible because of his face-off abilities alone. I didn’t love the trade and I didn’t like the fact that they resigned him before even seeing him play. Last year was a waste with his injury. Of the six big signings of acquisitions that I’ve seen Benning make, his is probably the second best so far, however. Sbisa seems to have turned a corner but after 2 years of terrible to mediocre play. Dorsett has been relatively good for what he brings. Vrbata had one great year and one terrible one. Miller had two ok years and one great one this year. And Eriksson I hold out hope for if only because he had a terrible first year in Boston after coming over from Dallas. But Sutter has clearly shown himself to be a decent NHL player. He’s not fantastic by any means but he scores some goals, wins some face-offs, is relatively reliable defensively, and is a good bottom six player. If this was 2010 and we were in a different cap era I’d agree that he’s overpaid. At today’s prices he really is not.

          • Whackanuck

            A little sensitive J.D. to jump to your buddies defence. Can’t write and stand on his own?

            Show us faceoffs have little impact. It’s probably there but you saying so isn’t compelling. I thought Jeremy covered everything but I guess not. I hope you both get jobs with teams…baseball teams comes to mind.

            When can we expect an article exposing Pavel Bure as overrated and overpaid?

          • Freud

            Ummm, there’s a hyperlink to the faceoff evidence right in the piece.

            How sensitive are you to demand someone present evidence that is right there for you to see?

            derp

      • Bud Poile

        No,Freud,this isn’t math class ,this is hockey.

        SUTTER is the best faceoff man on the Canucks,takes the most faceoffs and wins the most faceoffs.

        He not only has a “good” winning percentage,he is one of the very best in the entire league.

        Your argument,based on zero evidence is a Fraud and it is your attempt at discrediting one of the very best that doesn’t matter.

        Pfffffffffffffffft.

  • Jabs

    Seems like a pointless rant. What do you want to do, stop paying him?

    Besides, this argument is entirely biased and only focuses on the attributes the author has selected. Sutter is a real warrior and exemplifies Canuck hockey on and off the ice.

    When Sutter is on the ice I will continue enjoying watching his skill and seeing him work hard, banging around and scoring goals. The authors can enjoy sitting on the sidelines yelling “boo, there’s that overpaid Sutter again”.

    Maybe some Garth Brooks music will cheer you up, I hope to hear some more soon.

  • defenceman factory

    Yawn. Sutter is overpaid and the math geeks don’t like him much. No newsflash there. How can Blake Price be so wrong?

    There is a reason teams don’t let the analysts spend any of the real money

  • Jamie E

    Probably, but hardly the most egregious contract out there. For instance, I like Sutter over the length of his contract at his salary better than I like Lucic at his.

  • GLM

    “If there is anything that makes Sutter’s salary reasonable, I have yet to find it.”

    I looked up centers who signed their contracts as ufas, are under 32, and getting paid upwards of sutters $4,375,000. The first 5 players that came up were

    Brandon Sutter GP 57 / G 15 / A 12

    Jori Lehtera GP 54 / G 6 / A 13 $4,700,000

    Carl Soderberg GP 56 / G 5 / A 6 $4,750,000

    Valtteri Filppula GP 54 / G 7 / A 25 $5,000,000

    Frans Nielsen GP 55 / G 11 / A 16 $5,250,000

    Dave Bolland lol $5,500,000

    Relative to these players Brandon Sutter contract seems perfectly reasonable, and if anything he’s arguably giving the best value.

    Now you may disagree with what the market seems to have set the price for ufa centers, but I definitely don’t think it’s fair to single out Sutter as the overrated and overpaid one.

    • Pat Quinn Way

      A better comparison would be the salaries of some of the leagues most highly rated 3rd line centres…

      Sean Couturier 4.25m

      Richard Rakell 3.85m

      Cody Eakin 3.8m

      Kevin Hayes 2.6m

      Nick Bjugstad 4.1m

      Tomas Hertl 3.0m

      and you could have two and a half Nick Bonino’s at Sutters price!!

      Sutter is also a defensive liability at minus 17, 2nd worst on the team… and i didn’t need a stats overkill novel either to provide the overwhelming facts that yes, it’s another terrible Benning overpay!

      • GLM

        It’s not a better comparison, because all the players you listed are RFAs only on their 1st or 2nd contract signed after their ELC. Of course players who are signed during their RFA years are going to be cheaper than a UFA, the difference is in the millions.

        It’s like saying Patrick Kane is overpaid at $10,500,000 because Seguin is getting paid $5,750,000, you’d be ignoring the fact one contract was signed as an RFA and one as a UFA contract.

      • Bud Poile

        Except he’s a second line center and one of the premiere faceoff men in the league. Just another hatchet job by a misinformed fan and CA writer,is the correct answer.

      • TD

        I’m am not sold on Sutter, but he has not been used as a third line centre. He takes the harder defensive match ups normally reserved for the second line centers, ie Kessler or Bergeron. That frees Horvat up to score while playing against the easier third line match ups.

        I’m not saying he isn’t overpaid, but the assessment needs to be done while looking at the ways he does benefit his teammates. His plus minus is horrible in that role, but way better than Bo’s was last year in the same role.

        • Pat Quinn Way

          Hi mate, well players do move up and down the line up (Sutter was first line winger remember and how did that pan out lol), but the general consensus is that our number one centre is Henrik Sedin, 2nd line centre is our star player and top scorer Bo Horvat. That makes Sutter third line centre mate, regardless of deployment, which has been the case his whole NHL career.

          Let’s not forget, Sutter is billed by Benning as a ‘foundational piece’ shutdown centre… which at minus 17 tells you all you need to know about his true abilities in that regard for a whopping 4.375m salary.

          Benning just keeps trying to inanely justify this massive overpay by bigging up Sutter’s role and digging ‘his’ guy deeper into a hole in doing so!

          For me these gross overpayments are unacceptable in the cap era when you have a star player like Bo Horvat to re-sign and when a savvy team like Anaheim re-signs a better, younger centreman in Rikard Rakell for over half a million per less after he held out in Sweden!

          • TD

            Hi Pat, production wise I think Bo is our #1 centre, imagine where he would be if he got first PP time instead of the powerhouse that Jason Megna (and Sutter). I also agree that Sutter with the Sedins was a disaster from the start. The reason that Sutter plays so many minutes now that he back at centre is that the other team plays their top line a lot and that is who he mainly matches up against. Horvat gets third line minutes because he isn’t out against their best players.

            My comment was not an attempt to compliment the coaches deployment (which I often disagree with) nor was I trying to say that I Sutter isn’t overpaid (which he probably is). My comment was that Sutter is being deployed as the teams second line shut down centre. I was also not trying to say that he is good at it. I was just saying that one explanation for his high minute total is being matched against the other teams first line. And that this deployment has helped Horvat this year.

    • Dirty30

      So half a dozen GM’s vie with JB for handing out bad contracts and Benning’s over-payment of Mr Foundational is the least egregious and so it’s a winner? That’s your argument?

      The simple fact presented for your consideration is that there are a number of players who put up Sutter-like numbers but at significantly less cost.

      It’s not like Benning was competing on the open market for this player, he traded good assets to acquire him, with a reasonable contract in place, and decided to anoint him a ‘foundational player’ and pay him nearly double what was required to resign him. For further ‘brain dead’ moments in Benning’s asset management, refer to the six million contract for a goalie no one was chasing, and a pizza delivery specialist paid top four money for bottom of the league performance.

      The problem is not that JB recklessly spends ownership’s money in a way the only minimally makes the team better, but then the Coach deploys what could be a reasonable defensive centre — despite his stats — as his scoring line and puts his most offensively talented centre out to cover for Sutters shortcomings as both an offensive and defensive centre.

      Mistakes compounding mistakes compounding mistakes.

  • Locust

    Wow. A weak argument supported by weak facts.
    No wonder so many people think the anal – lytics people are just one step removed from band camp.

    Vanessa knows more about hockey than you. ……

    • Freud

      Yet another challenge to the chief whiner, give us your facts countering this piece.

      You have past on the previous challenges, so we’ll all assume you attempt to discredit anal-lytics because you don’t understand them and couldn’t possibly present your own.

      • Bud Poile

        It would be helpful in Canucks Army would do as their mandate suggests and not allow personal attacks on their boards.

        This has gone on way too long and is now getting out of hand.

      • Whackanuck

        Maybe present your argument instead of trashing locusts.
        You added nothing just like I’m adding nothing.

        But newsflash, apparently a strong analytics argument can modify reality. Go Florida and Arizona!!!

  • Freud

    A good piece by Jeremy – reminiscent of old school CA. The kind of stuff that got guys pro jobs.

    For me, though, the issue is not so much salary, but usage. My concern with this whole management team is ignoring evidence and going with what Desjardins himself calls “gut feeling.”

    Sutter is given top line 5on5 ice time, yet 6 of every 10 goals scored when he’s on the ice are in his own net.

    Sutter gets top PP ice time, yet the powerplay is ranked 27th.

    Sutter gets the most PK ice time for forwards and the penalty kill is 24th.

    Bonino (1.9M) plus a player and pick was traded for Sutter (4.375M). Bonino scored 39 pts his last year in Vancouver while averaging 16 min a night. He was a plus 7. Sutter is on pace for 38 pts while averaging 19.5 min a night. He’s also on pace for a minus 25.

    Sutter was injured most of last year and McCann took on most of Sutter’s ice time. Despite Sutter returning this year to replace a 19 year old rookie, the team has the same amount of points, the same goals for and the same goals against.

    There is simple minded and basic evidence that any coach or GM can see, yet Sutter continues to get sent out in the same situations.

    This team desperately needs a top centre to slot in ahead or behind Horvat, dropping Sutter to 10-12 minutes a night.

    But how do we trust a management team to find that centre if they misjudge Sutter so badly?

  • Nuckleston

    Good analysis,I really enjoyed it. One thing though, is it worth adding inflation to comparable player salaries from previous years?

    In my opinion, salaries from 09-10 are not directly comparable to current salaries. I think once you factor in inflation, Sutter won’t look massively overpaid; rather, just really overpaid.

    If I missed the part where you already talked about inflation, d’oh.

    • These are good questions to ask. I did not compensate for changes in the salary cap and you’re right to point this out. The easiest way to account for this, and what I could have done here, is to report salaries as a percentage of the overall salary cap. Possible follow up work for the future.

      • Nuckleston

        Measuring a player’s salary based upon their percentage of salary cap is a great idea.

        Having thought more about it, the actual player salary is irrelevant; rather, what percentage of a teams salary cap they take up, and what value they provide for it is what is important.

        In fact, I would argue that a metric based upon percentage of salary cap mixed with WAR would be one of the best indicators of current contract value, and what a players future contract *should, perhaps, maybe* look like.

  • LTFan

    IMO Sutter is a pretty good player. He is hard on the puck and one of the few Canucks who wins puck battles along the boards.

    What I cannot understand why Jeremy Davis would write such a negative article on a player just because he is being paid well.

    I really am tired of all the negativity from CA bloggers. What would you guys do if the team was in first place?

    As for all the analytics, they may be helpful in evaluating a player, but the real test is what he does on the ice and support for his team mates. Sutter is a winner in both of those categories.

    • crofton

      Agreed. I am sick and tired of players being trashed simply because someone thinks they are overpaid. They probably would hail the conquering hero if they were simply paid 1/2 what they make.

  • I am Ted

    I think this article is a pretty good piece pointing out how flawed analytics can be. A couple of posts have already been noted regarding comparables (RFA vs UFAs – but that isn’t my analytics concern).

    Faceoffs. After reading the piece and links, I think there are some points that a rather understated. Things such as linemates, opposition, quality of team etc. A superior team being able to take the puck away even after a faceoff loss…the list goes on. Many confounding factors in the mix.

    Sure, Sutter gets lots of ice time. Too much. I really don’t like WD as an NHL coach but I don’t know if I’d change too much there. Sutter would get less PP time for sure. However, many scouts and reviews have noted Sutter is a very good PK person. I tend to agree. Like any players, PK stats will suffer when you’re on a weaker team.

    I really think this lengthy piece is an indictment of analytics. It ignores some aspects and goes overboard on the analytics piece. Overall, I think Sutter might be slightly overpaid but I take no issue with it. Much like the Sbisa situation – an overpay but he has improved to the point where not too many people are whining about that contract anymore.

    Again, a CA blogger using analytics as if it was the be-all and end-all of hockey analysis. Give it a rest. You may want to tone down your assertions a bit. This type of info is interesting but very slanted. It makes the bloggers look ignorant more than anything.

  • OlKoot

    A good article but i tend to concur with Blake Price. Sutter is a good centreman and it shows in so many ways (especially to the naked eye test, which is always going to be my favourite). Good Centers always make your team better and that is what Sutter does. We are better b/c we have him.

  • tyhee

    What I find interesting about the comments about this and many other posts is the extent to which this blog, which I used to enjoy a few short years ago as based largely on analytics, is now read mostly by those who don’t believe in analytics.

    Of course, some of that is fans of a struggling team disliking negativity while a struggling team inevitably brings negative points to make, but more than that it seems that the majority of commenters don’t believe in analytics and don’t want numbers used in analysis of the team.

    We all start from a position of some bias and those that always liked the Sutter trade and extension will disagree with it, those who disliked the Sutter trade and extension (and I’m one of those) no doubt held their opinions for reasons pretty much matching what we see in this article.

  • Vanoxy

    I actually like Sutter, and I don’t have a huge issue with his Salary, although it is definitely more than was necessary.

    I do think his salary will be problematic, on the Canucks, because Horvat’s pending deal is getting more expensive by the day.

    With Henrik essentially untradable, and Horvat looking at a big raise, Sutter’s deal might end up being a luxury this team can’t afford.

    • Whackanuck

      Analyzed well, but totally irrelevant. When did anyone complain about Malhotra’s contract when he was a faceoff king. It’s not like he scored much at all.By the time the team will be signing it’s current and future first line prospects to their bridge and 3rd contracts, Sutter and his salary aren’t going to be around to be an obstacle. Add to that, Benning’s subsequent contracts are eminently reasonable. So he pays what he considers a core player a bit much-it’s not preventing the team from becoming even a playoff contender.

      I do know that if it’s game seven of any playoff series and we’re up 2-1 and there’s a faceoff in our end with 20 seconds left, I’m not going to say “hell, faceoffs don’t win games, let’s let Guddy take it.”

  • Hockey Warrior

    Once again the FAILURE of armchair fans to see the BIGGER PICTURE beggers belief.

    Ultimately, I’m looking for players that are going to enable me to COMPETE as a contending team and WIN a STANLEY CUP. THAT is the only goal.

    Brandon Sutter is not giving me that opportunity, he has NEVER given anyone that opprtunity in his career and that’s why the CHAMPIONS let him go and replaced him with an inspired move for NICK BONINO.

    Nick was an absolute BEAST in the playoffs and NOT a passenger either with KEY CONTRIBUTIONS throughout the campaign. That’s why he was shortlisted for the CONN SMYTH and WON the Stanley Cup on a salary of less than 2 million dollars cap hit. What has Sutter given in comparison… a few extra faceoff wins – whoppdee doo!

    The Penguins won that trade and the CUP. Benning blew it… again! End of story!

  • sh1t4brains

    Why is Jannik underpaid? Crickets. In a vacuum, stats should define contracts. But it doesn’t. Imagine going to a player and saying….You are only worth “x”….and then there are 20 other teams not batting an eye to pay up! Middle finger anyone?

    The market dictates the price. No diff than your housing market in Vancouver. Why is a piece of turd in East Side Vancouver worth a whole lot more than a palace in Langley? Some will pay for it…some won’t. To say that Bonino is better cause he won the cup is ignoring that Pitts got someone named Sid, Kessel and Malkin….therefore, asinine.

    WD’s player deployment has never ever made sense since last year. What is the point of signing Loui when you don’t play him with the Sedins? What is the point of having Sutter as C when you are playing him with the Sedins? What is the point of insisting Megna plays with the Sedins when he hasn’t shown he can score for beans? I could go on and on…and yet, the obvious problem with Coaching seems to get a pass. And when reporters ask WD about it….they back off…why? cause WD is so nice?

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    Good read. To me, the money paid to Sutter is a sunk cost, and we might as well maximize value where possible (ie: his adequate PK ability is better than a bunch of other guys who could be taking more of Sutter’s other minutes in exchange). However, a good GM would not hesitate to expose him to the expansion draft. Less about getting rid of him, necessarily, and more about keeping a player we’d be worse off to lose.

  • leo101

    Sutter’s contract is a downright bargain compared to Erikisson’s contract. Watching Sutter, I see a player who will sacrifice his body for the team and that certainly adds to his value. I would call his contract fair.