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Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

Canucks Army Year In Review: Brandon Sutter

When the Canucks acquired him, Jim Benning described Brandon Sutter as a foundational piece, who would bring this team speed and edge come playoff time. Needless to say, that hasn’t worked out too well in several facets since it was suggested in July 2015; both in terms of his own play and, well, the team around him.

Hey, you never know. With four years remaining on his deal after this one, maybe they’ll be able to put that playoff theory to the test by the end of it. What’s done is done, though, so let’s just focus on the year that’s passed by.

All Situations 5 on 5 Various RTSS
Year GP G A PTS G60 A60 P60 CF%Rel PIM S SH% FO% ATOI HIT BLK TK GV
2016/17 81 17 17 34 0.55 0.61 1.16 -3.5 12 160 10.6 54.3 18:48 78 53 32 21
2015/16 20 5 4 9 0.71 0.71 1.42 2.4 2 45 11.1 52.5 17:59 12 10 4 5
Career Avg 82 17 15 32 0.61 0.66 1.27 -4.77 15 159 10.4 49.4 16:24 67 55 44 24

The first glance hints that, well, this was a pretty bog average year for him. The most important part is that, like in most of the season prior to last, he stayed healthy; but beyond that, it looks pretty bog standard. Still a depth scorer, still a bit of a drag on possession, not a frequent penalty taker, a competent but infrequent shooter, and someone who is capable of all the fun, gritty stuff but doesn’t do it with the utmost of frequency or urgency. He also was a fair bit more productive on the powerplay this year, but not to an extent justifies him as an often looked-to option.

The “possession drag” bit is still the key issue to much of the fanbase. Looking at how players who spent at least 50 minutes with him this year did, it’s not hard to see why:

The only forward on the Canucks roster who didn’t find themselves giving up a greater differential of shots against when playing regularly with Sutter was Jayson Megna and, well.. I don’t think I need to do much convincing to sell you on the idea that playing with Sutter is a better bet than being played with Michael Chaput, Joseph Crammarosa, or being completely out of place and unable to keep up with the Sedins. Alex Biega also sees a slight uptick, but it’s not significant and it may have more to do with who he was paired up with on the point.

That’s not to say that Sutter is complete to blame for his teammates’ struggles. Willie Desjardins was a big fan of putting Sutter out in defensive zone situations. That’s likely a combination of Sutter’s confusing yet existent reputation as a shutdown player, and the prowess that he’s shown in the faceoff dot. As you can see above, everybody that Sutter played started their shifts in more offensively-driven situations when they were away from him; almost all of them in double-digit percentages, and only Reid Boucher was close to even.

That’s a pretty clear “position to fail” for a player when you’re looking at their shot-based and production-based data. So is the fact that he was often matched up against the toughest opponents of the opposition; Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, and Corey Perry are the players he spent the most time playing against at even strength this year, and it doesn’t get much better for a while as you scroll down the list of his opponents.

That’s not a complete and total get out of jail free card, though. Looking at other forwards in the league who put up big minutes and got frequently stuffed in the defensive zone, Sutter is still the biggest relative anchor of the group and manages to do so while playing for a team that was already getting its lunch handed to them on the whole. Other shutdown specialists manage to turn their bad situations into good ones by generating offence, a gear that Sutter just didn’t have this year and often doesn’t.

Ultimately, what we’re probably looking at here is a player that’s been in over their head since coming into town (and especially so this year), but won’t magically become a star player if that’s ever changed. The idea of unearthing another gear in his game that was sold when he was acquired seems extremely unlikely; he might just be a decent enough third line centre who is capable of playing supplementary tough minutes but shouldn’t be your main guy.

Which, as long as you’re not trying to meet up with the expectations of the trade, that’s completely and totally fine. There are redeemable qualities in him as a player; he’s mobile, he typically puts in the effort, he’s not afraid of getting into dangerous areas and he’s quite disciplined when he does so. The value of being a little bit better than the rest at the faceoff dot is overstated by the casual observer, but it’s still convenient to have someone who can boost your odds from time to time.

Next year, I’d like to see the Canucks experiment with spreading out the deployment of their centres, to get an idea of what Sutter would be to them in a more neutral situation. It would likely do wonders for his confidence and reputation, and while they’ll likely never be able to justify the initial investment, they can likely find a way to make him a valuable contributor rather than a player in over his head. He’ll never be foundational, but he can likely compliment the foundation, whenever that may arrive, in the right situation.

  • TD

    I don’t mind giving Sutter all the tough match ups and defensive zone starts. He may not be the best at succeeding in the situations, but it protects Bo and the Sedins from those match ups. Bo isn’t ready and Henrik is no longer capable of winning those assignments. Bo and Henrik are also better offensively than Sutter, so freeing them from the d zone starts helps the Canucks overall.

    • That’s fair. Of the group that’s currently available to them it’s hard to say that they have a clear cut better option at the moment. But they should find one at some point, is the greater point; this shouldn’t be Brandon’s long term role.

      I also think that giving more to Bo next year would be a good thing, though. It’s going to be another non-competitive year so even if he’s bad at it to start, he’ll get some experience in.

      • TD

        I don’t think Sutter will be with the team when they are competitive again, but he can be a stop gap over the next couple of years until Bo and Gaunce matures. Hopefully by then the Canucks will have other options such as Gaudette, a future draft pick and maybe Granlund as better options at centre.

        I worry that the Canucks are rushing all their young players because they do not have better options. The articles talk about the AHL being a development league with lots of practice time while the NHL has minimal practice time. That’s why I don’t mind giving Sutter the heavier assignments now. Bo may be ready for harder assignments this year, but he seems to struggle as a shut down guy at this point in his career.

    • Bud Poile

      Sutter is the best faceoff player on this team and one of the league’s very best.
      He also scored 34 points and is rarely penalized.
      That’s what he is.
      He was acquired after Benning’s 101 point season and early playoff exit so mgmt. wanted faceoff control,which is crucial in the playoffs.

  • Ronning4ever

    I couldn’t care less about Sutters cap hit…it’s high, but the team has plenty of space and will have plenty more in two years. I’m also not that concerned about his usage. It’s too much but the team isn’t exactly stacked at centre, so third line usage with some good line mates and maybe an ace assist guy paired with his shot could lead to something more than the sum of parts.

    But man, Bonino is basically the same player in terms of points and usage, makes a lot less and makes his team mates better. We got fleeced in that trade.

    • Fred-65

      Bonino salary. View Bonino’s salary after this summer, it’s going to be different and not for the better. He was a player that was at the end of a bridge contract. Pitts may not be able to resign him this summer

    • Neil B

      Also, Bones is slow. S-l-o-w. He really was one of the reasons that we got our lunches stolen by Calgary in the playoffs. In a sheltered position in the east, with fleet wingers who want to lug the puck, then he can hide most of his deficiencies. But out here, on the island, on his own–he’d’ve done worse than Sutter has, I think.

      • Riley Miner

        His chemistry with Vrbata was also one of the reasons the team looked good in the first place, and was able to get to the playoffs. What’s the point of trading for a guy who’s supposedly better in the playoffs when he hurts your chances of getting there? — Also I think you underestimate the importance of awareness has when it comes to reading a fast game. Bonino processes the game so much better than Sutter does, and that makes him a more dependable player. Besides, he wasn’t the problem, our defense was incapable of passing/carrying the puck. That was the issue.

    • bobdaley44

      Fleeced? You watch that series against Calgary a couple years back? Bonino is slow and can’t skate. With the Penguins team speed they can minimize his lack of speed. Canucks couldn’t. Don’t understand the hate for Sutter. He’s a useful player who skates well, is a big body, plays hard and good defensively. Was hurt most of the year and still potted 17 goals. Sutter’s not the problem.

      • Ronning4ever

        “Fleeced?” – Yes. Did you read the article? Have you read any thorough analysis of Sutter’s season? The hate for Sutter (generally) comes from the fact that he’s not a very good player. Out of 98 forwards who played as much as he did this year, he ranked #98 in point production. He scored 17 goals cause they had him on the ice so much. Look at the graph above on how he plays with teammates. He literally drags EVERYONE down.

        ‘My’ hate for Sutter is only in the fact that we sent out prospects, picks and a better player for him. Bonino scored more, had better metrics, was cheaper, doesn’t have a NTC and was fast enough and skated well enough to win a Stanley cup. I’d take back that trade in a heartbeat.

        I still think Sutter could pan out OK as a third line centre. And it looks like a line with Sutter, Granlund and Erkisson wouldn’t be that bad in terms of shot metrics…and all those guys could score, so we’ll see. But yeah – Fleeced.

        • bobdaley44

          First off he’s not around to be a point producer. You think being on a team that can’t generate offence has anything to do with those numbers? I watched 90% of the games and i don’t see what you’re seeing. Drags them down? I don’t see it. What you have is a 20 goal centre who can take some heavy minutes when called upon and is a reliable two way guy. Is he a power play pivot? No but he has value. His icetime totals are high because he’s usually matched up with the other teams top centres to take a load off Bo who has struggled in some matchups. Analytics are BS.

  • wojohowitz

    I have a very low opinion of Sutter. He`s not good enough to be a third line center. He`s okay as a fourth line center but not at $4.5m for another four or five years. The Canucks could get a third line center out of the AHL for a much cheaper price – like Comet captain Bancks and to hear Sutter complain about his team mates – wow. My opinion of Sutter is put him on waivers and hope someone else will pick up his contract.

    This is a major test for Benning. Can he walk away from a mistake or will he keep convincing himself that Sutter can play. A comparison could be Burke as Canuck GM. In six years Burkie went thru 11 goalies because he gave them a look, made a decision and moved on quickly. Can Benning admit he made a mistake or will he compound his errors by adding Sutter to Gudbranson and Sbisa as foundational pieces?

  • Sutter was stuck behind Crosby and Malkin in a third line center role. He was better suited for 2nd line duties in Pittsburgh, thus the trade. It made perfect sense at the time to move him to another team needing second line help.

    Sutter’s time in Van so far has been less than advertised. Not a bust, but underwhelming. He was a third line guy in Pittsburgh and is that here.

  • Killer Marmot

    Sutter was brought in as a potential second line centre but is in fact a competent third line centre. That makes him somewhat overpaid, and that’s about it.

  • Fred-65

    Sutter is a grey players which is good and bad. He doesn’t stand out but he doesn’t make too many errors or take stupid penalties. His game today is the same as yesterday and the same as tomorrow. Coaches love players who they can depend on. Every shift is dependable and that counts

    • Riley Miner

      He looks great in spurts, he’s a very inconsistent player that, even at his best, is incapable of driving play positively on his own. He has that Skille syndrome where he disappears most of the time but on occasion he dominates everyone on the ice, carries a guy on his back and roofs it/powers around the goalie and either scores or makes a great chance. He’s an okay penalty killer…

      And that’s where the praise ends. He’s a tirefire 5-on-5, he chases the play where ever it goes and never seems to accomplish anything 90% of the time. He looks good with the puck on his stick, and when he’s chasing his check 200-ft down the ice because he doesn’t know how to put himself in the position to negate a play. That’s how I feel about Brandon Sutter.

  • kagee

    Solid 4th line center, with injuries Sutter can move up occasionally to the 3rd line, will be more handy to have when the Sedins retire I suppose.

    I wouldn’t mind ‘sacrificing’ Sutter to Vegas if the Canucks can take advantage of the expansion draft from another team.

    • Ronning4ever

      That’s a fair assessment, though I would add its probably: “better 3rd liner on a better contract” and a fringe D prospect who’s better than half our current D prospects.

  • Freud

    What Sutter is or is not should not be the point of discussion.

    This management team evaluated him to be a “foundational” player. The money and role they gave him prove as much.

    The question should be, why was he so poorly evaluated and what is management currently doing differently to ensure better evaluations going forward?

  • Steamer

    Trade was bad even without the loss of a 2nd pick – only a Sutter by name, not by style of play. Comments at end of year vis-a-vis Goldobin reveal arrogance rather than leadership.

    • truthseeker

      You’re being misleading. We traded the 55th pick, down for the Pens 64th pick. A drop of nine spots. It was a late 2nd rounder for an early 3rd rounder. Stop implying we lost the pick for nothing.

    • pheenster

      We don’t know what was going on inside the room which would lead to Sutter saying what he said. We do know that he’s a total floater at this point and will only be successful in the NHL if he learns to play with at least a semblance of structure.

      You guys just kill me. Hack on Benning non-stop for stuff which is mostly nitpicking. Everybody cheers when we get Goldobin and then proceeds to whine non-stop when he doesn’t play. Better question for Benning: why is the only thing we got for a player of Hansen’s value a guy who had been passed by several others on SJ’s prospect depth chart? This might be a better question to ask of the management team.

      As you can tell, not a Goldobin fan. More than willing to be converted though.

  • truthseeker

    Why is it that vancouver media and many of the fans are so stuck on the words that come out of the GM’s mouth with regard to player descriptions and “rebuilds”?

    For the millionth time…..do you people not understand that he is a GENERAL manager? He needs to manage players. He’s not a “fan expectation” manager.

    What’s he suppose to say?

    “So today we signed Brandon Sutter. We’re happy to have him here and we think he could MAYBE become a good third line option for us but we’re not holding our breath.” “Also, we’d like to announce to all our players that we started a rebuild and we don’t really give a f… what you do on the ice. So…you know….go out there…and….whatever..”

    Well there’s some confidence for Sutter huh? What great managing that would be!

    • Dirk22

      Don’t be silly. He compared Sutter to Bergeron and called him a foundational player. There’s probably a better way to introduce a marginal third line centre.

        • Dirk22

          So what you’re saying is that he called him a ‘foundation piece’ and game him a 5 year deal complete with a no-trade clause, not so much because he valued him as a foundational player, or saw him as a player worthy of a 5 year deal, but because he wanted to motivate him. That’s terrific.

          • truthseeker

            Yes…calling him a “foundation piece” is about trying to pump up the player. Obviously. And I’m sure Benning was hoping he could become that.

            As for the contract…yep…it’s not great. But it is what the market gives to players in his situation….

            http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/vancouver-canucks-brandon-sutter-salary-cap-comparable-players/

            Are you judging by hindsight again? lol….even so….check out the production of those guys….a few better…..most the same. Sutter’s production certainly isn’t way out of line with those guys.

            Is this really a case of “the worst contract ever” and a “terrible terrible hockey player”…and Benning being a “moron”…..Or is this just a fairly typical NHL salary for a guy in Sutter’s position?

            yeah….more self loathing canuck hate from supposed “fans”. It’s obvious that you’re not capable of looking at the canucks with any kind of neutrality Dirk….you’re pretty emotional and obviously biased.

            Any rational person would see that Sutter may not be the best player and his contract may not be great but it’s hardly the big stink you guys are making it out to be.

            Again…grow up. Wake up. And calm down. It’s not as bad as you believe it to be.

  • defenceman factory

    Thank you Jeff for a fair and balanced assessment of Brandon. He is the Rodney Dangerfield of CanucksArmy. Maybe a decent player in a bottom 6 spot role forced to play beyond that due to a lack of better options. Not to give him a pass but given the media abuse and coaches over/mis use its understandable why his motivation might wear down.

    I never liked the signing, the contract is too big and too long.I believe Benning should have better understood Sutter’s limitations. His pro scouts definitely should have. On the other hand Benning needed someone who could eat big minutes, play in all situations and chip in some goals. Who were better options at the time that met the needs? I expect there were some but Bonino wasn’t one.

  • Dirty30

    Gawd — Gaunce becomes Kopitar when playing away from Sutter! That alone is a good enough reason to expose Sutter over Gaunce at the Vegas draft.

    One can only hope that if Sutter ever gets over his obsession with teammates’ testicles he might become a better player. The only thing foundational about him now is his interest in supportive gear.

  • Fortitude00

    People love to hate Sutter but he’ll be eating up minutes until we find our next #1 center. He is a good transitional player that helps the team get through the tough years. You better believe there will be some tough years for our team. We need to find a #1 center and true #1 D man (who can man the PP) and possibly a #1 Goalie(crossing fingers on Demko but who knows).

  • TheRealPB

    Good and reasonable article. Sutter is one of the group of stop-gap players that we have to try and staunch a situation that there is no easy way out of — a team with declining vets, most of whom had ironclad no-movement clauses, and zero prospects because of a decade of strong finishes and abysmal drafting. So what do you do if you try and turn it around and restock the prospect pool and not, you know, have your franchise leave town? You have to have some transition players that hopefully won’t ruin some of those young players while you develop them. I don’t particularly like Sutter, Sbisa, Dorsett or Miller, but it’s hard to look at them and their performance without acknowledging the potential for improving Horvat, Hutton/Stetcher, Gaunce or Markstrom. You can’t run out a team with just the Sedins, Tanev, Edler and a bunch of AHLers and hope that it works out. As we’ve seen the last two years more because of injuries than anything, it’s a recipe for disaster. Quite frankly, it’s been a blessing that we have had the Sutters or Vrbatas and Erikssons because if we didn’t the train wreck would have been even worse and the clear progression for some (though not all) young players would not have taken place.

    • Dirk22

      Stop gap players are needed but Sutter wasn’t brought in as a stop gap – he was brought in as a ‘foundational’ player. Certainly the price they paid to acquire him represents something more than a filler type player. Look back to what they gave up to get him – starting with an asset acquired in the Kesler deal. They could have either kept Bonino and been better off, or gotten someone like a Parenteau in free agency which would have only cost $. Another in a long line of missteps from this management group.

      • TheRealPB

        You’re paying too much attention to the kind of hype that all GMs give to their recent acquisitions. What did you really expect them to say? What they gave up for him wasn’t cheap, you’re right — but then you could make the argument that Sutter has for whatever reason always been overvalued. You could argue that Carolina was dumb to make him the #11 with McDonough, Shattenkirk, Pacioretty, Backlund and Perron (not to mention Subban!) still on the board. You could say that Pittsburgh overvalued him as the centerpiece of the Staal trade, more so than either Dumoulin or Pouliot. And you could say that the Canucks overvalued him in the trade but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as you make out. Filip Gustavsson and Will Lockwood are both prospects at this point, Clendening is more of a sunk cost in losing Forsling, and for all that Bonino is kind of an awesome guy and picks it up in the playoffs, he’s not as good and arguably quite a bit worse as a 3C than Sutter. Bonino is very much buoyed by his line mates and let’s not pretend there’s an equivalence of a team with Crosby, Malkin and Cullen as your other Cs versus Sedin, Horvat and Chaput.

        • Dirk22

          You’re right in that Sutters been overvalued from the start – most likely because of his last name. Doesn’t make Benning’s move any better just because past GM’s have made the same mistake though.

          Bonino has better linemates in Pittsburgh yes but think about the difference in ice time including the first unit PP time Sutter has gotten….and Bonino still outscored him while he was in Van. Analytics aside (which we know favour Bonino in a massive way), his counting stats are even better (including his time in Van with less of a role than Sutter). I don’t see any reason why Sutter would be labeled a better 3C?

          • Bud Poile

            Of course you don’t.You never will.
            It’s a central part of your hate JB arsenal.
            34 points.
            Best f/o center on the team and one of the best in the league.
            Proecting and sheltering All-Star Bo for two years running.

  • Locust

    I get it that Sutter doesn’t show well for the graphaholics but when you watch the games, and you know anything about hockey, he does many things that are intrinsic to ultimately being successful.
    They don’t play the games on paper……..

  • rediiis

    The dot was needed, wingers are a dime a dozen. I’m not sore on the Sutter trade yet. Injuries have hurt his progression, I have some optimism about his usage with Travis as the new head. He played the position and can make him right. If he suddenly gets 70 pts with a 55% FOW, is it a good trade?

    • truthseeker

      Not to mention Bonino was one of the worst floaters in canucks history. And that’s saying a LOT. I’ve never seen a more lazy guy in a canuck uniform. At least Krutov had a deadly break away move. Bonino had virtually nothing.

      I still think at the time made, it was a decent trade.

      Again though….canuck fans….kings of hindsight bias.

      • Dirty30

        The trade was one kind of bad … the contract another … but then the attitude was something else again. Package them all up along with his play and it’s no surprise he’s a sore spot for Canuck fans. For half his salary he might have been okay … but he’s barely Taylor Pyatt in production– points, hits — but gets salary and term because Benning thinks he knows what he’s doing.

        • truthseeker

          Well….it’s the “carrot” motivation thing right? Yeah, it’s not looking good right now. I hope Green can find a way to get Sutter going. Hopefully in a role more comfortable for him.

          Still…it’s 4 more years of contract. It’s not that long and it’s not that huge a hit. Canucks have a TON of cap space on the way. I really don’t think it’s as big a deal as some fans are making out. By the time we need to reward anyone really good we’ve developed he’ll be off the books.

          • Braindead Benning

            At this point their best players are from the past regimes… unless BS, Gubranslug, LE, JV, BB and Joulevi can take this team to a new level then it’s just another few years of being at 20th and under…