72
Photo Credit: NHL.com

Canucks Army Year In Review: Ben Hutton

Ben Hutton has been one of the most divisive Canucks players over the past two seasons. Having seemingly come out of nowhere in 2016 to lead the Canucks defence in scoring (albeit with only 25 points), Hutton has struggled to live up to the hype since; with his production and ice-time plummeting in his most recent campaign under new head coach Travis Green. Some of the criticism he’s received is deserved, but there have been other factors at play that have coloured his perception in this market over the past year or so.

Player GP G A P S CF% GF% CF60 CA60
Ben Hutton 61 0 6 6 103 48.95 44.26 51.95 54.18

For what it’s worth, Hutton was more or less the same player this year as he was in his rookie season, albeit with a little less opportunity and a lot less puck luck. His shot metrics were actually up by about a percentage point from where they were in 2016-17. The biggest change from 2016-17 to his most recent season was in the games played category. Hutton was a frequent healthy scratch for the Canucks, especially down the stretch, and his power play time per gam was cut in half from the levels he saw under Willie Desjardins. Hutton was the target of some pointed comments from Travis Green regarding his conditioning, which is obviously something those of us without access can’t comment on. Jason Botchford of the Province has suggested some people close to the situation believe those issues have been exaggerated, but the only people who will every really know the truth are Travis Green and Ben Hutton. What’s important to keep in mind is that even if the conditioning rumours are true, his season was fine. Disappointing, maybe, but far from the disaster it’s been portrayed as.

Something that’s often lost in any conversation about Ben Hutton is that the praise directed his way by the so-called “advanced stats” community is always in relation to the rest of the Canucks’ defence. It’s not so much that Ben Hutton is a great defender, it’s that there’s no reason he should be the focus of so much negative attention when the rest of the Canucks defence has performed so poorly.

Hutton has also flashed enough skill to make you wonder what he could do on a team with a better back end, especially because his performance has been tied so inextricably to the quality of his partner.

There’s an old adage in hockey that there are two kinds of “good” defenders. The first group are the truly gifted, who can carry a pair either through dynamism or expert defensive awareness. The second group is comprised of those who can play well and keep up with the first group. Even Hutton’s staunchest advocates would concede he’s part of that second group, and the numbers bear that out. It’s not exactly a difficult concept to grasp, but it bears repeating: when Hutton plays with good players, he performs well. When he doesn’t he struggles.

There was a section in Jason Botchford’s final edition of the Provies for the 2017-18 season that I thought summed up the Ben Hutton situation nicely:

 

Maybe the most confusing part is that the data all season has suggested Hutton is among the Canucks best defencemen.

In fact, the only time he’s really struggled it’s been when he’s paired with Guddy.

That Guddy acquisition is arguably the worst thing to happen to Hutton.

Guddy or not, Hutton’s play on the ice never warranted the number of times Green made him a healthy scratch.

“It’s seemed like an endless circle, there was always a new challenge,” Hutton said.

“But adversity makes you stronger as a player.

“I’m just hoping next year is a big year for me.”

It may be best for everyone if that’s not in Vancouver because right now he looks like a player who could really benefit from a fresh start.

The relationship between Ben Hutton and the organization has completely deteriorated since the team acquired Erik Gudbranson. Obviously, it would be completely unfair to place the blame for Hutton’s disappointing development squarely at the feet of Gudbranson. I’m sure Gudbranson just goes out and tries to do whatever is asked of him on a nightly basis, and it’s not his fault he’s been consistently deployed on a pairing that hasn’t been beneficial to either player. But it’s also not a coincidence that Ben Hutton’s stock plummeted as soon as the team jettisoned Dan Hamhuis in the 2014-15 offseason.

Ben Hutton’s career trajectory serves as a cautionary tale about why you should never get too high or too low on a young player. Something that got last after his rookie season was that he was coming into the NHL after three years of NCAA hockey, at the age of 22. Physically, that’s much closer to an NHL player’s peak than a player who’s made the roster in his draft+1 or draft+2 year. Hutton also had the misfortune (or fortune, depending on who you ask,) of breaking into the NHL at time a when the Canucks had a dearth of prospects in the organization and had gone ages without a rookie defenseman making an impact. It’s funny, a lot of the voices who were responsible for overhyping him in the first place are now some of his biggest critics.

At 25, Ben Hutton has pretty much reached “he is what he is” territory, but there’s still room for him on an NHL defense. Over the course of his three-year career, Hutton’s posted his best results and looked most confident alongside puck-moving D, especially when they are reliable in their own end. The Hutton-Tanev pairing was among the best in the league this season in shot-suppression in their short time together. Perhaps Hutton as a first-pair defender seems a bit rich, but he also posted great results alongside Alex Biega in a third-pairing role. On a defence as poor as the Canucks, Hutton deserves another shot in the right role. It’s just not clear if that’s a direction the team is willing to go in.

  • Killer Marmot

    Tryamkin, Virtanen, Goldobin, and Hutton have all been in the outs with management at times.

    And there’s a common theme; management does not like players who are not in as good of a condition as they can be. It is not tolerated.

    Although one might argue that an out-of-condition player can still be more valuable than a well-conditioned but less talented one, it does send a clear and consistent message to the rest of the team — take your conditioning seriously.

  • If the coach says conditioning is a problem, I pretty much take his word for it. I haven’t seen a photo of Ben lounging by the pool eating Dorritos, Kyle Wellwood style, but I find it hard to believe it’s anything other than that.
    If I were Ben, I would do what is asked.

    Also, pairing Ben with Gudbranson did not work and this was apparent early. I think Green did a good job overall, but why he kept trying these two together is beyond me. Don’t do that again.

  • wojohowitz

    I don`t think Hutton has a conditioning problem at all. His problem is that he plays a `soft` game – he doesn`t hit anybody and he doesn`t clear the front of the net and for a guy like Travis Green, with his 20 years of experience, there is no room in the NHL for someone who won`t play `hard`. It`s understandable for a small guy like Stecher – who does play a hard game – but Hutton is 6`3 and 210 lbs.

    The mistake made with Hutton is that he had a very promising rookie season so Benning extended him for three years at $2.8m and his motivation to prove himself went sideways. He`s 25 years old with a million dollars in the bank. Is he worried about his future? No – he`s set for life, hockey or no hockey.

    I`m actually a Hutton fan. I see size, skill and upside. He could be the Canucks best defenceman if he gets a mean streak but the problem is if they want to qualify him it`s at $2.8m and at the moment he`s closer to a Wiercioch one year at one million as a free agent than getting a raise and that makes him worth almost nothing in a trade so as far as his career goes part of the blame is his for lackingf motivation but also Benning`s for extending him when he didn`t have to.

  • apr

    if the Nucks were not so starved for promising young talent, Hutton would not have gotten such a rich a bridge deal. I think it was pretty obvious that Hutton’s ego was getting bigger, and he made no efforts to improve – basically the complete opposite of Bo. Unfortunately, this will impact Stecher negotiations. I guess we have to chalk this up to a lesson learned from a newbie GM – it happens. Yzerman did the same with Carle, and actually traded for Garrison. All GMs have blemishes…

  • North Van Halen

    Hutton is the perfect example of how fancy stats don’t tell the story. He may do well in the Corsi/Fenwick discussions but as Green said, ‘Ben scored 6 points this year’. Can’t be soft and score 6 points. You can’t.

    I think Botch & the Bloggers are all wrong on this one. This is about building the team for 2019/20 not today. The Canucks are in desperate need of a dman Huttons age to step up and become a top 4. With Del Zotto or Guddy, they are what they are. Benching them may help short term but it won’t make them better defencemen, effort and desire aren’t they’re issues, talent and intelligence are they’re undoing. Hutton seems to have plenty of untapped potential the Canucks hoped he would unlock on his own. After a season and a half of hoping he’d get it on his own they decided to give him the Goldy/Jake tough love treatment. I think management is praying Hutton turns the corner and are now trying to shove him around it. Getting a 5th for Hutton makes no sense at all.

      • North Van Halen

        Unlike ‘Botch & the Bloggers’, I don’t start with the assumption that Benning is a brain dead moron who ignores analytics at all costs and has no vision for the future. Once you use the premise Benning & Linden have been building for 2019/20 and beyond while dealing with the reality of the Sedins having signed $56mil in contracts and the team needing to spend a couple of seasons giving them one last shot, you can actually view things from an unbiased perspective.
        Amazing the things you can see, both good and bad when you aren’t married to one point of view.

        • Dirk22

          Tell me, what can you see?!

          Other than making their allotted draft picks (as every other team does) what is it that this team has done in the last four years to build for 2019-20? Can’t wait for all this ‘amazing’ stuff you’ve seen.

          • North Van Halen

            Horvat, Petersson, Boesser, Baertschi, Gaudette, Joulevi, Stetcher, Godobin, Gadjovich, Lind, Dahlen, Leipsic, Jasek, Demko, Jake and to a lesser extent Granlund, the 2 Mac’s in the minors, Sautner, Chatenfield, Motte, Brisebois & Di Pietro.

          • North Van Halen

            I also see Guddy, The Bonino – Sutter swap (don’t hate Sutter but a chepaer Bonino + was an overpayment), Jake (he may turn out okay but we all knew the correct answer was Ehlers/Nylander), Juolevi (to me the jury’s still out, this one’s not even close to decided), not being able to turn rocks into gold at the trade deadline & Erickson.
            Had he been fired, I wouldn’t have lost a moments sleep but I’ve said from day 1 he had a minimum 5 year rebuild. He gets a bonus year but if this team isn’t clearly trending toward the playoffs Benning will be gone.

  • Locust

    More proof you guys just don’t get it.

    “Something that’s often lost in any conversation about Ben Hutton is that the praise directed his way by the so-called “advanced stats” community is always in relation to the rest of the Canucks’ defence. It’s not so much that Ben Hutton is a great defender, it’s that there’s no reason he should be the focus of so much negative attention when the rest of the Canucks defence has performed so poorly.”

    Blaming others for his failures, again.

    You guys (except Cory and Vanessa) should all work on being a little more honest and trying to look outside the reach of your pocket protectors. He was awful, truly awful. Some nights he looked like he had never played the position… “I’ll take him, no wait, I’ll take the other guy … ummm, I’ll just stand in front of the net … Oh, they scored again….”

    The continual bashing of certain players and the continual ‘pumping the tires’ of other players – NEITHER having any basis on actual game play – is juvenile and just plain lazy.

    Big changes needed on this site.

    • Jackson McDonald

      “Obviously, it would be completely unfair to place the blame for Hutton’s disappointing development squarely at the feet of Gudbranson. I’m sure Gudbranson just goes out and tries to do whatever is asked of him on a nightly basis, and it’s not his fault he’s been consistently deployed on a pairing that hasn’t been beneficial to either player. ”

      love too blame others for his failures

          • Sandpaper

            When you write, i usually go straight too comments, otherwise I am wasting my time.
            The only reason I read this article is because it was about Hutton the CA darling, also known as the Canucks most useless defenseman, too many of us longtime fans.

      • argoleas

        This may be discussed more in the Guddy article when it comes out, but weren’t his numbers with Edler okay/ Seems ike moving forward, Edler may be the only Dman they have that can properly shelter Guddy while still playing that top shutdown role, a la Campbell in Florida days past.

        • Fred-65

          A good point regarding his partner. You can’t play some one like Hutton with a player like EG. In the case of EG the out pass by his partner it has to be right on the tape. So players such as Edler and Tanev make others look good. EG makes others look worse. Hutton is not an Edler or Tanev and so he needs a better partner to make his game simpler. Edler and Tanev cover up a lot of deficiencies in their parner. You want to make Hutton a better player …. play alongside a better partner. If it is all about conditioning then surely that will and should be picked up in September. I put him on the list that’s entitled if some one makes an offer grab it

          • DJ_44

            The question is why do you play Hutton with edler or tavev. He does not have the offensive upside or defensive ability to justify that pairing. He is a liability plain and simple. Even when sheltered on the he bottom pair he is not good.

            I he Edler/Gudbranson pairing is much better and will draw the opposition’s best line. Tanev with Poulliot , or MDZ are better options. If Tanev is here come September…I want to see him paired Juolevi or Sautner….not Hutton.

          • liqueur des fenetres

            The moment he traded for EG Benning stated it was so he could play with Hutton. And while Coach Willie played musical D the only pairing that stayed in place was EG-BH. You claiming to know more than hockey guys like JB and WD??

          • Silverback

            The riot act has been read to Hutton. He knows what he needs to work on in the off season, and I think he will be looking at his career in a rear view mirror in the KHL if he doesn’t show up super fit and super focused at training camp. I hope he does, I think there is some potential there still, and there will be little trade value if he shows up unprepared.

  • speering major

    Hutton started the pre season and regular season making clumsy mistakes shift after shift. It looked like he got a membership to the local pot shop. He seemed to have a focus issue. I think it would be a good idea to move him if there’s value but hang on to him if there isn’t. I think Hutton could turn it around and then be moved at the deadline for a decent return

    • liqueur des fenetres

      Canucks are a bad team. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some guys go into coast mode when they’ve got a new contract, have nothing to play for, see less talented guys get better assignments, etc. It’s human nature 101.

    • Sandpaper

      I couldnt care less if we got a bag of used pucks for him, rather that than have too expose both Sautner and McEneny too waivers.
      He is totally expandable and taking up a valuable spot for one of these 2 younger and better players.

      • argoleas

        Sautner and McEneny will indeed be waiver-eligible, and had McEneny not been injured, we would have likely seen him up first. Hope his recovery is complete.

        It is quite simple. Hutton, Sautner, and McEneny will come to training camp, and the best Dman will get the spot. If Hutton disappoints, then either trade him or waive him.

        • Sandpaper

          I was more suggesting take what you can get for him while you can get something(7th?) or risk losing possibly both Sautner or McEneny, on waivers.
          McEneny might be eligible for some conditioning time at the begining of season though.
          Also, if we lost Hutton on waivers, it would be comical too see the hysteria over another lost asset like the great Frankie Corrado.

          • argoleas

            I do not like the idea of just trading him for a 7th, although I get that this is an exaggeration to prove a point. I absolutely believe he deserves a chance to come to TC and show us the money.

            DGAF about the reaction if it turns into a Corrado situation. Too much attention will be on Pettersson anyways.

      • wojohowitz

        McEneny`s future is very much in doubt. Was it two MCL surgeries on the same knee or both knees? Sautner looks like he has a future while Benning figures out how to upgrade the D with his excess of wingers.

  • DJ_44

    The tone of this article appears eerily similar to last years Prospects Report on Jordan Subban. In short, finding excuses and (in a round about way) blaming coaches and management decisions for where the individual is at. Both players are favourites of CA writers, and have as such have been provided ample selective statistical shade.

    The reality is Hutton does not have the raw skills to be a top 6, let alone top 4 NHL defenceman. His two most limiting factors are terrible mobility (read skating, lateral movement), especially in the defensive zone, and a complete lack of Hockey IQ, which translates to the ability to read the play, spot the dangerous offensive players, and get to where he should be.

    Hutton was the target of some pointed comments from Travis Green regarding his conditioning, which is obviously something those of us without access can’t comment on.

    You do not need access to see his conditioning was suspect. Watch him play defense. If he had more than 20 seconds in his own zone (let’s say that was not rare); he would flat out die, almost give up, lose any semblance of gap control (and that is by Hutton’s standard of gap control) and more often then not the puck would be in the back of the net.

    But this is the past; can’t change that. Moving forward, he should be traded, although a 7th rounder would be optimistic. I fully expect Sautner, and perhaps McEnemy to outplay him in camp, so he will be waived. Hopefully someone will take a chance on him and we can free up and extra $2.8M. We may improve his value to a 4th if we eat $1.8M, which would not be the end of the world.

    Get yer top-4 shutdown dman here!

    • Freud

      The deep dive on Hutton from October used 6 tables and 3 videos while focusing on 5 different situational areas for Hutton.

      But you know more with some simpled minded opinions, links, rationalizations and confirmation biases without any evidence at all.

      “This defenceman puts up decent point totals, he’s a solid power play quarterback, and he does a ton of little things well defensively that make him highly valuable in his own end and on the penalty kill. Yet, because he’s prone to the occasional mental gaffe, he’s seen as overrated and underwhelming by surface-level fans who don’t have the patience to dig deeper or the knowledge of what to watch for.”

        • Canuck4Life20

          It’s an open secret that fraud is associated with the writers on here in some way. The fact that he thinks he’s fooling anyone is just another sign that he is not nearly as smart has he thinks he is.

      • DJ_44

        This defenceman puts up decent point totals, he’s a solid power play quarterback, and he does a ton of little things well defensively that make him highly valuable in his own end and on the penalty kill. Yet, because he’s prone to the occasional mental gaffe, he’s seen as overrated and underwhelming by surface-level fans who don’t have the patience to dig deeper or the knowledge of what to watch for.

        Wow. That first sentence seems to be, especially with the value of hindsight of the entire 2017-2018 season, a wee bit of an exaggeration. Perhaps Jeremy will pen one of his “mia culpas” for that Hutton piece, similar to the Zack MacEwen article.

        I still openly laugh (its definitely more that a chuckle) with the “occasional mental gaffe” line.

        Let’s speak positively, shall we. For players playing more than 10 games last season, Ben does not solely occupy last spot in Goals Scored. He is in fact tied for last (with Markstrom and Neilson — but hey, a tie is a tie). Like Jeremy says….decent point totals.

      • DJ_44

        He can skate in a straight line up the ice, sure. Average NHL skill.

        However, where it is apparent, is his poor mobility, side to side, footwork, especially in his own zone. Hence his poor own zone coverage, gap control and everything that goes along with it.

  • oh yeah

    It all comes down to management. The Canucks needed a guy who would put together a top organization. No oldboys on the payroll, no one just because you played for the Canucks. There has been too many brutal mistakes made by the guys at the top. The made dash for mediocrity at top dollar. The blown draft choices. Competency would seem to be hard come by.

  • Jim Benning signed Hutton to a two year deal, because Ben played well. Ben had earned it.

    Fast forward, Ben’s game has not developed the way all of us had hoped. I believe his lack of positioning and inability to read the play at times has to do with a lack of confidence. He just doesn’t know what to do at times, and seems lost. Add to this a new system, unsuitable partner, and conditioning issues, the guy’s mind is not in the right place.

    I believe Ben has value. He has to find a way through this mess and it starts by showing up at training camp in great condition and a good attitude. Also, Travis Green needs to do his part, as in pair Ben with a suitable partner.

  • truthseeker

    Hutton had a bad season that’s for sure but I think he’s capable of much better play. I don’t think his rookie season was a fluke. He played solid defensive hockey that year and put up decent points. Obviously the canucks can’t wait forever for him to find his game, but they can wait longer than this.

    I think it’s pretty obvious they won’t get much or even anything at the draft for him so just give him another shot and try to pump and dump him for the trade deadline.

      • truthseeker

        He may have been. I honestly don’t remember. And yeah…playing with a guy like that for sure is only going to help how you look.

        Simple fact is, the canucks are so thin on D they really can afford to give him another opportunity rather than trade/lose him for next to nothing. Plenty of time to figure out a different strategy.

    • truthseeker

      I don’t think the canucks should give up the Pouliot experiment just yet. Doubt Hutton would bring back a second rounder but maybe. I suppose I wouldn’t be opposed to that but I’d rather see them give Hutton a chance.

      As for Guddy…yeah…I’d probably make that deal at this point.

      • argoleas

        As we stand, Guddy will not be traded, otherwise he would be already gone. Benning really wants him here, for now. So no, we can forget about dreaming that he will be traded any time soon.

        Agree IRT Pouliot. He just did his first full season, so lets see what he can bring for an encore. Big test for him and Hutton next year.

        Always that reminder that this team is still rebuilding so cannot afford be passing on prospects and players too quickly. Once they have more depth, then they can afford to be more picky. That time has not arrived yet.

  • Harrison

    I don’t have any huge issues with Hutton and for the few games he played with Tanev as the Canucks top pair, he didn’t look out of place in that role. However, I do think that he will be traded this summer because the Canucks simply have too many defensemen.

    I think that Edler, Stecher, Pouliot, Gudbranson, Del Zotto and Tanev (I don’t think he will be traded, but it is possible) are all locks to make the roster next year, and that leaves a maximum of two roster spots open for other defensemen.

    I see Hutton, Sautner, McEneny and Biega all competing for those spots as they are all waiver eligible. I think that Biega will get one of those remaining spots because, even though Pouliot and McEneny are both very capable of playing on the right side, I can’t see the Canucks only going with two right-handed d-men out of eight on the roster. So that leaves only one roster spot open for Hutton, Sautner or McEneny and I just can’t see both Sautner and McEneny being placed on waivers.

    Trading Hutton seems like the only logical solution. I think that the Canucks could do something similar to what the Penguins did when they traded Pouliot to the Canucks last summer. Maybe they could get a 4th round pick and a good AHL d-man for him.

  • DeL

    Perhaps a fair chunk of Hutton’s woes should be placed at the feet of the coach. After all, that’s part of his job description, to access which situation and pairing work to maximize a player’s potential. If it wasn’t working for Hutton with Gudbranson, and apparently it wasn’t, a good coach should see that and act accordingly and that doesn’t mean scratching a young player with potential game after game destroying their confidence and diminishing any trade value they may have. That’s up to Benning and Linden to let Greene know his shortcomings in that regard

    • Sandpaper

      With all the defensemen that need shelterung on this team, Hutton should get preference, no way.
      He was clearly being outplayed by Pouliot, Stecher and Biega.
      It is not the coaches job too maximize a players trade value all season, he gave Hitton ice time early in the season and Hutton blew it.

    • liqueur des fenetres

      Except it was Benning that said EG and Ben should be playing together, right from Day 1. And eventually when it was clear that wasn’t working the solution was to play EG with Edler as a way of justifying giving an injured EG an extension.

  • DogBreath

    I’m not sure what to make of Hutton. When I watched him, he generally seemed OK. Nothing stood out too much as a plus or minus. It seems he needs to establish an identity of who he is to keep him in the NHL. If he’s an offensive defenceman, then he simply needs more points to prove that he’s in that category. Someone mentioned that Green is focussed on what the team will look like in 2019-2020 and that he needs Hutton to develop into that top half of the D pairings. Today it appears like a stretch. We’ll see if Green can have the same effect on him that he did on Virtanen.

  • Holly Wood

    Hutton seemed to struggle with the thinking part of the game last year. He may in fact be an American Leaguer. Don’t know if they could slide him through waivers to get him to Utica in the fall but 40 games in the AHL playing in all situations may be what he needs to find his game again

  • kermit

    It’s possible he can’t be fixed, that his affable chilled-out personality is not just a phase he’ll grow out of, it’s part of his temperament, and he will never have enough intensity to satisfy TG. You can’t teach him to tap into his inner mean streak because he just doesn’t have one.

  • Rayman

    Just look at Jets, Knights, Preds, and even damn Sharks. Every one of them plays like there is no tomorrow!

    Hitting, checking, pushing back and growling at your opponents! and Hutton and every one of Canucks defencemen does none of above.

    We are so far away from Stanley C and Hutton doesn’t help at all…so sad.