Brandon Sutter was in the midst of something of a renaissance campaign before suffering an injury in mid-November. Sutter was the team’s nominal third line centre to start the year, but was facing some of the softest competition of his career thanks to the team’s increased depth and thriving offensively thanks to the newfound freedom. Unfortunately for him, Adam Gaudette stepped comfortably into a third-line role in his absence, to the point where it’s now his to lose. As good as Sutter was at the start of the season, it will now take a lot more than simply getting healthy for Sutter to be pencilled back into that spot.
Instead, after returning from injury during last Thursday night’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Sutter replaced Tim Schaller on the fourth line alongside Jay Beagle and Tyler Motte.
As outlined by Jeremy Davis, the Canucks’ fourth line has struggled since Christmas, and things haven’t exactly improved since the turn of the calendar.
The early season shine on Schaller has completely worn off, as the low-impact player they saw last season appears to have been resurrected.
Not only does Sutter’s skating ability and shot allow him to be more of an offensive threat than Schaller, he’s also more reliable defensively.
The Canucks’ fourth line was initially one of the best at limiting opponents’ scoring chances, which is exactly what the team expects of their shutdown line. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case as of late. The fourth line seldom found themselves with possession of the puck in the offensive zone, and wasn’t keeping high danger chances away from their net.
Schaller wasn’t scoring goals, and he wasn’t doing much to help his line out on the defensive end. When you compare what the two have brought to the table this year, Sutter is better than Schaller in just about every category:
The main stats to make note of in this case are xGA/60 and GA/60, or the rate of expected and actual goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. Sutter played most of the year on the Canucks third line, while Schaller played on the fourth line, the line whose main job is to not allow opponents to score. You would think playing in less of a defensive role, as Sutter did for most of this year, may result in Sutter’s defensive numbers taking a hit; but that hasn’t been the case.
Sutter has been solid at shutting down opponents, despite not being in a shutdown role for most of the season. Additionally, Sutter’s skating ability and shot allow him to be more of an offensive threat than Schaller has traditionally been.
In his return to the lineup against the Arizona Coyotes last Thursday, Sutter looked like a dog on raw meat for most of the night. Both he and Tyler Motte were pressuring opposing defenders into making the wrong play, and their tenacity on the forecheck resulted in what appeared to be the game’s first goal — that was until a coaches challenge revealed the play was offside.
Nonetheless, that play, and the fourth line actually spending some time in the offensive zone, is all thanks to Sutter being added to that line. In his brief appearances with the team this season, Sutter has proven to be a massive upgrade on Schaller – even if he costs a few extra million dollars.