There wasn’t a lot of love on social media for Brandon Sutter’s new five-year, $21.875 million contract extension on Tuesday, and it’s not hard to see why. The 26-year-old’s deal with the Canucks treats him like an established second-line center despite a background that suggests he might be in over his head as a top-six forward.
No doubt Sutter has proved himself to be a defensive whiz and a top-notch penalty killer, ideal attributes for the third-line role he’s played his entire career, most recently with the Penguins. But offense has never been his strong suit. He’s never dished more than 19 assists in a season and that was in his sophomore campaign of 2009–10. Since then he hasn’t topped 15. Last season he put up 12, a total surpassed by more than 100 defensemen, including such stalwarts as Jordie Benn, Zach Redmond and Michael Stone.
Sutter’s assists, though, may be more reflective of the quality of his linemates in Pittsburgh than of his playmaking skills. And he does deserve credit for scoring 21 goals in 2014–15, tying his personal best and ranking 32nd among the league’s centers. That figure suggests there may be some upside to his deal, especially if he’s slotted with more gifted wingers (Radim Vrbata, for starters) and sees an uptick in power play time.
But the real value of Sutter to Vancouver over the life of this deal won’t be measured by how often he appears on the score sheet. It’ll come down to what he does in transition.
The Canucks are a team on the verge of a seismic franchise change. Henrik and Daniel Sedin, soon to be 35 years old, are playing out the final three years of their current contracts and, likely, their NHL careers. Not only does bringing in a reliable two-way center like Sutter help smooth out the bumps in their declining years, but it also buys time for the organization’s young centers, including Jared McCann (drafted 24th in 2014) and Cole Cassels (85th in ’13) to mature into top-six roles.
Nick Bonino, one of the players who was dealt to the Penguins in exchange for Sutter, could have provided more offense for Vancouver, but he lacked that bridge ability.
It’s like owning a home and investing in a new roof rather than a heated swimming pool. Not the sexiest choice, but dollar-for-dollar the better investment.
Canucks GM Jim Benning understands that Sutter’s deal is not the easiest sell, so he’s pushing a different spin.
“I think the West has gotten real fast,” he said after making the trade. “There are teams that are built one of two ways: there are big, strong, physical teams that control the puck and play a heavy game and; the other thing that we’ve seen is real fast teams—teams that play with speed. I think Brandon’s going to help us out in that area.… He’ll help with our overall team speed.”
He probably will. And he’ll probably bump up his offense, too. But it will take time, not numbers, to understand the real vale of both Sutter and this deal.
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