Hence the acquisition of Brandon Sutter, who Tuesday signed a five-year, $21.875 million extension that will keep him in Vancouver until the 2020-21 season.
By acquiring Sutter, the Canucks set up to have someone slot into the second-line center role while Bo Horvat’s game develops in his sophomore season. By signing Sutter to a five-year extension, they made sure Horvat will have the backup he needs until he eventually vaults Sutter. When the Sedins retire, or should they be traded, the Canucks will need to have a plan in place for the team’s future. Sutter represents an important part of that plan.
The cost seems like an overpayment to some — $4.375 million is no small amount of money and a significant raise for Sutter, who will earn $3.3 million in 2015-16 — but considering the centers in the league who make a similar wage, it’s more than fair value for the 26-year-old pivot.
Over the past three seasons in Pittsburgh, Sutter hasn’t exactly been a dynamite offensive force, but where he has excelled is on the defensive side of the puck.
When it comes to advanced statistics, there are several close comparisons to Sutter, who at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons has posted a 47.6 percent goals-for percentage, 45.5 shot attempts for percentage and 47 points while starting little more than a quarter of his shifts in the offensive zone. Some the closest comparable players include the likes of Matt Calvert, Michael Grabner and R.J. Umberger.
Offensively, what may frustrate Canucks fans is Sutter’s lack of production. Per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, Sutter has mustered a mere 1.09 points. While that doesn’t appear to be a meager mark, it’s the worst total of players who have scored between 45- to 55-points at 5-on-5 over the past three seasons. It’s even behind the likes of Kyle Brodziak, Nathan Gerbe and Olli Jokinen.
What makes Sutter worth the money, however, is his ability to defend. Of all the comparable players to Sutter, few face the type of competition he does and having him in the lineup gives the Canucks a depth center who can face the opposition’s top line on a nightly basis. It makes for an obvious matchup for Vancouver bench boss Willie Desjardins: as soon as it comes time to defend against stars, out Sutter goes. It’s why Sutter is worth what he’s worth and his $4.375 hit is similar to what the likes of David Backes, Brooks Laich and Mike Fisher earn.
The major concern for the Canucks, however, should be the final two years of the deal when Sutter will be entering his 30s and out of his prime. At that time, Horvat should be ready for first- or second-line duty and prospects like Jared McCann and Cole Cassels could be knocking on the door for NHL gigs. The concern then becomes that Sutter’s contract is an anchor on the fourth line and that his production will slip as he heads out of his best years.
If Sutter’s production does slip to the point he becomes a burden — think the Los Angeles Kings and Mike Richards — the Canucks will have to deal with Sutter’s modified no-trade clause in the final two years of the deal and that’s where things get tricky. According to General Fanager, Sutter can submit a 15-team list of destinations he won’t accept a trade to in 2019-20 and 2020-21. If his $4.375 million deal is hurting Vancouver’s cap situation, it could result in a tough time for GM Jim Benning, or whoever might be guiding the ship in four years’ time.
That would be the worst-case scenario for the Canucks, though. Sutter has been a consistent threat for 25 to 30 points and that will likely stay the same for the duration of his five-year deal. He’s been a shutdown center on a team in Pittsburgh that desperately needed one. He’ll play a bigger role in Vancouver and be able to slide down the roster as he moves out of his prime and Horvat moves into his.
From all sides, the Sutter deal looks like one that will work well for the Canucks as one of the most important transitions in franchise history looms.