EVALUATING BRANDON SUTTER’S VALUE TO THE PENGUINS
DOES SUTTER NEED TO BE A 20+ GOAL SCORER TO BE WORTH $3.3 MILLION PER TO PENGUINS?
The Pittsburgh Penguins will see Brandon Sutter’s cap hit jump from $2.067 million to $3.3 million this season on the heels of a new two year deal.
Sutter’s offensive numbers with the Penguins have been extremely underwhelming with 24 goals in 129 regular season games.
Sutter averaged a measly 0.375 goals/60 5 on 5 last season, below the likes of Deryk Engelland who clicked in at 0.548.
However, a good argument can be made that linemates played a factor in Sutter’s numbers dipping in that area. His most common linemates last season were 1. Tanner Glass, 2. Brian Gibbons, 3. Craig Adams. His most common wingers per +100 minutes were Tanner Glass, Brian Gibbons, Craig Adams, Taylor Pyatt, Jussi Jokinen, Joe Vitale, Jayson Megna, and Chuck Kobasew.
In 2012-2013, Sutter was back near his career norm, averaging 0.592 Goals/60 5 on 5 with his three most common linemates being Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis.
Sutter was at a 19 goal pace over 82 games in the lockout shortened season, the neighborhood of what he averaged during his previous three years in Carolina.
In the 2014 post-season where Sutter’s most common linemates were James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Beau Bennett, he was among the Penguins best offensive forwards with 4 even strength goals in 13 games.
A one-time 20 goal scorer, Sutter has an excellent shot, especially when coming down the right side. While largely an inconsistent offensive player, Sutter has a history of scoring clutch goals when it comes to situational play.
In 2013-2014, Sutter scored 8 goals in the third period. In situational play he stands out with 8 goals when the Penguins were leading by one goal and 3 goals when the game was tied.
It was the same story for Sutter in the lockout shortened 2013 season. He scored 6 goals when the game was tied and 3 goals when the Penguins were trailing by one goal. A good trend for him there.
Does Sutter need to be a 20+ goal scorer to warrant committing $3.3 million per to him?
A great comparable to Sutter is Blue Jackets third line center Artem Anisimov.
Anisimov is 26 years old and carries a $3,283,333 cap hit, nearly identical to Sutter
Anisimov a big imposing forward, while inconsistent, put up 22 goals last season, including 17 even strength goals and 5 game winning goals. Pittsburgh needs that type of production from Sutter, regardless of what the advance metrics defensively might say for Sutter in his favor.
ADVANCE METRICS DEFENSIVELY DON’T MATCH THE EYE TEST
As noted in previous articles, Sutter is a notorious bad possession player with a CF% of 42.8 in 2013-2014, 42.4% in 2012-2013. In the 2013 post-season, Sutter was at 41.7%.
The Penguins after being a below average possession team in the regular season, were a very strong possession team in the 2014 playoffs. Sutter’s numbers increased from 42.8% to 48.7% in the playoffs, playing with the likes of James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Beau Bennett, all three very strong possession players.
However, it remains hard to put much stock into the 13 post-season games as Sutter’s 48.7 CF% was the second worst on the team among players who appeared in 10+ playoff games. Sutter was only slightly ahead of Rob Scuderi in that category.
Marcel Goc a strong comparable to Sutter, had a 57.1 CF% in the 2014 playoffs with his most common linemates being Beau Bennett and Lee Stempniak.
Nothing about Sutter’s game projects him to suddenly become an above average possession player, especially when he’ll have Nick Spaling on his wing this season, not James Neal or Jussi Jokinen.
One area of advance metrics Sutter stands out is defensively. He finished in the top-15 among all forwards in even strength goals against/60 and for much of last season was at an elite level.
However, here’s where the advance metrics don’t match the eye test. Sutter is not a true lock down center as he doesn’t possess the strength to be able to shutdown some of the NHL’s best centerman over a seven game series and based off the Penguins personnel, they still won’t have that type of shutdown line centered around Sutter again this year that they had during their cup years with Jordan Staal.
Sutter’s not a physically imposing centerman like Staal and just doesn’t have that true shutdown ability even like a Jarret Stoll. Sutter is a good defensive centerman but not elite like the advance metrics might say.
COMPARING BRANDON SUTTER VS MARCEL GOC
When you’re a team with so much invested into two elite centerman and have lack of talent around them in the top-6, you have to question whether spending $3.3 million per season on a third line center is the right move.
The best comparable to Sutter is Marcel Goc who is a legitimate third line center making only $1.2 million this season.
Goc is a superior possession player to Sutter and is superior in the faceoff circle. Like Sutter, he has good defensive instincts but is not a true elite shutdown centerman.
Goc had a CF% of 50.8 last season (combined Penguins/Panthers), despite having 39.2% defensive of zone starts to Sutter at 33.6%. The last four seasons, Goc has been over 50% (CF%) three times and not below 49.5%. Sutter has never been over 47%.
Prior to Goc injuring his ankle, the Penguins previous coaching staff planned for him to anchor their third line and demote Sutter to the fourth line.
Goc has been a consistent 11-15 goal scorer the last several seasons, while Sutter has the more offensive upside.
Sutter is a good player but is not elite in any area. Is he worth $3.3 million? Yes, compared to others he is, but that doesn’t mean he’s worth $3.3 million to the Penguins.
In a cap world the better value for the Penguins is unless you have a true elite third line center like a Ryan Kesler, Jordan Staal or even a Jarret Stoll who is elite defensively, you don’t spend over $2-$2.5 million on a third line center where $3.3 million per season can get you good productive wingers like for instance a Clarke MacArthur who is making $3.25 million.
The Penguins not signing MacArthur last July remains a blunder as MacArthur was strongly considering signing with the Penguins last July 5th before Ray Shero pulled the verbal offer to MacArthur once Penguins went forward to sign Scuderi.
Those type of wingers at Sutter’s price have been out there via free agency and are out there via trade. Sutter’s best value long-term to the Penguins is as a trade chip.