“You win with players like Brandon Sutter,” said Jim Benning after trading for the big centre in 2015. Unfortunately, that hasn’t proven to be the case. In the three seasons since Sutter was acquired, the Canucks have the fewest wins in the entire NHL.
Apparently other teams around the NHL agree with Benning’s initial assessment, however, as Jason Botchford has reported that multiple teams have called the Canucks enquiring about the availability of Sutter.
Botchford was on TSN 1040 with Mike Halford and Jason Brough to talk about the Ryan O’Reilly and Noah Hanifin rumours. While discussing O’Reilly and the Canucks’ desire to add another centre, he brought up Sutter.
“The Canucks had, like, four teams call about Brandon Sutter,” he said. “Brandon Sutter is the guy they’ve had the most calls on this off-season.”
Botchford’s larger point was that the Canucks won’t be the only team looking to add a centre, specifically mentioning the Kings, Sharks, and Ducks. The truth is that a large chunk of the league will be looking to add a centre in free agency or will be interested if one becomes available on the trade market. The Flames, Hurricanes, Stars, Red Wings, Canadiens, Blues, and half-a-dozen other teams are in the market for help down the middle.
That means if the Canucks are interested in trading for O’Reilly, the asking price would likely get too high, as other teams have more assets to spare.
Aside from that bigger picture, however, it seems notable that teams are interested in Sutter. Botchford previously reported on the Pat-cast that at least four teams called about Sutter during the season, including the Kings, Sharks, and Ducks. Apparently those calls have continued into the off-season.
Some Canucks fans might question, then, why Sutter is still on the Canucks. If multiple teams are interested in him, with the possibility of starting a bidding war for his services, why haven’t the Canucks looked to move him for prospects or draft picks?
Here’s the issue, however: like half the league, the Canucks need centres. There’s a reason they’ve been linked with O’Reilly and have been rumoured to be interested in Tyler Bozak in free agency.
With Henrik Sedin retired, the Canucks have exactly two proven centres on their roster: Bo Horvat and Sutter.
Everyone else at centre is a question mark. Sam Gagner, Markus Granlund, and Brendan Gaunce have played better on the wing. Adam Gaudette will be a rookie, as will Elias Pettersson, who played most of last season in the SHL at right wing.
That means the Canucks will already be looking to add another player down the middle. They likely won’t even get a seat at the table of the John Tavares bidding war, but lesser targets like Bozak, Riley Nash, and Derek Ryan might be in their cross-hairs. Subtracting Sutter from the lineup means finding two more centres instead, or gambling on help from within.
Moving Sutter is a great idea in a vacuum. He’s a bottom-six centre getting paid like a second-line centre. He’s 29, so won’t get any better than he is now and will likely start to decline before the end of his contract. From an analytics perspective, switching out Sutter for a centre who provides better puck possession would make sense.
In context, however, trading Sutter gets more complicated. If the Canucks see a rebuild taking another two or three seasons, moving Sutter for prospects and picks make sense. But if the Canucks are convinced they can still turn the ship around quickly, Sutter won’t be going anywhere.
Moreover, the Canucks likely see Sutter as a necessary player to insulate the young prospects that will be entering the lineup next season. Sutter was given a thankless role this past season that involved eating up defensive zone starts and tough competition. Without Sutter, those minutes would have to go to Horvat and whichever centres Benning could bring in via free agency or trade.
Perhaps that would be a good thing — it’s possible that more offensively-capable centres would do better with those tough minutes than Sutter — but Benning and Trevor Linden have repeatedly extolled the virtue of having veterans in place to help young players. The Canucks don’t want to throw Pettersson and Gaudette to the wolves when he enters the league and likely see Sutter as a necessary component of protecting them — a wolf-wrangler, if you will.
Could the Canucks find someone to fill that role in free agency? Possibly. Jay Beagle played a similar role for the Washington Capitals this past season and is a pending unrestricted free agent. The same is true of Kyle Brodziak with the St. Louis Blues. But would the Canucks want to replace Sutter? That seems a lot less probable.
It may not matter, then, whether or not trading Sutter would be a wise move; it’s not a move the Canucks are likely to make.