Vancouver Canucks C Brandon Sutter Raises More Questions

Sep 28, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Sutter (21) against the Arizona Coyotes in the third period period at Rogers Arena. Vancouver won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Sutter (21) against the Arizona Coyotes in the third period period at Rogers Arena. Vancouver won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks missed centre Brandon Sutter. He is set to return Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.

Do the Vancouver Canucks still miss Brandon Sutter?

For months after Sutter went down with an abdominal injury that resulted in him having a sports hernia surgery, Vancouverites mourned game after game about how sophomore Bo Horvat was caving under the heightened workload of the NHL second-line centre and the top defensive player.

Rookie Jared McCann was also exposed during that time, and had it not been for journeyman Adam Cracknell‘s stellar fourth-line performance near the end of December 2015, Vancouver’s season would have been closer to Auston Matthews than it is to the playoffs.

So when Sutter returns, the Canucks are going to the playoffs, right?


Sutter’s return raises more questions than he can answer. In fact, are there any questions left for him to answer? The scoring is coming from Horvat, Sven Baertschi, and the Sedins. The defensive work is being carried by Linden Vey and his wingers, Alex Burrows and Emerson Etem. The speed is there in all the kids. The team is starting to win some faceoffs. What is there for Sutter to answer?

Well, if there is anything for him to answer, it is his own health. Will he be the same player as he was before getting injured on November 12th, 2015? That is almost 11 weeks of hockey that he has missed. Will he be of any immediate impact on the team?

Did you miss Sutter in the 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins? Didn’t think so.

So here it is, the Canucklehead Lament, on how the return of Mr. Brandon Sutter raises more questions that it answers.

Lineup Changes

Whenever a player returns from an injury, there is a bit of line-juggling that has to happen to fit him back in. In most cases, the player who was filling in would simply swap back out for the returning player. But if you know anything about the Canucks’ season to date, it was everything but “most cases”.

A lot happened to the lineup while Sutter was out. Vey found himself a home on the third line playing Sutter’s role as a defence-first centre. Etem came from all the way across the continent and bumped Brandon Prust off the lineup. Jannik Hansen turned into the “third Sedin”.

Read: Better Things to Come for Canucks

So where does Sutter come in? The last thing you want to do is to take a team that is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and mess up its chemistry. The Horvat line is scoring almost every night. The Vey line is playing shut-down hockey. The Sedins were doing well until Hansen got injured, quickly followed by Henrik’s injury.

Unless Radim Vrbata or Burrows gets moved, the Canucks should keep those two middle-six lines intact. Zero doubt about it. The question is if Sutter plays on the first line or the fourth line. There is a case to be made for both.

Should Sutter draw into the first line to the right of the Sedins, the forward lines could look like this.


Advantages: The fourth line instantly becomes one of the fastest in the NHL, an intriguing mix of kids and a veteran who plays like an energetic kid. The chemistry has been there between Sutter and the Sedins during the opening weeks of the season, and everyone else is happy. Derek Dorsett sits with Adam Cracknell, arguably the two most expendable forwards right now.

Disadvantages: The grit is lost. The fourth line, while one of the fastest, is a defensive liability especially after how we realized that Hansen could also make “Spizza” giveaways.

Case two. Should Sutter draw into the fourth line, the forwards would line up like this.


Advantages: The fourth line becomes a make-shift weapon that can rotate between McCann and Dorsett depending on the matchup. I always wondered what McCann’s skill set would bring when the defensive responsibilities of playing in the middle were cast off his shoulders. A Sutter-McCann with Virtanen? Again, speed and scoring all in one.

Playing the kids on a “plan” would be easier. Swap Dorsett in with either one of McCann or Virtanen!

Disadvantages: Do you really want Sutter as your fourth-line forward? Looks bad, though it might benefit when Willie Desjardins carelessly deploys his lines in the most predictable (though arguably the most illogical) patterns.

The possibilities are there. But it also makes coach Desjardins think. Possibilities when everything seems to be coming together? Not so good. Of course, we assume that Mike Zalewski doesn’t stick with the team as he is waiver-exempt.

Roster Space and Salary Cap

This debate has already been well documented on my previous articles. Bringing Sutter back with Henrik after the all-star break means that by the end of the all-star break, the Canucks have to trade a roster player.

Prust is the forerunner. In the lineups I have featured on the slide before, Prust is purposely not included as I believe he will be traded before the all-star festivities are over. The Canucks are full at 23 players right now, and as Henrik and Sutter returns, they will move Zalewski down. Prust will be the other guy getting the cut.

Related: 3 Trades that Would Make a lot of Sense

The return of Sutter and Henrik will mean that the Canucks will carry six centres. The two are joined by McCann, Horvat, Vey, and Cracknell. This is why I suggest playing McCann as a left winger. Cracknell is a very cap-friendly player. Wonder if Jim Benning tries to move Vey alongside Prust for a high-profile player to help Vancouver immediately and for the future.

The salary cap is also a struggle for the Canucks. In fact, it is the most urgent matter.

The Canucks are $2.2 million under the limit with Sutter on the long-term injury reserve and not counting Zalewski’s NHL-minimum contract. When Sutter comes back with his $3.3 million contract, the Canucks will need to move out $1.1 million. Vey won’t be enough by himself. Prust has got to go.

We may have seen the last of Prust in a Vancouver uniform. Be prepared for a deal over the weekend.

The Bottomline

We thought that Sutter would prove to be a great asset for the closing months of the season. Of course, he still is. The only issue is the amount of shifting the team will have to do to accommodate him. The team has gelled so well without him. They have battled through the injury bugs and chemistry has formed.

I don’t think the Canucks should shift their lineup too much. Prust should go to make room for Sutter, and that will be a huge test for Benning to make a deal under pressure. He has yet to complete the Chris Higgins trade. Will he be able to pull the trigger on Prust?

This could possibly be the worst time for Sutter to have recovered. How will Jim Benning navigate through this? How will coach Willie handle the lineup going forward? There are too many questions — more than Brandon Sutter can answer himself. And that was this week’s Canucklehead Lament.

Next: Benning Sending a Message to Utica Comets

So, what do you think? Let us know in the comment section or via twitter @FSTheCanuckWay!