Vancouver Canucks Should Expose C Brandon Sutter in Expansion Draft

Mar 25, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Sutter (20) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Canucks defeated the Wild 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 25, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Sutter (20) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Canucks defeated the Wild 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

The Vancouver Canucks center has been described as a “foundational” player, but Brandon Sutter may actually hinder the team’s development, making him an ideal candidate to be exposed to the expansion draft.

There is no question that the Vancouver Canucks are rebuilding, and there is no doubt that the rebuild is going to be painful.

There are those who believe that a successful rebuild requires selling all the expensive veterans and building up from scratch. Others believe that an effective rebuild has to include a few veterans who know how to win, who can mentor the younger players and help them establish a ‘winning culture’ around the new core.

In either case, Brandon Sutter does not fit, and should be exposed in the hope of offloading him and his $4.2-million cap hit to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Good, But Not Great

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Despite his hefty price tag, Sutter has not scored 0.5 points-per-game since 2009-10. To put that in context, the Sedins at their best were point-a-game players and currently clock in at 0.8 points-per-game across their 17-year careers. Sutter isn’t even close, and his 34 points this year were his career second-best.

Some will argue that Sutter’s production isn’t a problem because he is a responsible defensive forward. Yeah? With a plus-minus of minus-20 this year, I think there’s room for improvement.

And if you prefer advanced stats (which I do) then I offer Jeremy Davis’ thorough analysis of Sutter’s metrics. Does Sutter make his teammates better? The numbers are not inspiring.

It’s not that Sutter is a bad hockey player. He has scored 17 goals this year, which is pretty good on this team. The problem is that he is by no measure a very good NHL player. His numbers (again per Jeremy Davis)  put him in a similar range as players like Daniel Paille, Torrey Mitchell, or Jamie Lundmark. All serviceable players who earn three to five times less money.

So if Sutter’s regular and advanced stats aren’t anything to write home about, why would the Canucks want to keep him when they may need cap space to sign younger players down the line?

Intangibles, Again

Ah yes, the “intangibles”. For a certain subset of players in the NHL — at least two of them named Brandon — the less-impressive stats are balanced out by a category of so-called intangibles. These factors, which cannot be measured, tend to include leadership, integrity, toughness, responsibility and other traits that supposedly help a team win but don’t appear on a scoresheet.

The beauty of intangibles is that people outside the dressing room can’t measure them, which means we can’t really hold players accountable to them. So, while they certainly can and do exist, they are also great ways to shelter players who aren’t performing well but to whom a team is committed. Sutter has been sheltered by his intangibles for a long time, as his on-ice performance has been increasingly exposed as mediocre.

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But this week, Sutter inadvertently provided evidence that his intangibles may not be everything they’re cracked up to be.

After first enduring Willie Desjardins’ doghouse (for having the nerve to score a flashy goal) and then a serious bout of the flu, rookie forward Nikolay Goldobin was finally poised to get another real opportunity to show the Canucks what he’s got. So, the day before he was set to start on a line with the Sedins, Sutter took an opportunity to criticize him in the media:

"You have to have the want to get the puck to go into the corners and the hard areas. To do that, you have to have grit and balls and he has to find that."

It’s hard to think of a way Sutter could have been less productive. If this is a guy that is “foundational” for your team, your team is in big trouble.


To begin with, Goldobin is a rookie who has struggled with his confidence and who does not, according to those who have watched him closely, respond well to “tough love”. In fact, veteran goaltender Ryan Miller was the only one who seemed to get that, taking Goldobin aside after that practice to “tell him he looked good out there” because “he looked like he needed to hear it.” Strike one against Sutter.

Add to that, Sutter is suggesting that Goldobin needs to play a tougher, grinding game, when that is not what the Canucks need and it is not the kind of game Goldobin was brought in to provide. Strike two.

We often hear that Sutter is “good in the room“. Yeah? Then make your criticisms in the room, not in the media. Strike three.

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Sutter’s criticism of Goldobin’s toughness was based on the handful of games and practices he’d had after missing more than a week with a brutal virus that caused him to lose 16 pounds. Of all times to give a guy some slack in the energy/physicality department, this would be the time. Strike four.

The funny thing about Sutter’s comments was that it encouraged many of us to watch Sutter’s next few games closely and what we saw was a guy who wasn’t playing with a ton of grit. There was weak defensive coverage leading to a goal against. There was a long list of puck battles lost.

There was even a brutally soft giveaway in the offensive zone, in which — irony of ironies — Goldobin was the guy who got back and was able to break up the play defensively, bailing Sutter out. (What’s the old saying about Brandon Sutters who live in glass houses?)

Strikes five, six and seven. Sign this guy to an entry-level contract with the Blue Jays!

A Winning Culture

There has been a lot of talk this season about the need to build a “winning culture”. Fear of building a “losing culture” has been part of the argument for keeping veterans like Sutter, Loui Eriksson and Erik Gudbranson in the mix.

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But Sutter’s comments to the media about Goldobin are the epitome of a losing culture. When a sub-par veteran who has been given every opportunity goes after a rookie who has only played a few games (mostly buried on the fourth line) it reeks of an inability to take responsibility. The Sedins, by contrast, have consistently taken responsibility for the team’s struggles.

Finally, it needs to be said that even if — even if — the best button to press was to call out Goldobin for not playing a tough enough game, how is it possible that Sutter thought the best way to do that was to question his ‘balls?’

Let’s put that little bit of macho frat-boy nonsense in context. This is a team led by two exceptional players who’ve spent their entire careers being called ‘sisters’ as an insult. This is a team that has taken a lead on LGBT inclusion and wore rainbow-adorned warm-up jerseys earlier this season in support of the “You Can Play” campaign against homophobia. This is the year when the U.S. national women’s hockey team had to threaten a boycott of the IIHF championships in order to receive equal pay and benefits to their male counterparts. They won, by the way, with the support of the NHL Players’ Association, of which Sutter is a member.

As Daniel Wagner of the Vancouver Courier quite rightly put it:

"“There’s some subtle toxic masculinity thrown in here for good measure, as Sutter, perhaps unintentionally, questions Goldobin’s manhood. Goldobin lacks grit and balls, so he’s clearly a lesser player than Sutter, whose balls have just the right amount of grit.”"

Next: Draft Profile - D Henri Jokiharju

So this is our foundational player, Brandon Sutter. An overpaid bottom-six forward, who kicks a rookie teammate when he’s down, by questioning the size of his testicles? Poor performance I can forgive, but this nonsense has no place in the Vancouver Canucks rebuild.

I hear Vegas is a lot of fun. Let’s hope George McPhee is looking for shaky foundations.