Vancouver Canucks: Brandon Sutter, the PK and leadership

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 29: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks arrives at the arena before their NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena March 29, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 29: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks arrives at the arena before their NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena March 29, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /

One of TCW’s comments this week requested that we forgo the earthly pleasures of most Vancouver Canucks fans, and that we stop revelling in Elias Petterson’s glory and discussing the lack of scoring from the first line. Instead, we were asked to talk about the likes of Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle. Your wish, dear reader, is our command.

Brandon Sutter has been one of the more divisible figures since he was acquired in 2015. A totemic figure for the Jim Benning regime, faith in the Vancouver Canucks‘ senior management can be tracked alongside the performance of the man Benning once referred to as being ‘foundational’. Most Canucks fans, myself included, would say that we have yet to see the best of Sutter – but are we beginning to see it now?

How the first three seasons went down:

Sutter was acquired along with a 2016 3rd round pick (William Lockwood) in exchange for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a 2016 2nd round pick (Filip Gustavsson). Since then, Sutter has posted 33-36-69, a -9 rating, and a CF% of just 45.1%, across 162 games. It’s tough to paint those numbers as fantastic, so we’ll call them middle-of-the-road numbers. Which would be just fine, if it weren’t for the fact that Benning gave Sutter a long-term extension without seeing him play in the orca, and that his acquisition was considered an extension of the return on the Ryan Kesler trade due to Nick Bonino heading the other way. Any Canucks fan would be hard-pressed to label Sutter as a success during his tenure – so far at least.

Alex Hoegler’s article back at the beginning of July even went so far as to call for the Canucks to trade Sutter:

"Sutter is a good shutdown centre and can log key minutes on the penalty kill. If healthy, he’s a good threat to score 20 goals a season…Vancouver would clear out one veteran at the logjam, and it would save precious cap space over the next couple of years."

Scott Rosenhek also wasn’t massively taken with Sutter’s contributions over the first three years of his Canucks career, as he wrote in June about potential takers for him and noting:

"To make it clear, I feel Sutter is overpaid and overrated. However, he does bring a few positive attributes with his style of play. First, Brandon Sutter is fast…Second, his wrist shot is really good…Lastly, he can play adequately in a bottom six match-up role…Ignoring how Sutter is a liability offensively, the deal is pretty good."

And before my colleagues call for my head, here was yours truly doing the very same thing earlier in the year:

And so here we are, at the beginning of the 2018/19 NHL season, looking to see whether the retirement of the Sedins has changed anything. I won’t apologise for my previous negative comments on Sutter’s contribution to the team, as I’m sure he’d be the first to say he wish he’d contributed more, and I had high hopes for him after Benning acquired him.

However, I would love to see Sutter become the player we all hoped he’d be for this team. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the first three games of the season and see whether we can start to change the record on Brandon Sutter’s game.

Game 1 – Home vs Calgary (5-2 win)

A season-opening win which saw Sutter pick up an even-strength assist on Jake Virtanen’s excellent goal. I’ve yet to see any praise for Sutter for the vision he displayed in freeing up Jake, but he deserves some. That was a great play.

Sutter played a team-high 22:43 amongst forwards, registered a hit and a block, but went 6-13 on faceoffs for a paltry 31.6%. However, on a PK that went 7-for-7, he played 6:58 (as one of four Canucks forwards who played more than 6mins on the PK) and made several smart moves.

Game 1 verdict: A big success for Operation Clear-Sutter’s-Name.

Game 2 – Away vs Calgary (7-4 loss)

This was a much tougher game in theory, following the hullabaloo around the hit on Dillon Dube by Erik Gudbranson, and the subsequent pummeling of Travis Hamonic by Guds that left the Flames d-man on the IR. Enter Sutter.

He played some 7mins less than Game 1, just 15:26, and played just shy of 4mins on a dismal PK that went 3-for-6. He also went 6-9 on the faceoff dot, for a 40% return. That’s not good. However, he did score his first of the season – and what a beauty it was, streaking in on the breakaway after picking up a loose puck, and rifling home a Pettersson-esque shot past Mike Smith rather than make the pass on the 2-on-1.

Make that two games, two smart breakaway goals contributed to. So much for being a liability offensively.

This game also lead Jackson McDonald to state something which I concur with 100%:

Game 2 verdict: Another success, albeit with ongoing concern for his faceoff percentage.

Game 3 – Away vs Carolina (5-3 loss)

It’s easy to focus on last night’s game as the re-awakening of the first line, especially with Sven Baertschi’s fabulous deke on our opening goal. However, we’re here to talk about Brandon Sutter’s contribution.

More from The Canuck Way

Having led all forwards in ice-time in Game 1, Sutter fell to a season-low 14:25 in going scoreless. While he added a hit and a block, and registered a minus, his main success was leading all forwards with 2:19 on the PK on a night when Coach Green used a season-high eight forwards on the PK. That PK went 2-for-2, for a season record of 12-for-15, or 80%. Tellingly, he had his best night on the dot so far, going 9-for-19 (47%). That’s good for 14th in the league, which is a big improvement on last season (21st) and the previous season (28th).

Game 3 verdict: A solid 6/10 game, thanks to his work on the PK.

What about leadership?

Much was made about the decision to go with four assistant captains, and to not overburden long-time franchise saviour Bo Horvat with the captaincy. So far, Bo has three points and a -7 rating, while fellow assistant captains Chris Tanev and Alex Edler have been kept busy in their own end by a rampant Flames collective and a Hurricanes team that shot from all angles last night.

In terms of Sutter’s leadership, I point you again to the mic’ed up piece by Canucks TV, where they followed Sutter during Game 1. Look at how he’s looking after Elias Pettersson – getting him to lead the team out on his debut, cajoling him, fist-bumping him after his goal – that’s the kind of thing we rarely ever saw from the previous leadership group. Which isn’t a criticism of them, but a positive for Sutter that he’s constantly encouraging his younger colleagues to play as well as their talent allow. That’s what a leader does.

And also this, from before the season began:

Say what you like about Brandon Sutter, he is taking his role very seriously, and all signs point to a guy that’s trying to lead by example. I have been really taken by this step-change in Sutter’s approach and I’d be the first to state that I never thought I’d see the day I was impressed by Brandon Sutter’s locker room impact. He’s clearly converting it both onto the ice, and into his performances – and I like it.

The verdict: A for effort

Sutter has started the season strongly, adding some scoring at key moments and playing a crucial role on a massively-improved PK. He’s improving his FO%, and taking the young stars on the team under his wing.

Keep it up Brandon, the Canucks fanbase is right behind you!

Next. Canucks power rankings after Week 1. dark

Question for TCWers:

What do you think of Brandon Sutter’s start to the season, and what do YOU want him to be – a scoring third liner, or a defensively-reliable checker who excels on the PK?