2013-14 Season In Review: Brandon Sutter

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our series looking back on the individual performances of each of the Pittsburgh Penguins players. Next up: Brandon Sutter.

BraAge: 25 (February 14, 1989)

Contract Status: Restricted free agent; completed a 3-year $6.2M contract originally signed with Carolina. Received a $2.7M qualifying offer from the Penguins.

Buyout Status: n/a

2013-14 Stats

GP

TOI/GP

Goals

Assists

Points

81 (2)

15:46 (7)

13 (6)

13 (6)

26 (6)

Corsi For %

Corsi Rel %

Quality of Comp. (TOI%)

Zone Start %

PDO

42.9% (13)

-7.4% (14)

27.8% (13)

40.9% (14)

98.3% (15)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Penguins forwards.)

GIFs of the Year

I was at this game in Madison Square Garden and when Sutter did this I jumped and sent my popcorn flying all over my section (gif credit @Pensblog). (New York, December 18, 2013):

This was great on so many levels. Sutter picks off PK Subban in the neutral zone and takes it all the way. (February 27, 2014)

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He shoots, he scores! (April 6, 2014)

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Sutter tips the puck in for his second goal of the game. (April 6, 2014)

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That's it for the gifs. No, we're not gonna do that gif. That was funny, though.

Preseason Expectations

Brandon Sutter had a very decent lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Appearing in all 48 games and skating on a stable 3rd line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, Sutter tallied 11 goals and 8 assists. While it was obvious to most observers that he wasn't the two-way monster that Jordan Staal was, it was nevertheless reasonable to expect he'd continue to build on that good foundation. Then the offseason came, Cooke left as a free agent while Kennedy was traded to San Jose, and suddenly the third line was in limbo while, for once, top 2 lines looked picture-perfect.

Verdict

Throughout the 2013-14 season, Sutter skated with a revolving door of left and right wingers that included (in no particular order because plasma particles are easier to arrange in order) Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, Chris Conner, Joe Vitale, Jayson Megna, Taylor Pyatt, Andrew Ebbett, Brian Gibbons, Jussi Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, Dustin Jeffrey, Chuck Kobasew, Beau Bennett, Matt D'Agostini  ... you get the picture. I understand and acknowledge the fact that there were many injuries that necessitated certain changes, but what we saw as far as roster management and player deployment in the Penguins bottom 6 was nothing short of chaos. I see this as the single biggest indictment of the Shero and Bylsma tenure. It was untenable. Nobody normal can function like this. To his credit, Brandon Sutter kept skating, did what he could under genuinely bad circumstances, didn't utter a word of complaint, played in all but 1 game, saw terrible zone starts, was generally overwhelmed, and sucked at possession. To add to all the fun, come March the rumors and speculation he'd get traded to Vancouver in a Ryan Kesler deal were loud and clear. If I'd been him, I'd have run around naked (and screaming) too. There you have it.

Future

Brandon Sutter declined the $2.7M qualifying offer that the Penguins extended over the weekend. The team plans to negotiate an extension for him starting this week, and I hope it gets done under reasonable terms. Anything much over $3M annually is probably an overpayment. Perhaps a structured deal with 10-15% annual increases makes sense. He's a young player who's been very durable and already has 443 NHL games under his belt at the age of 25. He's a defensively responsible, smart and hard-working player with an excellent shot, good at breakaways and shootouts. He's low-maintenance and an excellent teammate. What's not to like?

There are opinions and articles suggesting that the Pens should trade Brandon Sutter. I have considered that point of view and I don't agree with it, much as I respect those writers. Barring any excessive and unreasonable contractual demands on his part, he's the player I'd very much like to keep on the team. His underlying possession metrics this past season were bad, no denying that, but I think that given at least some line stability and permanence, he could and should do considerably better.

Another thought has occurred to me recently. Why not try Sutter on the second line? We now have Spaling and Goc, who can very competently center the 3rd and 4th line. Sutter-Malkin-Hornqvist or Sutter-Malkin-Bennett may not be a terrible idea as far as Malkin skating with at least someone he's familiar with. Sometimes while watching Sutter play, I kept thinking he could use fewer defensive responsibilities as a center because there is a decent offensive potential there. Sutter isn't a faceoff whiz, but then neither is Malkin. Geno benefited from having another decent faceoff guy on that line last season. Sutter is fast, he can skate with the puck, he has an excellent shot. Before you guys laugh at me for suggesting he can somehow replace Neal's offensive production (as my brother did just yesterday), I'm not saying that. I'm literally thinking aloud (or into my keyboard actually) and wondering if he might be a good option to try there. Anyway, who knows. Just some food for thought.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Brandon Sutter's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e., 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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