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Kesler vs Sutter - Is It Really Worth It?

An attempt to compare Sutter and Kesler to see if the trade would really benefit the Penguins.

Bruce Bennett

The current trade winds are suggesting a crazy offer that involves the Pittsburgh Penguins sending 3rd line Center Brandon Sutter, two picks from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft which are assumed to be a 1st and a 3rd, as well as their choice of Defensive prospect Simon Despres or Brian Dumoulin to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for 2nd lien Center Ryan Kesler.

That certainly doesn't sound like a Shero trade, he is known for getting the better end of his trades, and that is quite a lot to give up for one player. Of course one also has to consider where the rumour originated. It started with Mark Madden and then Rob Rossi, who just quotes unknown "sources" that suggest what may or may not have been offered. Like most rumours, its more about selling papers and getting page views, so who knows how reliable these "sources" actually are. It wouldn't be the first time they stretched the truth a bit in order to create a buzz. It also may have come from a speculative piece from Mike Colligan that suggested the Pens need to revive the 3 Center model they had back in the Cup years when Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal were still on affordable entry level contracts. But the source and the veracity aside, let's take a look and see how they compare.

Time on Ice

This year, Kesler leads all NHL forwards with 22:12 per game. If we look at just Even Strength this drops to 16:28 per game, which is #3 on his team behind Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. However, it is still Top 10 in the league.

Sutter, on the other hand, has 15:40 per game, which is #6 on the Pens. At ES he is down to 12:16 per game, which is #7 on the Pens.

So at first glance, that is a huge difference. A Top 6 scoring Center who leads his team in TOI vs a 3rd line defensive shutdown Center. If the plan is to use Kesler as an upgrade to Sutter on the 3rd line then it seems like quite a bit of overkill. However, if we look back to the Cup years, in 2009 Staal was #3 on the team at 19:50, and 13:59 of that was at ES, still behind Malkin and Crosby. So they would need to use Kesler like they used to use Staal, meaning he spends nearly as much time skating with the Top 6 as he does with his own linemates.

One big difference, however, is use on the PP. Kesler gets 3:38 on the PP a night, which is #2 on his team sandwiched between the Sedins, and #16 in the entire NHL. But the Pens already have a completely stacked and exceptionally effective top PP unit, so Kesler would see significantly less time playing on the 2nd PP unit.

Sutter plays on said 2nd unit, and he gets just 1:05 per game, which is #6 on the team. Even back in the old days in 2009 Staal was on the 2nd unit getting just 2:19 a night, which was #7 on the team. So Kesler would lose out on a lot of his juicy scoring opportunities if he came here.

Standard Stats

Obviously Kesler is an upgrade offensively. He has 21 Goals so far, 0.34 per Game. Sutter has just 10 Goals, which is 0.17 per game. Back in 2009 Staal had 22 Goals, 0.27 per game. So from that perspective, Kesler is better than what we have previously had available as a 3 C. Of course in Vancouver he is their top forward, so once would expect him to score more than a 3 C.

One difference goes back to PP TOI, as Kesler has 7 PP Goals so far this season whereas Sutter has just 1 and Staal back in 2009 had 2. With the lesser 2nd pair PP minutes he would lose out on a lot of that, so that brings him much closer to Sutter's level, and drops him significantly below what Staal was capable of back in the Cup years.

Kesler has 39 Points so far, 0.64 per game. Sutter has just 21 Points, which is 0.35 per game. Back in 2009 Staal had 49 Points, 0.60 per game. So again Kesler certainly looks like quite a solid upgrade.

However, we again have to take into account the fact that Kesler wouldn't be getting the same cushy PP time with the Pens. 14 of his Points this year were scored on the PP, whereas Sutter had just 3 PP Points and Stall back in 2009 had 6 PP Points. Quite a huge difference there, still a little better than Sutter, but significantly below what Staal brought to the team.

If the plan is to use Kesler to replace Sutter as a shutdown 3 C, a role Staal had as well in which they were expected to be a top defensive forward above all else, then Kesler does indeed leave a lot to be desired. He has a -9 rating this year, giving up 67 Goals Against and a further 15 PP Goals Against. Compare that to Sutter who was a +2 and had 32 Goals Against and and additional 11 PP Goals Against. Back in 2009 that was Staal, who had a +5 and 18 Goals Against and an additional 30 PP Goals Against. Certainly sounds like he is on par with Staal as far as preventing the opponents' ability to score goals, but Sutter is a vast improvement in his own end.

QoT, QoC, and Zone Starts

One huge difference between them is who they play with. Kesler has most recently been playing on the 2nd line in Vancouver, and his most frequent linemates this season are Chris Higgins, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Mike Santorelli, and Jannik Hansen. His HARO and HARD QoT are both 3.6, with FHARO QoT of 3.3 and FHARD QoT of 1.3.

Sutter has spent almost the entire season on the 3rd line, and his most frequent linemates are Tanner Glass, Chris Conner, Craig Adams, Chuck Kobasew, and Joe Vitale. His HARO QoT is -1.4, HARD QoT 4.9, FHARO QoT -4.9, and FHARD QoT 7.1.

That is a humongous difference. If the plan is to replace Sutter by using Kesler on the 3 C, then he will be stuck with the same exact offensive black holes that Sutter skates with. He won't get to play with elite superstars like the Sedins, and that is going to make his scoring take a serious hit. Would he do any better playing with the Pens Bottom 6? Chances are that the improvement will be slim to none. Sutter is the strongest player on the Bottom 6, they need to add a 3 RW, so getting rid of Sutter does nothing to fix the underlying problem.

Kesler actually does face a pretty hefty level of opposing scorer this year though, which is quite different from how he had been used in previous seasons. His HARO QoC is 4.6, HARD QoC -4.7, FHARO QoC 2.1, and FHARD QoC -0.8.

Sutter faces a much less dangerous -1.9 HARO QoC, -7.4 HARD QoC, -0.5 FHARO QoC, and -3.9 FHARD QoC. Of course a lot of that stems from usage, as the season started out with Crosby's line used in a shutdown role with Sutter and his rotating string of linemates gettings more sheltered minutes. It has only been in recent weeks that the 3rd line has been used in their former shutdown role again.

However, if they continue to utilize the lines that way then the lesser defensive opponents could indeed help Kesler regain some of the scoring he would lose based on working with a lesser quality of teammates. It would really leave Fleury wide open though, allowing opponents' top scorers to have unfettered access to prime scoring opportunities. So perhaps the intention would be that they could go back to using Crosby's line as the shutdown unit, freeing up Kesler to center a 3rd scoring line against lesser QoC. Or else they plan to bump Kesler into the Top 6 and field a very questionable Bottom 6 unit.

Kesler does get somewhat tough zone starts, he has 29.7% O-Zone Starts and 34.0% D-Zone Starts, which gives him a 46.6 ZS%. That's actually somewhat similar to how the Pens 1st line is used, slightly more D-zone starts but roughly breaking even. Compare that to Sutter who has 25.4% O-Zone and 33.5% D-Zone for a 43.1 ZS%. So again, if they plan to use Kesler in the same role they currently use Sutter then it is going to cut into a lot of the cushy offensive zone time he is used to.

Fancy Stats

Goals per 60 - Kesler 0.789, Sutter 0.435, Staal 0.793

Points per 60 - Kesler 1.512, Sutter 1.131, Staal 1.812

iFenwick per 60 - Kesler 10.516, Sutter 8.438, Staal 8.944

GF20 - Kesler 0.898, Sutter 0.522, Staal 0.811

GA20 - Kesler 0.811, Sutter 0.435, Staal 0.698

FF20 - Kesler 14.832, Sutter 10.468, Staal 12.605

FA20 - Kesler 14.109, Sutter 12.904, Staal 12.454

Sh% - Kesler 8.27, Sutter 6.69, Staal 9.01

Sv% - Kesler 92.14, Sutter 94.70, Staal 92.21

So by the looks of it Kesler is indeed better offensively, but that's something we already knew. However, he isn't as good as Staal offensively, and that is really saying something considering the difference in linemates they have had. And also makes it really questionable that he will be able to do much more with Sutter's linemates than Sutter has.

Unfortunately, Kesler is also worse defensively than Staal, which makes him much worse defensively than Sutter. So is the possible offensive upgrade, which may be quite minor considering the Bottom 6 linemates aren't going to be anywhere near what he is used to skating with in Vancouver, going to be enough to offset the loss in defensive skill?

The biggest issue on the Pens lineup is needing a 3 RW, and trading away the lone bright spot on the Bottom 6 for a minor offensive upgrade isn't going to fix their problems. Kesler skating with the same linemates that Sutter has spent this season dealing with is not even close to the same as Kesler working with the Sedins. So any attempt of trying to revive the 3 Center model is just doomed to fail. Theoretically he could be an upgrade to the Top 6, but that would require shuffling Malkin to a wing, or using Kesler as a wing, and trading off Sutter to add a Top 6 player would make them even more top heavy than they already are and will magnify their lack of depth scoring. And considering the suppsoed asking price, this would be one of the worst trades in team history.