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Brandon Sutter And His Linemates, Part 356

More analysis on whether Sutter was being held back by his linemates this year.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One of the issues that I (and others) have run into the ground this summer is the topic of Brandon Sutter and his linemates. I've written previously about this topic herehere, and here. The quick recap is this: Sutter put up some dreadful numbers this year, sporting a 43.1% CF% and 41.7% GF% during 5v5 play, but a lot of people discount this because Sutter had to play with bad teammates like Craig Adams and Tanner Glass at times.

I think the teammate argument for Brandon Sutter is overstated for two reasons. First, Sutter has always been a bad possession player throughout his career. To be precise, he's played 415 games over six seasons in the NHL. If Sutter's teammates were really dragging him down this year, then we'd see much better possession numbers in each of his prior seasons. But that's not the case.

Sutter's 5v5 CF%
08-09 47.5%
09-10 45.6%
10-11 46.1%
11-12 46.6%
12-13 42.6%
5 year average (08-13) 45.7%

Sutter's numbers were moderately better in Carolina but still not very good. His zone start explains part of this since he's used in defensive situations, but even then, he's still a sub-50% player in terms of Corsi For. So even if one thinks that Sutter's teammates this year were a big problem, his ceiling--thus far in his career--is really not that high. These numbers also suggest that Sutter's 43% CF% this year wasn't that far off from his career average in previous seasons, which dampens my hope that he'll be able to turn it around next year. It also shows, in my opinion, that Sutter's teammates were only a tiny piece of the puzzle.

The second reason I don't buy the teammate excuse for Sutter is because we can look at him away from certain players on Sutter's WOWY page. I previously ran these numbers and had this to say:

Even if you buy that Sutter's teammates held him back this year, remember that he had Cooke, Kennedy, Morrow, Iginla, and Bennett last year in the regular season and the playoffs, and still got crushed. And even this year, we can average his WOWY numbers to see how he did with competent linemates. Sutter spent at least 35 5v5 minutes with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Bennett, Stempniak, Megna, Dupuis, Jokinen, Gibbons, and Kunitz this year. His average CF% with that group was 44.5%. Not good. He spent at least 50 5v5 minutes with Neal, Bennett, Stempniak, Megna, Jokinen, Gibbons and Kunitz. His average CF% with those players was just 48%. This isn't a teammate problem.

Even when we look at Sutter away from most of the problem forwards this year, he still doesn't come out looking that good.

The WOWY analysis isn't ideal, though. We can get his numbers away from Craig Adams, for example, but there's no guarantee that his time away from Adams doesn't include ice time with Glass or Pyatt. In fact, some of Sutter's ice time away from these guys almost certainly includes time spent with other plugs.

That's where Muneeb Alam comes in. Muneeb is the owner of the fabulous red line station website, and he not only writes elite articles for Japers Rink, but he also occasionally comments here on Pensburgh. Muneeb has developed tools that people can use to scrape data from the NHL play-by-play reports and come up with their own advanced stats.

I asked Muneeb to use his tools to get even strength on-ice Corsi numbers for Brandon Sutter over the last two years (his entire time with the Penguins). Since Muneeb writes the code himself and can run specific tasks, I asked him to give me Sutter's even strength CF% and zone start when he was on the ice with one of Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass, Craig Adams, or Taylor Pyatt. I also asked for Sutter's even strength CF% and zone start when he was on the ice without any of those four players. In the chart below, "with plugs" means with one of Vitale, Glass, Adams, or Pyatt on the ice, and "without plugs" means when Sutter was on the ice without any of those four players. Again, many thanks to Muneeb for making this possible.

Sutter's EV CF% Sutter's EV Zone Start%
2012-2014 With Plugs 39.26% 38.26%
2012-2014 Without Plugs 44.85% 42.26%

Those CF% numbers are just bad to look at. He's certainly used in a defensive role but he's not doing much of anything with it. You can see that when we look at Sutter away from Vitale, Glass, Adams, and Pyatt, he's still got a CF% below 45%. Among the 141 forwards who played 1500 or more 5v5 min the last two years, Sutter's 44.85% without plugs would rank him in the bottom eleven of that group. And that's looking at his play away from the really bad players.

So even when we take out the real problem players from the last two years, Sutter's numbers look equally bad. They're better than when he's with the plugs, but better in the same way that a flat tire is better than a full-blown accident: you want to avoid both of them. The biggest thing that can be a difference maker for Sutter next year is his usage. Johnston might start using him in a more offensive role, which would mean less offensive zone starts for Crosby and Malkin. This could improve Sutter's individual CF% numbers, but it might also detrimentally effect what Crosby and Malkin are able to do.

Since the Penguins have invested money and term in Sutter, I want him to do well so that we can win a lot of games. But this, in my opinion, is just more evidence that Sutter's woeful possession numbers the last two years weren't the product of having replacement level teammates. If the Penguins want a good shot at the Cup, Sutter is going to have to be a lot better.