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The Canucks Are Stuck With Brandon Sutter

Forget upgrading on Sutter at centre. The Canucks have a gaping hole in the middle, and that likely means only increased responsibility for this ‘foundational player.’

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at San Jose Sharks
Feb 15, 2018; San Jose, CA, USA; Vancouver Canucks center Brandon Sutter (20) prepares for the next play against the San Jose Sharks during the second period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

There probably isn’t a soul in that Vancouver Canucks dressing room that’s not going to miss the Sedin twins. However, there are players that stand to gain something in their absence.

Of everyone on the roster, there might not be someone who feels as good as Brandon Sutter does.

With the Sedins now retired, there is a gaping hole at centre. It wasn’t a position of strength to begin with for the Canucks, but Henrik’s retirement has busted open a glaring weakness on this roster.

I’ve previously gone over the Canucks conundrum at centre (prior to the Sedins retirement). One of the suggestions I brought up was moving on from veterans who aren’t going to be contributors on a Stanley Cup winning team.

If there wasn’t already over-mounting evidence about the struggles in Sutter’s game, it seems clear that this isn’t a player who will provide much to a legitimate contender. He doesn’t produce offence, is no more than adequate in his own end, and plays a ton.

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Vancouver Canucks
Sutter scores! He was red hot to finish the season, but didn’t offer much offensively in his first 50 games of the 2017-18 season. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

At 29-years-old, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Sutter wouldn’t play a role on a strong team. However, he’s probably never felt safer in his career.

Sutter Safe & Sound

Part of the reason why Sutter should feel good about his spot on the Canucks roster is because Travis Green seemed infatuated with giving him big minutes. It wasn’t quite the loving relationship that Willie Desjardins and Sutter had, but Green is a fan of the Huntingdon, New York native.

Right from the get-go, Green put Sutter in a defensive role. While that was nothing new for Sutter, he did see the highest defensive zone start percentage of his career at 77.4%. His highest defensive zone usage under Desjardins was 56.4%.

Offensively, Sutter was an utter mess until the last couple games of the season. He finished with five goals and nine points in his last ten games. Prior to that, he had six goals and 17 points in 51 games.

That doesn’t seem terrible in a defensive role, but this isn’t a player like Derek MacKenzie in Florida who plays lesser minutes. MacKenzie doesn’t score much, but he only plays 12 minutes per game against top players. The Canucks need goal scoring, and that’s something that Sutter went 50+ games without providing this season.

Stopgap for Pettersson?

When you look at the Canucks there are two players who show promise to produce offence at an elite level.

We have an idea of what Brock Boeser can do, and Elias Pettersson is showing incredible promise to develop into a first-line centre. It would give the Canucks a solid one-two punch down the middle with Pettersson and Bo Horvat.

Ideally, the Canucks would have liked a stop-gap to play as their second-line centre while Pettersson develops.

Right now, it looks like that player is Brandon Sutter.

That’s not a very intriguing option, considering that Sutter has never crested 40 points in a season. This upcoming season will be his tenth in the NHL.

Can Sutter actually receive a promotion in the lineup? Would Green really move away from rolling four lines in order to give Sutter more minutes?

Someone like Nick Bjugstad or Tyler Bozak might be more attractive options to fill the gap on a short-term basis. Admittedly, those names really aren’t all that attractive. Bozak only put up 11 goals (the same as Sutter) and just surpassed 40 points while playing with good hockey players. Bjugstad had a bounce-back year in Florida with 19 goals and 49 points in 82 games, but he struggled mightily the year previous.

Even if the Canucks bring in another centre, it doesn’t seem like they will be able to move on from Sutter. Even though there are many critiques to his game, he’s never looked safer as a member of the Canucks. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him play at that same 17+ minutes a game pace next season.