A closer look at Brandon Sutter
Part of what enabled the Pittsburgh Penguins to capture the Stanley Cup in 2009 was depth at the center position that was unrivaled in the scope of the National Hockey League.
Not only did the Penguins sport two of the best players in the world, centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, but they also featured a dual-threat shutdown center in power-forward Jordan Staal.
Sadly, we’ve rarely seen the three of them play together since hoisting the cup due to various and well documented injury issues.
Little did we know, game six against the Philadelphia Flyers would be the last time fans would see that “big three” together on the ice. Jordan Staal was traded this June at the NHL entry draft.
Despite the loss of Staal, the Penguins did manage to grab a player they feel can adequately replace him in young center Brandon Sutter.
In just ten short days, we’ll find out whether or not Brandon Sutter can fill the void left by the Penguins premiere shutdown player and penalty killer. But before we get to the puck drop, let’s look at what the statistics tell us.
For starters, it’s worth noting that if you’re out just to compare goal numbers in the comparison between Staal and Sutter, stop right there.
The Hurricanes and the Penguins couldn’t be more different in their approach to how third line centers are treated, and specifically, the job responsibilities between Sutter and Staal had their own little variances.
We are all too familiar with Dan Bylsma’s system at this point. The Penguins game plan offensively is to get the puck north as quickly as possible and take away the oppositions scoring threat by maintaining possession of the puck down low in the offensive zone.
The Hurricanes didn’t give Brandon Sutter as much freedom in the department of offensive hockey. Perhaps a testament to the ability of Sutter, his primary objective was to shadow and shut-down opposing top forwards. Jordan Staal certainly assumed that role in Pittsburgh, but the approach to how each organization doled out those responsibilities for each player was vastly different.
Carolina didn’t have the star power up front to hang in wild west style hockey games. They needed to mitigate their damages on the defensive front; it was a necessity that Sutter maintain a presence on the hip of the opposing teams stars just so the Hurricanes would have a chance to make a game of it.
So, it should be interesting to see what Brandon Sutter does with the ability to freelance offensively in a much different manner. Best case scenario, we could see him crack the high water mark of 21 goals that he set with the Hurricanes in 2009-10.
Sutter is a puck hound. He exhibits a very tenacious forecheck with a consistent nightly work ethic. In the offensive pressure sense, the addition of Sutter certainly suits what Dan Bylsma is asking, and makes the transition out of the Jordan Staal era a bit easier.
One thing is for certain, opposing teams scored against the Carolina Hurricanes at a much lower rate when Brandon Sutter was on the ice. The Hurricanes top two centers, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, each averaged over 3 goals against per 60 minutes of time played. Brandon Sutter averaged 1.93, a stark contrast to his peers at the center position, also a testament to Brandon Sutter’s ability to shine in a true shutdown role.
The goals against statistic is even more impressive when you take into account the quality of competition faced by Brandon Sutter during that time. Sutter’s main four opponents weighted by head to head ice time were, in order, Alex Ovechkin, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Evgeni Malkin.
From a pure puck possession standpoint, Cam Ward was also forced to make less saves when Brandon Sutter was on the ice. If you average his number of shots against out over a 60 minute time frame, Cam Ward was forced to make 26.0 saves. No center on the top two lines in Carolina could boast that number.
This statistic is even more surprising when you look at Brandon Sutter’s Corsi numbers.
Corsi is a weighted statistic that takes a players team shots for/missed/blocked against the opponents shots for/missed/blocked when a specific player is on the ice. Brandon Sutter’s 2011-12 Corsi number was -8.90 – so, in general, when Brandon Sutter was on the ice, the opposition averaged eight more shooting attempts per 60 minutes of play. Again, a testament to what we spoke about earlier. The Hurricanes wanted Sutter in a pure shutdown role.
The statistics here tell us that teams shot and scored against Brandon Sutter’s third line at a significantly lower rate than they did when the Hurricanes iced their three other lines.
While Staal’s stats may be superior in a select few categories when it related to quality of competition and Corsi, it’s worth mentioning that Brandon Sutter’s average plus/minus of his teammates over a 60 minute time frame was .03, while Jordan Staal’s was .08, a significant swing in Staal’s favor.
An interesting set of numbers for Brandon Sutter were both penalties drawn per 60 minutes of play and penalties taken per 60 minutes of play; both of which were better than Jordan Staal. In fact, Sutter has one of the lowest penalties taken per 60 minutes of play at .3.
While statistics can only tell us so much about a player, Ray Shero did what needed to be done when the opportunity presented itself. As time wore on, it became increasingly likely based on how negotiations were progressing that Jordan Staal might be likely to walk when his contract expired.
Not only did Ray Shero receive a good bit of value in return, he brought in a young center that might just be able to keep the Penguins glued to the three center formula that won them a Stanley Cup just a few short years ago.
_All statistics referenced in this article are courtesy of Behind The Net.