In analyzing the record of Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, his trade history is a prominent point of discussion. Critics point specifically towards the acquisition of Brandon Sutter as one of Benning’s weaker ventures. Acquired two summers ago from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a second round pick, Sutter has had his ups and downs as a Canuck.
After a first season that was cut short due to injury, Sutter had a respectable first half of 2016-17 when he scored the majority of his 17 goals and 33 points. Injuries derailed his second half, and has since struggled to put up strong numbers with any sort of consistency. His recent cold-streak has sparked a trend among fans that hope to see Sutter exposed in the upcoming expansion draft (for the Las Vegas Knights). While perhaps unlikely, there a multitude of reasons why this would be a smart move for Canucks management to make.
Vancouver Canucks Should Expose Brandon Sutter in Expansion Draft
For many months, Sutter was considered a lock for protection. However, the organization’s continued emphasis on youth and the rebuild has put that assumption in jeopardy. Despite nothing in terms of offence, many see 23-year-old Brendan Gaunce as a better option. His possession numbers (53.21% CorsiFor%, 50.23% FenwickFor%) are solid, and may point to him having a decent future as a bottom-six centre. His defensive aptitude has received praise from the coaching staff, meaning he could potentially replace Sutter as the team’s go-to defensive centre. For a team transitioning in a younger direction, Gaunce (the 26th overall pick in 2012) could play a similar role to Sutter, at a cheaper price, and with more long-term gain.
Another aspect in favor of exposing Sutter is the weight of his contract. Over the course of the next five seasons (including the current campaign), Sutter will bring an average caphit of $4.375 million. For a player of third-line caliber, it’s an astounding overpayment. Sutter has never surpassed 40 points over his nine-season career, and sits at 33 in 76 contests this season. The production itself isn’t horrendous by any means, but it certainly doesn’t warrant the contract he netted. If Vegas were take on Sutter – and they might, as a means of reaching the salary cap floor – it would allow for some flexibility spending wise for the Canucks. Sutter’s contract not only handcuffs the Canucks to some extent short-term, but appears especially detrimental when taking into account the coming years.
Other Vegas Options
One could even make the case that, should the Knights pass on Sutter, it could still benefit the Canucks. Assuming management would lean towards protecting Gaunce, it could force Vegas’ hand into taking defenceman Luca Sbisa. Sbisa, 27, boasts an arguably more harmful contract in comparison to Sutter. The often-maligned blue liner takes up an astonishing $3.6 million of cap space per season, despite playing bottom-pair minutes when the roster is at full-health. If the Canucks are able to unload Sbisa’s contract, it would be considered a victory, and exposing Sutter would certainly assist that cause.
The Canucks’ list of expansion draft assets isn’t a particularly long or impressive one. With this in mind, management would be wise to think strategically, and ensure their young assets aren’t lost for nothing. The first step in this scenario would be to expose Sutter. Barring an unexpected turn of events on Vegas’ part, it’s a no-lose situation for Vancouver, and lately, there haven’t been many of those for the Canucks.