July 1 should not only signal the start of NHL free agency, it should also kick off the Brandon Sutter sweepstakes.
Ok, “sweepstakes” might be a bit strong. But for the first time since signing him to a five-year, $21.875 million contract, Sutter can be traded without having to waive a no-trade clause.
Sutter enters the fourth year of his contract this summer, which signals a change in his deal.
Armed with a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, Sutter must submit a list of 15 teams he cannot be traded to going forward.
That means the Canucks now have options with the 30-year-old centre.
While his cap hit ($4.375 million) is less than desirable, having just two years left on his contract makes it a movable deal. The Canucks could retain salary also.
It’s time to move on from Sutter, who became a redundant player on the Canucks’ roster after the acquisition of Jay Beagle last summer. With Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat locked into the top two centre spots, it leaves Sutter, Beagle, and Adam Gaudette left to fill the middle on lines three and four.
The Canucks need to give Gaudette, a 22-year-old centre with upside, a chance to fulfill his potential. Burying him behind Sutter, Beagle – or god forbid both, does not accomplish that.
Lauded as a “foundation player” by GM Jim Benning four years ago, Sutter hasn’t lived up to the hype. The team ignored warning signs from the analytics community, not only trading Nick Bonino for him, but also signing him to a ridiculous extension.
Despite good size, a hard shot, decent speed, and pedigree as a former first-round pick, it hasn’t worked out well for Sutter in Vancouver.
He’s missed significant time due to injury, being limited to 20 games in 2015-16, 61 games in 2017-18, and 26 games in 2018-19. Sutter scored 17 goals and 34 points during his only injury-free season with the Canucks in 2016-17, doing so when Willie Desjardins deployed him as if he were Ryan Kesler in his prime.
Sutter helps the Canucks in a depth role, as well as faceoffs and the penalty kill. He doesn’t help them move forward though.
At a certain point, you need to bet on your young players, and that’s where the Canucks should be at with Gaudette.
The 2018 Hobey Baker Award winner, Gaudette excelled in limited AHL action, scoring 11 points (5-6-11) in 14 games, and got better in the NHL as the season wore on. He finished with 12 points (5-7-12) in 56 games with the Canucks and that number is likely to rise.
If Gaudette can develop into a reliable third-line centre that’s good in all areas of the rink, it changes the complexion of the Canucks. The Canucks could have their best third line in years (not saying much, I know) with Gaudette in between Antoine Roussel and Jake Virtanen on his wings next season.
Just what Sutter could fetch in a trade is unknown, though clearly the Canucks wouldn’t be selling high on him. If Benning can’t find a taker, Sutter can contribute on the wing, where his lack of playmaking ability wouldn’t be as much of an issue.