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Implications of the Brandon Sutter Trade

The Pittsburgh Penguins finally made a move that seemed inevitable.

Brandon Sutter and his $3.3 million dollar cap hit are now with the Vancouver Canucks. The Penguins sent one of their three third-round picks and Sutter to Vancouver for their second-round pick, Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening.

We’ve previously covered the case for trading Sutter and the Penguins finally made the move. The reality of the situation is that Sutter’s perceived value was greater than his actual value, and there was no chance he would remain in Pittsburgh past the 2015-16 season. He’s entering a contract year, scores opportune goals and most importantly he’s a Sutter.

Some team would throw money at him next offseason and the Penguins would lose him for no return. Instead they made the wise move to return some assets for 26 year-old center.

There are some fans of the Penguins who love Sutter, but the truth is he was a vastly overrated player. Even just sending Sutter to Vancouver for Bonino and Clendening was a good deal. With the second-round pick coming back, it’s a great deal. Before you worry about the Penguins trading away a third-round draft pick, just remember that they had three in the 2016 NHL entry draft from the hiring of Dan Bylsma and John Hynes.

Advanced analytics are still in their infancy in hockey and some place all of their faith in them. However, there are more factors to consider than just statistics and these factors are often overlooked by some in the media.

When the statistics are this lopsided in one player’s favor, it’s hard to envision that they don’t reveal some truth. The only noticeable area where Sutter was more effective than Bonino was while on the man advantage. However, there’s a factor that this data does not account for: the supporting cast.

Sure, Sutter produced more points than Bonino did on the powerplay, but he was also playing most of the time with Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Chris Kunitz and the other stars in Pittsburgh.

 

“Fancy” Stats and the Penguins

Here’s a visualization of the centerpieces of the trade.

But before we begin discussing the brilliance of this move from an advanced stats point of view, let’s take a look at how this trade came about.

On July 22, the Penguins hired one of the founders of war-on-ice.com, Sam Ventura, to consult the team. Now just six days later, the Penguins have already begun to make analytically savvy moves. There are a couple of things to really love about this trade, and the first is obvious: the Penguins get a great return on Sutter before his contract expires and the other is this move signifies that general manager Jim Rutherford is “getting it.”

In conjunction with this trade, the Penguins also signed free-agent forward Eric Fehr to a three-year, $6 million dollar contract.

So the Penguins traded Sutter, returned a defensive prospect, a replacement center and a second-round pick, then they used the cap savings to sign another forward (who projects to play center) who’s underlying numbers are superior to Sutter’s.

Here’s the fundamental question. Would you rather have…

A. Brandon Sutter and a third-round draft pick – $3.3 million dollar cap hit

OR

B. Eric Fehr, Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a second-round draft pick – $3.9 million dollar cap hit

There’s little debate which option is better for the future of the franchise. The Penguins are building a nice team, at least on paper, and it will be interesting to see if they make any more moves during coming days. There have been rumors that the Penguins are interested in defenseman Cody Franson, but in order to make that happen they need to shred some salary.

There’s a lot more to discuss about the Sutter-less Penguins, stay tuned in upcoming days. Thanks for reading.

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