Pittsburgh Penguins’ center Brandon Sutter has a knack for showing up late in the season and in the playoffs. He did this last postseason, scoring seven points (five goals) in 15 games played. Those numbers were good enough to place him sixth on the team in scoring.
While it was an impressive run for the 25-year-old center, it was nothing spectacular and he did not takeover a playoff run like elite players do. Sutter’s strong postseason performance was enough to merit a two-year contract extension from the Penguins that has a salary cap hit of $3,300,000 per season.
For most of the 2014-15 season, Sutter was invisible and a non-factor. In 80 games played, he produced 21 goals and 12 assists. Statistically speaking, this was his best season in a black and gold sweater. However, he failed to surpass his career campaign, which with the Carolina Hurricanes back in 2009-2010. He scored 21 goals and assisted on another 19 more for a total of 40 points.
Not only are his linemates better, but the entire team is far superior to Carolina. That’s why it is baffling to see Sutter fail to surpass that 40-point mark season after season. The man he replaced in Pittsburgh was the dominant Jordan Staal, who eclipsed the 40-point mark four times in his six seasons with the Penguins.
When I say Staal was dominant, he was ferocious. No player in the NHL was considered a better third line center than the former second-overall pick.
While Sutter seems to have done his best, he’s no Staal. In fact, I’d say he’s at the bottom end of the third line centers. He’s in a position to succeed, so why can’t he?
His supporters will cite how he has shown up in the last month, but the numbers still aren’t good. In his last 15 games played, he’s scored six goals, hasn’t assisted on any and is a plus-one skater. In that same stretch, Sutter’s faceoff win percentage was below 50% in seven games. That’s unacceptable for a third-line center on the Penguins. Cite how he scored the two goals to push Pittsburgh into the playoffs, but remember they were against the Buffalo Sabres.
The truth is Sutter is overrated, overpaid and should be traded this offseason. When the Pittsburgh Penguins are already committing about 45% of their salary cap to four players, in Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury, there is no room for error and every extra dollar must be spent correctly.
Sutter and his $3.3 million cap hit is not an effective use of salary space. A couple strong playoff performances does not mean a player is great or deserves a large contract.
Prime Example: The Los Angeles Kings’ right wing and captain Dustin Brown. After the 2013-2014 season, he signed an eight-year, $47,000,000 contract with an annual cap hit of $5,875,000. How’s that working out for the Kings now?
Brown is a perfectly serviceable top-six player who had a couple strong years and cashed in. Now just one season into the contract, the Kings are in major trouble between his huge cap hit and the declining performance of Mike Richards.
Focusing back on Sutter, take a look at this great chart provided by Hockey-Reference.com.
Now is it just me or does Sutter not realize that there are 82 games of hockey that need to be played? He’s a streaky player who appears late in the season, but that’s not what the Penguins need. It’s clearer than it’s ever been before: Crosby and Malkin did not close out the season like they normally do and the entire team struggled.
Props to Sutter for picking up the slack, but it shouldn’t take being in danger of missing the playoffs for him to actually start fulfilling his contract.
Sutter might have another great postseason run, but while his perceived value is high, trade him.