Is Brandon Sutter a Sleeper for the Selke Award?
Entering his seventh full NHL season, he has carved out a nice role for himself with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team which finds itself well poised to make a run for the Stanley cup each spring.
From a production standpoint, there have been five forwards from this draft class to separate themselves from the rest significantly -- Patrick Kane, Jakub Voracek, Logan Couture, James van Riemsdyk, and Max Pacioretty -- with Kane, Couture and Voracek the only All-Stars.
It is reasonable to state that, although his offensive numbers don’t fall near the level of Kane, Couture, Voracek, van Riemsdyk, and Pacioretty, Sutter offers a level of consistency and production in other areas that any NHL coach would love to have on their team: a skillset that primarily showcases discipline, toughness, and responsibility with the career numbers to back it up.
Before beginning his NHL career, Sutter played his final season with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, tallying 26 goals and 23 assists in 59 games. After splitting time in his first NHL season between Carolina and its AHL affiliate, Albany, Sutter put up career highs in goals and assists with 21 and 19, respectively, in the 2009-10 season. In his final two years in Carolina, Sutter did not miss a single game, playing in all 164.
Brandon Sutter was tasked with filling some very large skates when Penguins general manager Ray Shero traded their young, promising third-line center, Jordan Staal, for Sutter at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Since the start of that 2012 season, Sutter ranks 23rd in the NHL in goals against per 60 minutes of even-strength play with 1.92. In comparison, Jordan Staal comes in at 76th in the NHL over that same period with 2.24 goals against per 60 minutes of even strength-play. Perhaps you don’t recall, but Staal was one of the three finalists for the Selke Award -- given to the forward who displays the most skill on the defensive side -- in 2010, with the trophy ultimately going to three-time winner Pavel Datsyuk. To add, Sutter has also logged 34 more games than Staal over this period (I forgot to mention how ultra-durable Sutter has been his entire career).
The Argument for Sutter
Sutter may have himself an argument for the Selke Award. Looking back at past Selke winners, Sutter has been plenty close numbers-wise. In the table below I have provided the last seven Selke winners goals against per 60 minutes of even-strength play (GA/60) along with Sutter’s for each year. Also, take into consideration that Jonathan Toews’ Selke year came during the league’s work-stoppage in 2013 that shortened the season to 48 games.
All stats are courtesy of Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.
When we look at some of the top Selke candidates over the last few years, it becomes apparent how comparable Sutter is to these guys from a defensive perspective as well. The table below accounts for the last four season (2011-2014) of production.
Over those last four seasons, Sutter comes in at number three behind Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar with 1.8 goals against per 60 minutes of even-strength play. Sutter also takes a higher percentage of his overall faceoffs in his own defensive zone than the other six with just over 36 percent.
Last season, in 81 games, Sutter put up a very respectable 1.75 goals against per 60 of even-strength ice time, easily placing him in the top-50 in the category. Sutter got off to a strong start, pacing ahead of Selke frontrunners Anze Kopitar and Logan Couture.
As show in the table below, this season, Sutter is having a solid year relative to the Selke “beasts.”
Clearly, Sutter is deserving of being placed in the conversation of the Selke Award based on his numbers relative to past winners and front-runners from this year.
Playing His Role
To pull everything into context, due to the nature of his role and skillset, Sutter is often asked by his coaches to match up against the opposing team’s top line for stretches of each game, take key defensive-zone faceoffs, and even log substantial time on the penalty kill. Naturally, this situation comes with facing a large number of shots from opposing All-Star caliber centers and wings. And if you factor into the mix Sutter’s outstanding final year with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011, his numbers are even better, with his goals against per 60 sitting at 1.83 in even-strength ice time over the 4.5 year period. That’s money.
Brandon Sutter may never be an dominant hockey player from an offensive and fantasy perspective, and that is fine -- he plays on a team with maybe two of the best centers ever to play the game. He doesn’t play with top-six guys such as Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and James Neal. At least not while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in the mix.
However, we shouldn’t let this cover up the defensive prowess he contributes to the Pittsburgh Penguins as one of the most versatile third-line centers in the National Hockey League. The guy is a hard worker, and if Sutter plays the way he is capable of playing, he could not only find himself as a top-6 center and leader of a NHL franchise but also a contender for the Frank J. Selke Trophy for years to come.