The Pittsburgh Penguins need to turnover a significant portion of their roster if they want to compete for the Stanley Cup again. One noticeable area where the Pens desperately need help is their top-six forward unit.
They are set at center with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but who will play as their wings?
The most obvious line will be a unit of David Perron – Crosby – Patric Hornqvist, given their production and how well the trio played together last season.
However, who is going to play next season with Malkin?
Chris Kunitz dramatically slowed down towards the end of last season (although I believe he was playing hurt), Blake Comeau is a glorified bottom-six forward, Steve Downie most likely will not be a Penguin next season and Pascal Dupuis may (or may not) play in just a few months.
Comeau, while a solid free agent signing last summer, was productive in the top six until his wrist was hurt and after that Malkin was furious he had to play aside him. Countless times, Malkin would just lay the puck on a platter for Comeau and he simply could not bury the puck in the net. It got so bad that Malkin visibly stopped communicating with Comeau on the ice.
Penguins Lack Assets
It’s clear the Penguins need a top-six wing, or two, but they have very few trade assets remaining. Sending away more draft picks is not the answer, but how else will they acquire an elite forward?
The deal has to start with third-line center Brandon Sutter. He is entering the second year of a two-year contract that pays him $3.3 million this year. Given how highly regarded Sutter is, he will be looking for a raise at the end of the season.
Is he worth a raise? Absolutely not.
Is he even worth his current contract? Absolutely not.
While Sutter might be a fan favorite, he is also a tremendously overrated player. He’s weak along the boards, ineffective at generating shots and usually lowers the level of play of his wings.
In fact, Sutter was ranked on Jimmy Hascup’s six most overrated players in the NHL today.
Brandon Sutter’s Status
Yes, Sutter appeared in some pretty big moments for the Penguins during this season, but overall he is not a great player.
Need more proof? Take a look at his HERO chart which visualizes just about every useful metric that players are evaluated on.
You can see that Sutter is given almost second-line time on ice, but his production and shot differential is not adequate for his position. Additionally, he has a reputation of being a strong player on the penalty kill, but when utilizing advanced metrics he is one of the worst in the league.
His Fenwick Against (4v5) per sixty minutes played is 75.42, that ranks 110 of 139 players who were on the ice for over 200 shorthanded minutes.
Whether or not you agree with advanced metrics, he is a over-hyped player.
It’s time for the Penguins to sell high on Sutter because there is one statistic that other general managers love about Sutter — his 21 goals.
A team desperate for a second line center will be willing to pay a high price to acquire Sutter.
It’s quite easy to replace his production and don’t let anyone tell you differently. My friend and colleague Ryan Wilson over at HockeyBuzz has done some great work detailing replacements of Sutter for a fraction of the cost.
Take a look at his options for replacing Sutter via free agency.
And take a look at the option of trading for Patrik Berglund.
Sutter is easily replaceable and if Pittsburgh wants to bring in a top-six wing this offseason, the trade package has to start with Sutter.
Yes, Sutter probably just had his best season as a Penguins, but overall his tenure has been quite underwhelming.
Sutter’s perceived value is higher than his actual value right now, and it’s time that Jim Rutherford starts trying to maximize the value of his assets.