Nick Bonino: The Penguins Most Underrated Offseason Acquisition

The offseason has been an exciting time for the Pittsburgh Penguins, thanks primarily to general manager Jim Rutherford going out and making a series of smart, calculated additions and subtractions to the roster. While the most buzz worthy of these moves was the addition of elite forward Phil Kessel, one particular addition to the roster has flown under the radar despite it being a clear steal for Pittsburgh.

When the team handed center Brandon Sutter off to the Vancouver Canucks, they received two players and a second round draft pick in return. The first of the players, Adam Clendening, is a 22-year-old two-way defenseman with a lot of potential. He possesses ice awareness beyond his years, as well as slick hands and sharp shot that allow him to contribute on both ends of the ice. He should be a cheap depth option on the blue line for now and, if Pittsburgh holds on to him, could be a productive defenseman in the near-future. But where the Penguins truly fleeced the Canucks was in the acquisition of Nick Bonino.

The 27-year-old center from Hartford, Connecticut will be entering his sixth season of NHL service, playing 75 games or more in his last two seasons. Bonino finished the 2014-2015 campaign with 39 points spread out over 15 goals and 24 assists. He had mustered 49 points the season before, with 22 goals and 27 assists. Already, this is an improvement over Sutter who played played 81 and 80 games in the past two seasons, while only managing to total 26 and 33 points, respectively.

Brandon Sutter's HERO Chart. (Own The Puck)
Brandon Sutter’s HERO Chart. (Own The Puck)

A dive into the advanced statistics, however, prove that the deal is even more lopsided than it appears at face value.

Over the past three years, Sutter has been, at best, mediocre. He spent most of his time centering the third line and stats such as his CorsiFor and CorsiAgainst, as well as his points per 60 minutes of play all point to a player of fourth line caliber. One can also safely safe that his play is likely not worthy of 4-year, $21.875 million extension the Canucks handed Sutter after acquiring him.

Sutter made several key contributions to the Penguins during his time in Pittsburgh, notably a two goal performance to secure them a playoff spot and a string of solid games in the postseason. However, his possession metrics were far too low for the type of game head coach Mike Johnston is trying to bring to Pittsburgh. That, along with a $3.3 million cap hit at the time, made him a potential liability and, as such, he was moved.

Nick Bonino's HERO Chart. (Own The Puck)
Nick Bonino’s HERO Chart. (Own The Puck)

On the other hand, Bonino’s figures would indicate that he is a player who has been severely undervalued by the NHL market.

While playing third line ice time, Bonino has managed to rack up first line levels of offensive production. According to Own The Puck, his goals per 60 minutes, assists per minutes, and points per 60 minutes are better than that of David Perron. Suffice to say that Bonino makes the most of his time on the ice.

While his Corsi statistics are a little more ho-hum, he is contracted for two more years at an incredibly reasonable $1.9 million cap hit. For a little perspective, Ian Cole will be making more of an impact on the Penguins’ ledger than Bonino.

The acquisition of Kessel may have been the type that creates headlines, but it will be savvy depth moves like that for Nick Bonino that will allow the Penguins to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents come crunch time.