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Apr 12, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Flyers won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Sutter: Strengthening the Penguins bottom six

 

The Penguins were a team in a rough position this off-season. They needed to get some capable bottom six players, trim some excess fat, and lock up some bigger free agents all while managing to stay under the cap. With big coaching and general manager changes, there was a big question mark about how all of this would pan out.

Fans were nervous, and rightfully so. New coaching and management is always a nerve-wracking experience, especially when Cups are at stake. Everywhere you looked, fans were voicing their opinions about something and their concern showed. After all, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in their prime years so giving them the supporting cast they need to win is a now-or-never situation.

At least we know that Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford is not the type of guy that makes the same mistake twice. He proved this by re-signing Brandon Sutter to a two-year deal that includes an annual average of $3.3 million next season. Let’s be honest, most of us wondered if he would make the same error with Sutter that he did in Carolina when he traded him. The question is, what does this mean for the Penguins?

Had he hit free agency, he could have demanded more than the $3.3 million that the Penguins are paying him. It seems he was set on signing for a shorter term in order to argue financials in the next year and so and he got his wish with a two-year deal.  He also did not want to be boxed into the Penguins in case any more big trades render him on the chopping block. Smart move.

The biggest complaint fans have had about Sutter is that he is a player that has been unable to unlock his full potential. In his second year in the league he totaled 40 points during the season, but just last year only had 26 points including 13 goals while logging an average of 16 minutes of ice time per game.

May 13, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) skates after the puck against the New York Rangers during the second period in game seven of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Rangers won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

May 13, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) skates after the puck against the New York Rangers during the second period in game seven of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Rangers won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

 

Some may argue that this comes mainly from the trade from Carolina to Pittsburgh but the reality remains that he needs to work on his consistency and defensive skills. While all of this is true he was truly a bright spot for the Penguins this post-season, totaling five goals and seven points in 13 playoff games.

It seems as if the difference was night and day after being used by Shero in a potential deal for Ryan Kesler that never came through. From that point on fans could see a change, going from a player still trying to understand himself to the mark of consistency in the bottom six.

If that is a sign of the future, it could mean very good things for the Penguins. Sutter is a guy that is capable of stepping up to the second line if the injury bug hits the Penguins again and he has also established himself as a very capable third line center. Brandon Sutter is a crucial piece of the puzzle if the Penguins want a chance at the Cup, and his performance will play a larger role than anyone realizes.

Strong bottom sixes win Cups — period. In 2009, it was the Matt Cooke’s and Jordan Staal’s that rode in on their white horses to deliver Sidney Crosby the honor of being the youngest Captain ever to hoist Lord Stanley. Big name stars are expected to perform. It is never a surprise when Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin provide highlight reel plays. It is the guys like Brandon Sutter that are the difference between championships and packing up early to make a tee time.

I don’t really see a downside to this contract. This gives Sutter the chance to argue more money in the next few seasons and the contract does not box the Penguins into a long-term deal, or a large amount of money that they can’t get out of. If it does not work out both sides can walk away. For Sutter, it gives him the chance to make an argument for more money and a longer deal in the future.

It is difficult to know what the future holds for Brandon Sutter but his post-season performance gave himself the argument to stick around Pittsburgh for two more years. He does not need to be flashy. We just need him to be consistent and ready to work. With this deal came the chance to prove that he can be a 40-point player again and that he deserves a chance to sport the Penguins jersey a little longer.

 

Tags: Brandon Sutter Jim Rutherford NHL Pittsburgh Penguins

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