Brandon Sutter is known to be many things and at the forefront is unfortunately an injury riddled player. It wasn’t always like this. In fact, before coming to Vancouver, Sutter was a consistently healthy player. When the Canucks acquired Sutter, the acquisition was made with the expectation that Sutter would fulfill the second role until then 20 year old Bo Horvat was ready. That plan never came to fruition as Sutter’s first season as a Canuck ended prematurely. He only played a mere 15 games.
That same trend has continued throughout his time in Vancouver. He was fairly healthy in 2016-17 and was a fairly effective contributor as well. Then in 2017-18, he dealt with another groin injury. He was still able to play sixty games in likely his best season as a Canuck. Then the wheels fell off in an atrocious season for Sutter in 2018-19. He was limited to a mere 29 games and even when playing, it was evident that he was slowed down due to injuries. Despite the poor season, he at least had the added benefit of having a greater portion of the summer to train and recover than he did the year prior.
That is exactly why I was optimistic entering this season. I thought that the extra time off would allow for the extended recovery and training that he needed. I thought that it would result in a bounce back season.
When playing like he can, Sutter has been effective. Throughout his tenure in Vancouver, he has been a positive contributor in terms of WAR and has always ranked near the top of the team in goal differential.
In 2017-18, he had extremely tough deployment starting nearly 80 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone while playing alongside AHL caliber talent. His role was so dire that it legitimately could have been considered the toughest deployment in the league. That percentage was the highest among NHL players who played a minimum of 40 games that season. Yet, he was still on pace for 35 points which is very respectable for a third liner.
Anyways, it appeared that he was going to indeed return to form. Entering the pre-season he had two goals against the Oilers and continued his good start once the season commenced. Before getting injured, he began the season on once again a 35 point pace as things just looked a lot better. Sutter’s skating had improved immensely compared to the season prior and he was on the right side of shot shares which is a rare occurrence for him. Even during his greatest seasons, at least in terms of goal differential, he has struggled with corsi. To see this progress was encouraging. He is versatile player and while his contract is certainly extremely bloated, he is an effective option in the bottom-six.
Sutter however once again got injured on November 12th, once again a groin injury, and once again now had another setback.
He was visibly frustrated with the situation and understandably so. His reputation is becoming more of an injury-prone player than the “dependable third-line center” that his bio on NHL.com claims he is.
Returning will be much more difficult. Obviously, returning from an injury is never easy. Especially if it is one that has plagued him in the past. He now also has the added hurdle stemming from the emergence of Adam Gaudette who has outperformed expectations and has taken over the third-line centre role. Sutter does have some history on the wing but will likely be getting fewer opportunities offensively.
In the three games that he has played thus far, he is yet to register a point. He has made positive contributions in the shots department and is a reliable penalty killer but as he re-acclimatizes to the speed, he will probably post stat lines similar to that. That’s the unfortunate reality of injuries. One that Brandon Sutter knows all too well.
After returning to practice, Sutter was asked about the situation and echoed what one would think.
“It was very frustrating, especially after missing a lot of time last year. I was really feeling good this year.”
It was extremely unfortunate for obvious reasons but as Sutter said, “stuff happens.”
Sutter’s return comes amid a stretch where Vancouver has struggled mightily. The team has won just two of their last twelve games in regulation and have gone 1-4-0 in their last five. A struggling Canucks team is yet another thing that Sutter knows too well. Since his arrival in 2015-16, Vancouver ranks league-wide in points percentage.
Hopefully for both Vancouver and Brandon Sutter, injury issues are a thing of the past as the Canucks hope to take the next step in their rebuild. Unfortunately though, the past is often the best tool to predict the future and it hasn't been a good start in that regard for both the team and player thus far this season.