NHL teams are practicing, they're just days away from getting their Olympians back, and we're nearing 2010 NHL Trade Deadline, Act II. With the signing of Andrew MacDonald to a four-year extension, the Islanders have made a firm statement that his 38-game audition has secured him a spot on their blueline going forward. (Time to order that jersey, Hans und Franz.) They also have a few promising blueline prospects not just in major juniors but at least one in the college pipeline.
Throw it all together and it's time to wonder anew, in between Olympic semifinals, if we'll see Andy Sutton in an Islanders uniform again. Ottawa is one of multiple aspiring buyers said to be in the market for a rental. Sutton, in his best and healthiest year in the last four seasons (honk if you love walk years!), has become the glitziest item in the Islanders' store window.
But what are teams getting if they plop down the rental fee for Sutton? Japers' Rink, eyeing the rumors of Capitals interest in Sutton, already did the behind-the-numbers approach in a must-read post, concluding Sutton would be a modest upgrade over what the Caps have -- but at what price?
Meanwhile, in reading the views of other teams' fans it occurs to me that, as with Brendan Witt, there are some impressions of Sutton that are a few years out-of-date. I'd even call them myths, passed around among fans who haven't watched much of Sutton with the Islanders this year. After the jump, we'll line those myths up; you tell me whether you agree:
|2009-10 - Andy Sutton||54||4||8||12||-3||73||20:48||2:28
Myth 1: Andy Sutton is Dirty
This is one that I think stems from his Atlanta days -- which is really the last time Sutton played enough healthy games in a single season for anyone to get a convincing read on his form. From my impression at the time, I do believe there
is was something to this. As a player who spanned the pre- and post-lockout NHL, Sutton was well versed in the take-no-rulebook approach to defending, and he had the 100+ PIM seasons to prove it.
It's only fair to note that people also have this impression because he's 6'6", 245 lbs., and throws big hip checks at the left side of the blueline. Big hits ruffle the feathers and put a player on your "I hate that guy" watch.
But, well, I don't know how else to say it except: Sutton's not dirty. At least he hasn't been in 54 games of top-four minutes with the Isles this season. His "dirtiest" moment this year was a split-second careless decision -- a final-minute check to the numbers of his good friend Pascal Dupuis of the Penguins. It wasn't predatory, and it didn't involve "taking a run" or head-hunting. It was a game situation that ended badly, and he paid his dues in the form of a suspension.
Maybe he'd rediscover the dirty while playing gritty minutes for a contender (and playing for his final lucrative payday), but he simply hasn't been that for the Isles. It's telling that his signature hit is a big blueline hip check -- yet he hasn't had a headshot, elbow, or knee-on-knee in that situation all year. The guy doesn't just fly in there without a care, even though his signature hit is the second-toughest type of hit to execute. (I'd call a clean open-ice hip check the toughest.)
Myth 2: Andy Sutton is Slow
This one is more debatable and, I think, nuanced. The truth is Sutton doesn't move around much in his own zone. He clearly prefers to use his giant frame to take up positional space and block shots rather than chase wingers in the corners like some such Phaneuf. His (over?)reliance on this positioning tactic makes him look like a big immobile lug out there. There have definitely been times when I've shouted at the screen, wanting him to kick it up a gear and end a cycle by imposing himself in the corner; but playing within his game is probably what makes him most effective. When you're 6'6", your reach and implied territory is often your best asset. Different worlds entirely, but Chris Pronger employs this kind of more stationary coverage quite a bit (along with Pronger's other considerable assets, yada yada. Point being, on the right night in any season of his career, you could think, "Gee, Pronger is slow.")
Meanwhile, though Sutton is not a fleet-footed puck rusher, he can move the puck and he can display speed when the situation requires. He is good and smart about jumping in to join the rush, and he displays surprising mobility and hands when he pinches in for a back door chance down low. Opponents seem to think he's just a slow-moving oil tanker out there at the point -- and then next thing they know he's swooped in down low for a one-on-one chance on the goalie.
Bottom line: If he can be effective as he has been in Scott Gordon's system, then speed is not his problem.
Myth 3: Andy Sutton is an Offensive Defenseman
This was always the weird one. Scoring eight goals twice for Atlanta helped build this "myth" about Sutton, but his career high is still 25 points. Health-related time off aside, he's not going to give you anything but occasional supplementary offense. That doesn't mean he's not capable -- I just claimed above that he can move the puck and move his body into offensive position -- but he's not a top-pair guy for a reason. He can do several things pretty well, none of them (except shot blocking and thundering hip checks) at a league-elite level.
For the Islanders, in logging 20:48 a game, he isn't deployed on the powerplay point. His value is much greater as a penalty killer (2:28 per game) and defensive guy against tough competition at 5-on-5. That's where he gets his minutes with the Isle, and that's how -- in a slightly lesser role -- he'd help a contender.
Myth 4: Andy Sutton is Injury-Prone
Well okay, that's not exactly a myth. He has indeed experienced a maddening string of injuries that has shortened several seasons in his career, including every year with the Islanders except the current one. It's not exactly Radek Martinek territory, but it's enough to give you pause. Still, is a broken foot from a shot on a shot-blocker the mark of a fragile guy? Is a fractured hand from a preseason fluke injury the symbol of an injury-prone guy?
Suffice to say, outside of missing six games this year with a groin injury, his last two serious injuries were of the "Act of God" nature referenced above. He's not a guy with problematic joints. He's not exactly a ticking health bomb. People all too often lump all injuries together to depict a "health risk" without looking into the circumstances. For Sutton, his circumstances have included "best shape of his life" training the last two summers, undermined only by two fluke broken bones.
* * *
All of this is not to inflate Sutton's value nor tear him down. Rather, if by fantasy or reality your team is mulling the option to rent an Andy Sutton for the stretch run, you probably want to know what the 2009-10 model looks like. Chances are, they've made some factory modifications since the last Sutton you drove.
(I should add that I know several of these contentions are debated among the commenters at this site. So have at it, one and all...)