Naked Eye vs. Nerdy Guy: Should Sutter be playing with the Sedins?

This week on After Hours Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Sutter joins Scott Oake.

NERDY GUY (Dimitri Filipovic):
Of all the great things you can say about Henrik and Daniel Sedin’s remarkable NHL careers, arguably the most impressive thing has been their uncanny ability to elevate players to loftier heights just by sharing the ice with them.

The luxury of being able to essentially plug-and-play whomever on the top line without really missing a beat, has made roster-building much easier for Canucks management. Whether it was Anson Carter, Taylor Pyatt, Mikael Samuelsson or Alex Burrows, it never really seemed to matter who was manning the right wing on their line because they were an unstoppable cycling juggernaut in the offensive zone regardless of how squeaky the third wheel at any given moment was.

It’s taken us roughly 15 years to get here, but it looks like we’ve finally found the exception to the rule. Over the past two seasons, the Sedins have spent 100+ five-on-five minutes with four different wingers and an ugly trend has started to make itself evident.

As a colour-coding frame of reference the red block for each individual category denotes the lowest (read: worst) total of the bunch. The green block signifies the highest (read: best) and the yellow blocks are meant to be seen as neutral.

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The Sedins’ time with Brandon Sutter since he arrived sticks out like a sore thumb because if it weren’t for a dreadful shooting percentage dip for Radim Vrbata last season (which has sure enough rectified itself in Arizona this year), it’d be a clean sweep for Sutter in all of the worst ways.

For whatever reason, that particular combination isn’t working right now. Based on everything we’ve seen from them during their time together, there doesn’t appear to be any reason based in reality for why we should expect that to change. If that seems obvious to anyone paying attention, why they keep insisting on going back to the well despite the results is much less clear.

While the argument that they’re trying to make one of their investments look good (they did after all part with three legitimate assets to get Sutter, before throwing nearly $22 million at him) initially makes sense, you could make the same case for Loui Eriksson after the hefty contract he received this past summer.

Not that Eriksson himself isn’t fraught with red flags on his resume, because he certainly is. Of particular concern is that his individual shot rate is at an all-time low for his career:

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Whether he’s having a more difficult time getting his shots off as a by-product of the miles piling up on his body, or something else is causing him to be more selective, it’s troublesome because you’d ideally like to pair the Sedins with someone who is ready, willing, and able to shoot whenever they get him the puck at the end of one of their patented passing plays.

Aside from that the initial returns with the Sedins were promising. Even with Eriksson’s reluctance to shoot, the trio was at the very least doing an admirable job of tilting the ice in their team’s favour. That’s something that can’t be said for the time Sutter has spent flanking the Sedins on the right wing.

All of which makes the team’s apparent willingness to quickly pull the plug on that early season experiment while now insisting on seeing this much less fruitful one through despite all of the mounting evidence against it, all the more bizarre.

NAKED EYE (Dan Murphy):
I hate when I get Filipovic’s part of the column and find myself nodding the whole time I’m reading it. I should be able to rip him and make fun of him and call him out, but in this case the bearded dude is bang on. Brandon Sutter should not be playing with the twins. It’s not that Sutter isn’t a good player, it’s just that there are better fits with the Sedins on this current roster.

And the bizarre thing is that the head coach knows it too. Tuesday night Willie Desjardins moved Loui Eriksson up the ladder in the third period with the Canucks down two – and it paid off as the top line scored.

After the game Desjardins had this to say.

“I feel a little bit that Eriksson with the twins gives us the best chance at offence. And they scored the last game they were together and they scored tonight. When we get behind, I see it as a combination sometimes.

“The whole game, I like Sutter there. I think it just depends on the game and how the guys are playing.”

OK, I kind of understand what WD was trying to say. Sort of, I guess. He feels Sutter with the twins helps gives his team some balance on the top three lines. And we know that WD loves to roll lines in order to spread out the love, so to speak.

On the other hand he also knows that Eriksson makes more sense for the twins to succeed offensively. And you know what? I believe that sometimes (most times?) primary scoring should be the focus of a team even if the secondary scoring suffers a bit.

The Canucks are a team that has much difficulty scoring so WD should probably try to get the most out of Daniel and Henrik. And by his own words, Desjardins feels Eriksson is better than Sutter at helping the twins produce offence.

Eriksson was a big off-season signing for the Canucks. GM Jim Benning doled out a ton of money to bring him in. Now we can save the argument about whether that was a good idea for another day. But everyone knows he was signed to play with the Sedins. Vancouver brass was excited the three would get a chance to work on their chemistry at the World Cup.

Well, the line didn’t last long. And while most Canucks fans were probably OK with Jannik Hansen replacing Eriksson on the top unit considering how he fared with the twins last season – the fact that Sutter moved up when Hansen got hurt is a little perplexing.

The twins have shown they can succeed with just about anyone on their wing. Take Thursday night in Tampa for instance. Sutter had just finished killing a penalty so Jayson Megna was sent out for a twirl with the Sedins. And guess what happened? Megna scored.

Sure the assists read Biega and Tryamkin but Megna did spend some time prior to the goal in the old spin cycle. And before the period was up it was Megna, this time from Daniel, scoring his second of the game.

Sure Sutter has had some offensive success with the Sedins. However, the underlying numbers are troubling and I believe it’s time for Sutter to move back to the middle. Now, WD is about to receive a get out of jail free card on this whole debate anyway as Hansen is set to return. Logic says Hansen will resume his spot on the top line while Sutter will move back to the middle to play alongside Eriksson.

But if there comes a time when Hansen isn’t available or the coach wants to make a change on the top line, then it should be Eriksson that gets the promotion. And if not Eriksson, why not try Burrows?

I’m pretty sure he had some success up there at one time or another.