Andy Sutton and Options

If nothing else, Andy Sutton will definitely hit people, and he sure is big too.

When Andy Sutton was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, I didn't think it made much sense for the team. A lot of that had to do with Sutton's play in Anaheim. Sure, he missed the start of the year because of a thumb injury, but he also missed five of six playoff games as a healthy scratch. And he wasn't exactly getting sat down for a who's who either: a raw rookie in Cam Fowler, a very green Luca Sbisa, long-time tweener Sheldon Brookbank, and oldster Andreas Lilja. Why was Sutton behind this crew of players?

During the season, Randy Carlyle tried his best to protect Sutton at even strength, giving the tough zone-starts and tough competition to our old friend Lubomir Visnovsky, and partner Toni Lydman. Sutton ended up with 53.3% of his end-zone starts in the offensive zone, but had just 45.4% of his end-zone finishes in the offensive zone. His Corsi of -18.74/60 was the second-worst rate among Ducks' defenders, and significantly worse than any of the Oilers' regular defenders with the exception of Jason Strudwick. You'll notice that one guy he didn't beat was Kurtis Foster, who took a lot of deserved flack, but is probably a better player and better fit than Sutton.

One thing that fans didn't like about Foster was his lack of physical play, and that's certainly one area that Sutton has Foster beat. Of course, last season, that physical play resulted in Sutton being one of the most frequently penalized defensemen in the league. More physicality is good, but when it results in a tonne of penalties, it almost certainly doesn't help the team win games. In terms of fit, Sutton just doesn't. Theo Peckham brings a lot of what Sutton does but with a lot more upside. If Sutton is slated for the right side, why not just stay with Foster who would be playing his natural position? His subtraction and Sutton's addition gives the club a fifth left-handed defender at the NHL level (or sixth if Taylor Chorney beats Jeff Petry for a spot in training camp). I'm convinced the Oilers would have been best served by waiting for a better deal or by keeping Foster on the team, but if the club was committed to ridding themselves of Foster, buying him out would have been better than the trade they made.

If Foster had been bought out, it would have cost the Oilers a total of $1,200,000 spread over two years. Andy Sutton will instead cost the Oilers $2,250,000 this year. Using that budget of $1,050,000, could the Oilers have gotten better value (and a better fit) by buying out Foster and shopping for another defenseman in free agency? I think they that they probably could have. I don't have anyone specific in mind, but one guy who's still available today is Nick Boynton, and he would likely come very cheap. He provides the Oilers with the physical presence and nastiness that they get from Sutton and his recent results, while not exactly good (there's a reason he's still available), are a little bit better than Sutton's. He's also comfortable playing the right side, which would help the Oilers to keep each guy playing the position he's familiar with.

I know that Sutton might end up playing well for the Oilers, and I know that in the overall plan, this kind of deal is pretty much insignificant (the difference between winning and losing this year is not Sutton v. Foster v. Boynton), but this is one of those little moves that just rub me the wrong way because they make the team a little bit worse and a little bit less balanced than it was before. It's the kind of trade that Steve Tambellini will need to do a good job of when the team is trying to win. If it's not being done well now, I find that concerning.

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