As the old adage goes: one hockey man’s trash is another hockey man’s treasure.
The Ottawa Senators have historically had success with these types of transactions — in which they take on a struggling asset, and turn them into a key player on their roster. Kyle Turris, a former third overall pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, was verging on “bust” territory before being traded to Ottawa in 2012, where he became a bonafide 1B centre, and clutch playoff performer for six years. Anthony Duclair had a similar backstory before arriving in the capital in 2019, and earning an All-Star nod the following season.
With the club searching for help up the middle, it’s an avenue that may be worth revisiting.
It came as a surprise to many when news broke that the Chicago Blackhawks would not be extending a qualifying offer to centre Pius Suter, setting the 24 year-old up to enter unrestricted free agency on Wednesday. For a player that notched 27 points in his first 55-game NHL season, it’s something of a head-scratcher to potentially let Suter go for free.
While it’s difficult to understand what the Blackhawks are thinking, the Senators will almost certainly be kicking tires on the Wallisellen, Switzerland native when free agency opens on the 28th. If and when that happens, the question becomes whether or not Suter is a fit within the Senators’ roster construction.
The player himself is a fascinating case study. Suter played junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm, and finding himself undrafted, spent six seasons with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss-A league. He and the Lions won the Swiss Championship in 2018, and all told, Suter finished this chapter of his Swiss career with 173 career points in 216 games, while also playing for his country on several world stages, including the 2018 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Fleeting NHL opportunities came and went for Suter — attending Ottawa’s 2017 development camp, and the New York Islanders’ in 2018 — before signing a one-year deal with the Blackhawks in 2020. Going from the frying pan to the fire, Suter was immediately catapulted into a top line role, with star centres Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach missing significant time. To that end, Suter’s most frequent linemates this season were Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, resting comfortably on Chicago’s first line for the 2021 campaign.
It’s interesting, then, that Suter was the only member of that line who didn’t have a standout season, at least statistically speaking. Kane logged 66 points in 56 games, while DeBrincat logged 56 in 52. Much of this can likely be attributed to the sheer talent of the aforementioned wingers, but a look under the hood at Suter’s numbers tells the story of an effective two-way player.
Courtesy of hockeyviz.com, Suter’s isolated impact demonstrates an ability to create high-danger chances in the offensive zone, including on the powerplay. The numbers back this up too, with Suter’s 132 high-danger chances ranking first among Blackhawks forwards. His expected goals percentage was also fifth on the team, and second among forwards, at 47.85.
There is perhaps some work to do defensively, but Suter doesn’t give up much in high-danger areas, and at only 24 years of age, this is a metric that will likely improve at least slightly over the next few years. Suter also needs to improve on the faceoff dot, with his percentage standing at just 41.87 in 2021.
All told, Evolving-Hockey lists Suter as being worth 6.3 goals above replacement, and 1.1 wins above replacement.
While Suter is likely being deployed above his head as a first-liner, he would undoubtedly make the Senators better, and deeper through their middle six. A player like Suter, who can immediately slot in on the team’s second line, would allow Ottawa to take their time with Shane Pinto, and get him top minutes in Belleville if necessary, with Colin White and a fourth liner — I’m partial to Clark Bishop — rounding out the bottom six. Suter’s two-way ability would also serve as a nice compliment to the firepower of Tim Stützle, and having already been productive with Kane, we know Suter can keep pace with Ottawa’s prized sophomore.
We can safely say that Suter should be of interest to the Senators, but what should his contract look like? Evolving-Hockey projects Suter signing for a four-year term, at a cap hit of about $4.18 million. For perspective’s sake, that’s not only less money than White currently makes, but also less than players that the Senators have been rumoured to be pursuing to address their needs at centre; such as Ryan Strome and Nazem Kadri, both at $4.5 million apiece. So not only is Suter a younger player, but he could save Ottawa some money, as well.
A contract in the neighbourhood of 4x$4 million, for a 24 year-old player who can bring some stability to Ottawa’s middle six should be a no-brainer.
At the end of the day, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is making a mistake by not hanging on to a young, productive asset in Suter. If the Senators want to be competitive any time soon, they need to start taking advantage of teams — as has been done to them in years past — and take chances on effective players. Suter should be at the top of that list.