Another quick, slightly late dispatch from the vacation trail: Free agent defenseman Andy Sutton has been added on a two-year, $4.25 million contract.
Sutton immediately addresses the Ducks’ need for a veteran top-four defenseman, although he isn’t the point producer many anticipated – namely, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tomas Kaberle. Sutton is another shot-blocker, to the tune of 204 last season — second-most in the NHL. While averaging 20:24 of ice time, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder was also eighth among all defenseman with 197 hits. Sutton chipped in with five goals and eight assists in a regular season split between the Islanders and Senators.
Said Anaheim GM Bob Murray (via the team’s official website): “We inquired about him at the deadline last year. I just couldn’t make
things work in time to get him. … I talked to Pat Morris (his agent) very early about Andy. We waited a
little while and talked again. I had to see where the whole (James) Wisniewski
thing went and we had to let that play out a little bit. I think Andy is
very excited about playing with our group and we’re very excited to
have him. We were all patient and let things unfold.”
While regarded as one of the top defensive-minded defensemen still on the market, there are concerns about Sutton’s giveaways (he had 64 in 72 games last season) and durability. The 35-year-old missed eight games last season with a groin injury, and has broken the 70-game plateau only twice in his career.
The Ducks’ other main blue-line acquisition, Toni Lydman, is also a giveaway liability — he had 49 in 67 games last season. But he’s also a good shot-blocker who piles up hits. If nothing else the Ducks will enter the season with two proven defensemen (Sutton and Lydman) who are tough to play against in the defensive zone. Brett Festerling and Sheldon Brookbank are close to being mentioned in that group, as well.
The question now is, who will move the puck and take the shot from the blue line? If they don’t make a play for Kaberle, the Ducks may turn to rookies Luca Sbisa, Cam Fowler or even Danny Syvret to help replace the offensive contributions of retired captain Scott Niedermayer. Aside from workhorse Lubomir Visnovsky, who averaged 5:09 power-play time per game last season, no current Ducks defenseman averaged more than 0:55 per game on the power play last season (that was Lydman).
There is also the question of how quickly the defense will come together as a unit. That was among the Ducks’ main issues early last season, when they were trying to integrate three new defensemen (Nick Boynton, Sbisa and Steve Eminger). This year, only Brookbank will come into training camp having had a full NHL season under head coach Randy Carlyle’s system; Sutton, Lydman, Fowler and Syvret will have had no in-game experience at all.
This has not dampened Sutton’s optimism.
“It’s a great fit,” he said. “It’s
a team that can go all the way, which was important to me. It’s a
mature team, a veteran team and the sky is the limit with this club.”