The notion of signing a short-team contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t appeal to Brandon Sutter, and yet neither did inking a long-term deal.
In the end, Sutter and the Penguins met in the middle, with the former Red Deer Rebels captain scribbling his signature on a two-year pact totalling $6.6 million earlier this month.
William DePaoli of Inside Pittsburgh Sports reported that Sutter’s camp was seeking a one-year contract due to the 25-year-old being eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2015, but the Red Deer minor hockey product said Friday that wasn’t his wish.
“I was definitely kind of unsure, but I wasn’t too crazy about a one-year deal,” he said, prior to participating in a pro/alumni skate during the Rebels training camp at the Enmax Centrium.
“I think two years is kind of perfect. There was talk of a two- to four-year deal, but two years seemed to be the best fit for me now. Obviously you never know what’s going to happen with the salary cap and what’s going to be available in two years time, or where your team is going to be at, too. It’s just a good length of time for me. We have a new coach coming in and in a couple of years we’ll see how it goes.”
Sutter was referring to new Penguins bench boss Mike Johnston, who in June was hired to replace the fired Dan Bylsma. Johnston, 57, was assistant/associate coach of the Vancouver Canucks from 1999-2006, associate coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 2006-08 and was the GM/head coach of the Portland Winterhawks the past six years.
Sutter met his new coach earlier this summer when Johnston traveled to Red Deer for a face-to-face meeting.
“I sat down and had lunch with him. He seems like a pretty personable guy, a guy who’s easy to talk to and has a smart mind,” said Sutter.
The Penguins centre, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in 2012 in a deal that send Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes, wasn’t surprised by the Pittsburgh coaching change.
“I think we were kind of due for a change, but I also think that there was probably a little more change over the summer than we as players expected,” he said. “It’s been kind of a wild off-season, but once all the guys get together in Pittsburgh and start playing, it will be just another season. Things always change. It’s just the way the business is now.”
While Bylsma was replaced as coach about a month following the Penguins’ Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the second round of the NHL playoffs, the firing of general manager Ray Shero came as somewhat of a shock to most people involved in the game.
“That surprised us (players). I think most of the coaches knew what was going to happen with them, but I don’t think anyone saw this (Shero’s dismissal) coming,” said Sutter.
Sutter is certainly familiar with the man who replaced Shero. Jim Rutherford, after all, was the Hurricanes’ GM during Sutter’s four years with the organization.
“He did my first and second contracts. He drafted me (in the first round of 2007 NHL entry draft), signed me to two contracts, traded me and signed me to this contract,” said Sutter. “It’s kind of funny how it goes, but Jimmy is a good guy and has been pretty good to me over the years. I’m excited to get the chance to work with him again.”
While there were changes in the Penguins hockey operations staff, the club also bid adieu to 10 players — including forwards James Neal, Jussi Jokinen and Lee Stempniak, and defenceman Brooks Orpik — and added six skaters, including rearguard Christian Ehrhoff and forwards Steve Downie and Nick Spaling.
Downie could be Sutter’s linemate in 2014-15.
“It’s going to be interesting. I don’t know who I’ll be starting with, but from talking to Mike it sounds like maybe Downie or maybe Pascal Dupuis or Nick Spaling,” said Sutter. “There’s a few different options and I’m sure the coaches will try and find the right mixes for the top nine forwards.”
As the Penguins’ third-line centre last winter, Sutter scored 13 goals and 26 points in 81 regular-season games, including a team-high three short-handed goals. He then set career Stanley Cup playoff highs with five goals, seven points and a plus-7 rating.
“It was good, I had a chance to play a lot in the playoffs,” he said.
Sutter got second-line minutes during the Pens’ shortened post-season run when the club opted to play superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together.
“I was able to play with a couple of guys who were a bit more offensive, so that helped open up some more opportunities for me,” he said. “I think I proved I can play that role, too. I thought I played well, but again, we came up short as a team. We kind of went cold the last couple of games.”
Sutter will rejoin the Penguins Sept. 8.