Anaheim calling to the hockey world...
In his first game in a Ducks sweater, Andy Sutton fell to a fractured thumb after only 16 shifts. As Anaheim struggled in the absence of one of their three designated top 4 defensemen, it was only natural to assume the team might receive a performance boost upon his return.
Instead, after three games back from injury, Sutton has caused more than a few fire drills in his defensive zone. That's not to say that the newly signed free agent was ever prized for his decision-making and one-on-one defense above his size, shotblocking and hitting, but for a defensive corps that started the season so inept, his play has brought some rather unwelcome instability.
Daniel, do you think Andy Sutton's performance so far is rust, or do you think Sutton isn't the greatest defenseman to begin with?
I'd like to stop short of saying he's bad. He's certainly the worst defender on our team right now. He's screening the goalie instead of blocking shots. On the first goal, he slid at Ray Whitney, but took himself out of the play, which allowed Whitney to find Derek Morris. Right now, Sutton is not playing as advertised. I know when you go for the big hit you end up out of the play, but I haven't seen any great hits from Sutton. I haven't seen the key blocked shots.
When the Ducks were on that winning streak, the D looked composed and cohesive. Everyone knew where their partner was, and we were getting the puck out of our zone. Mistakes were still being made, but the team play was at a much higher level, thus yielding better results. Sutton has been running around. Even worse, he's been indecisive. I think the recent success of Wisniewski and Whitney has demonstrated that "bad" can be a very arbitrary term, especially dealing with a Carlyle system. I won't say Sutton is a bad defender. I will say that he hasn't fit in well in his short stint with Anaheim. If he doesn't improve quickly, he needs to go. Right now, he's just dragging down Fowler.
I think the baffling thing for me is that Carlyle's system plays to Sutton's strengths. I can understand Whitney and Wisniewski's frustration with throwing the puck into the boards, always making the safe play and never getting to show off their offense. I mean, no one grows up wanting to be an 'off the glass as a first option' defenseman, so it's hard to embrace that role if you're talented.
Personally, I've never seen Sutton as anything more than an 'off the glass as a first option' defenseman. He's a great hitter, a great shotblocker, but I can't imagine any coach in a puck possession system lobbying his GM to get Andy Sutton as a puck mover. That's why his turnover to Sharp against the Blackhawks felt so unforgivable. Here's a guy who found a way to look bad in a system designed to hide his flaws. He dragged out the mea culpa, I should know better after the game, but a lot of what he's doing is raising eyebrows.
I don't think our expectations are too high, because I think our expectations are as you said: hitting and shotblocking. I will add to that elementary decision-making in a system that asks you to find the boards and your D partner more often than it asks you to find your forwards.
We're not seeing those things yet. And because they're things that Sutton has shown in recent years, I'm leaning towards rust, but honestly, it's not like he was a sought after free agent for teams looking to fill their Top 4 this summer. He's a 2M veteran who was only good at the things the Ducks were missing last season. If he can't deliver those things, then it's hard for me to say we didn't get what we paid for. If we stopped shopping in the refurbished aisle of the outlet store, I might be able to locate my outrage more easily.