Blackhawks miss Pius Suter’s efficiency, consistency as he delivers for Red Wings
The Hawks’ decision not to pay Suter last summer looks imprudent in retrospect, and they’ll get a firsthand reminder of that Wednesday in Detroit.
DETROIT — Swiss center Pius Suter has delivered the same efficiency for the Red Wings that he provided for the Blackhawks last season.
Entering the matchup Wednesday between the rivals — Suter’s second game against the team that brought him to the NHL, then promptly ditched him — it’s clear how much the Hawks miss a player like him.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable,” Suter said Tuesday. “I’ve been playing better. I’m maybe not producing as much [as I’d like] on the stat sheet, but I definitely took a step forward from last year and during this year.”
Suter, 25, ranks seventh on the Wings with 19 points in 42 games, a pace similar to last season, when he had 27 points in 55 games.
Ex-Hawks general manager Stan Bowman, hell-bent on shooting for the moon rather than retaining a solid role player, shied away from meeting his price tag as a restricted free agent in July.
The Wings swooped in with a two-year, $6.5 million offer, making him their fourth-highest-paid forward, but not before Suter — who had said in May that he wanted to re-sign and was “confident they’ll figure something out” — was shaken by the Hawks’ lack of interest.
“You can tell [from the tone of] talks, and, with time, you can tell what might be happening,” he said, looking back. “But I didn’t know the NHL that well. I knew the information, but I’d never experienced an offseason. I was, at the end, a little bit surprised.”
In retrospect, the Hawks would’ve been better off giving Suter that raise themselves.
Bowman’s gambles on Henrik Borgstrom — whose acquisition required the Hawks to absorb Brett Connolly’s $3.5 million salary-cap hit — and Tyler Johnson, with his $5 million cap hit, haven’t paid off. All three have been injury-plagued and have combined for only 10 points.
The steady, unheralded Suter, meanwhile, would be a perfect fit as Patrick Kane’s center, just like he was last season. The Hawks haven’t maintained any stability in that spot.
Suter was effective there because he never needed the puck on his stick. Conversely, he’d create open space, drive to the net, screen the goalie, find loose pucks and rebounds, then finish at a high rate.
He led the Hawks last season in expected goals per shot and shot-attempt accuracy (judging by the percentage that made it on goal), demonstrating his efficiency. He’s doing the same thing with Detroit: His 0.077 expected goals per shot ranks second among Wings regulars — and would also rank second on the Hawks, behind only Mac-Kenzie Entwistle.
“We can play him with good players because he’s two things,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “One, he’s smart offensively and can help facilitate getting guys the puck in good areas. And, two, he’s smart defensively, and any issues that the wingers have, he does a good job of making up for it.
‘‘He’s got both those areas covered. He’s been a real versatile player for us.
“He knows that’s where goals are scored, so he’s very committed to finding ways to be . . . around the cage. And he’s done a good job of it. That’s where a lot of his goals were scored a year ago; that’s where his goals are scored this year.”
With Hawks interim coach Derek King lamenting his team’s lack of net-front presence Monday in the loss to the Avalanche, having someone like Suter would be quite helpful.
Instead, Suter will be using his skills to try to beat the Hawks.
“It will be fun to see a few guys,” Suter said, noting he has kept in touch with Philipp Kurashev in particular.
“I’m definitely motivated to play them. It was only one year, but [it was] still a really memorable time. It’ll be fun.”