The announcement that the Checkers captain had agreed to a new contract with the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday came at around the same time that he returned to his home in Calgary, Alberta, following a mandatory evacuation from the devastating flooding that had occurred in the area.
After spending several days on the family farm, he came back to find his residence in good shape. Both of his neighbors, whose basements are completely underwater, weren’t as fortunate, and a quick walk through his neighborhood with his dog on Monday showed driveways littered with drywall and debris.
“It’s been really crazy around here,” said Sutter.
Fortunately, the process of coming to an agreement with Carolina, one that resulted in another one-year, two-way deal similar to the one he just completed, was less dramatic. For the second consecutive season, Sutter chose not to test the open market as an unrestricted free agent, instead staying with the organization that traded for him back in November of 2010.
“Carolina has always been really honest with me and treated me well,” said Sutter, who turned 26 earlier this month. “I’m a strong believer that if you put in your time and work hard you get rewarded, and I’m excited to have an opportunity to do that.”
It helps that, after six professional seasons, the coming opportunity may be his best yet. The Hurricanes are set to undergo a rebuild of their third and fourth lines in an effort to add more toughness and grit and improve on penalty killing.
In other words, they’re looking for players like Brett Sutter.
“It’s going to be a really interesting training camp,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, who had plenty of praise for Sutter’s leadership throughout a topsy-turvy season. “There’s disappointment with not making the playoffs, so they’re going to be looking for players who can make them better. Hopefully guys that were with us last season show up in shape and are able to do that.”
“For the first time I feel like I have a real opportunity,” said Sutter. “I thought it was worth it to come back and work for one more year.”
Aside from turning down the chance to speak with other NHL teams, he more than likely would have had a job somewhere in Europe if he so desired.
“Hearing a lot of the money getting thrown around there it’s in the back of your mind, but at the end of the day this is my dream and my goal, to make the NHL,” he said.
While the timing is right given Carolina’s needs, Sutter also did himself plenty of favors in what was a stellar season with Charlotte. A secondary scorer in his first five AHL campaigns, he finished second on the Checkers in scoring with 48 points last season, a 19-point increase over his previous high. Of his 19 goals, 17 came at even strength, more than any other Checker, as he only began to see time on the power play during the late portions of the season.
Amid a relatively consistent year, he made several splashes along the way. He had three separate four-point outings, setting a new career high and tying the franchise record for most points in a single game. One of those came in Peoria on April 16, when he scored two goals and two assists, including the overtime winner, as the Checkers rallied from a 3-0 deficit with five minutes remaining in regulation. He also scored his first career hat trick against the Rivermen in October.
Sutter admits he may never be asked to repeat those feats in the NHL, but they haven’t hurt his cause.
“Obviously the goal is for him to make Carolina, and he opened a lot of eyes,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels. “They’re trying to get grittier, especially on those bottom two lines, and that’s going to be his role. He’s tough to play against, he can play the center or the wing and he can kill penalties, but now he’s shown that he can make a few plays.”
When asked to explain his increased production throughout the season, one of the things Sutter pointed to was working to improve his skating during the offseason, a suggestion initially made by the Hurricanes. He plans to continue that this summer.
“The fact that I’m getting older, I feel like the chances are running out for me,” he said. “There are younger guys coming up that are going to move higher in the depth chart, and I think there’s that bit of desperation to go the extra mile.”
After nearly 450 professional games, including 37 in the NHL, the finish line may never be closer. If he does ends up having to spend more time in Charlotte, the Checkers certainly won’t mind.
“We’d love to have him back,” said Daniels. “He’s playing for a roster spot (in Carolina), but if it doesn’t work out, we know what we’re getting.”