Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter doing just fine without Shea Weber
When the Norris Trophy nominees were revealed last week, three first time finalists had made the cut. P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens and Kris Letang were on the list after tying for the league lead in points among defenseman, and perhaps the biggest surprise of the group, Ryan Suter. Not necessarily because he didn't deserve to be there, but Suter certainly had his doubters after signing that huge $98M contract last off-season.
Many of those skeptics would have been hesitant to give that kind of money to someone who had the luxury of playing alongside superstar Shea Weber for his entire career. It's not that Suter didn't have the capabilities to perform at a high level, but the two defensemen had never been apart and that would make anyone question how they would perform without one another. People fear the unknown and $98M is a big investment/risk any way you slice it.
Suter had always played second fiddle in Nashville to Weber in some respects. While they were both clearly great talents,Weber was always regarded as number 1, and Suter 1A. At least that was the perception to much of the outside hockey world. With that being said, for all the talk of how important Weber was to Suter's game, his contribution to Weber's play is often overlooked.
The pair played nearly 70% of their shifts together in 2011-12, so you knew each would have an adjustment this year as no matter who their new partners were, as it would likely be a drop-off in talent level. This would have had to concern fantasy owners for both players on what effect that would have on their production. The worries might have been elevated when both Weber and Suter were partnered with inexperienced players in 2013.
Weber was with second year player Roman Josi for the majority of this season. No offense intended to Josi, but for Weber that must have been like going from a Lamborghini to John Voight's LeBaron Convertible. After getting off to a slow start in the point department though, Weber sorted things out and finished with 28. That would have amounted to a 48 point pace for an 82-game season, which is right on par for a typical Weber campaign offensively. Where he did hurt poolies slightly and showed signs of missing Suter, was in the plus/minus category. Weber went minus-2 on the year after being a plus-21 in 2011-12. Losing Suter in favour of Josi undoubtedly was a major reason for that.
Suter was in a similar situation this season as he played the bulk of the time with rookie Jonas Brodin. The former Predator was actually able to improve his offensive numbers in 2013 by finishing third in scoring for defensemen with 32 points. That would have been a career high 55-point season if not for an unneeded lockout. Not only that, but Suter did wonders for Brodin's inaugural year in the NHL. The young Swede finished with 11 points, a plus-3 rating, and was second on the Wild in ice-time per game. Many also felt he was worthy of a Calder Trophy nomination. Playing with a premier player obviously benefits anyone, but it helps out younger inexperienced players even more. Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks for example has also enjoyed great success in 2013 playing on a line with Jonathan Toews.
How Suter has benefited others around him and his upswing offensively was impressive, but there were other areas of his game that truly showed his growth as a player. Suter led the entire NHL in ice-time averaging a whopping 27:16 per game. In fact, throughout the playoffs and dating back to the final four regular season games when the Wild were trying to clinch a playoff spot, Suter was actually averaging over 30 minutes per contest.
Poolies would have certainly been happy with all the ice-time Suter was receiving, but they may not have been happy with his drop in plus/minus. Suter was a plus-15 last year in Nashville and slid all the way down to a plus-2 rating in 2013. To some that may have been viewed as a substantial decrease, but don't rush to judgment before looking at it from all angles. Keep in mind he went from Weber to playing with a rookie, and also take into account that he joined a Minnesota team who finished 2011-12 ranked 13th in goals against and dead last in goals for. That's a recipe for a minus rating if I've ever heard one. The fact that Suter was able to maintain a plus is a huge accomplishment.
You can look at Suter's great individual stats all day, but the Wild will tell you his biggest contribution this season was helping Minnesota get back to the playoffs for the first time in five years. Coincidentally, the Predators failed to crack the post-season for only the second time in the last nine campaigns. There were definitely a number of reasons why Nashville missed out on spring hockey in 2013, but the loss of Suter would probably be near the top of the list.
Weber and Suter have had a shortened season to get acclimated to life without one another. By the same token, poolies have had to do the same. The security blanket of having the other right there next to them on the ice is gone. You could debate all day who is more valuable or which one you would rather have on your squad, but Suter has certainly proven his worth to Minnesota. And that is something he has done all on his own.
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