Cross Checks: Andy Sutton
ANDY SUTTON ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT FROM NHL AFTER 15 YEARS
Veteran defenceman played in 676 games with seven teams
TORONTO (May 22, 2013) – Andy Sutton officially announced his retirement from the National Hockey League (NHL) today, following a 15-year career.
As a result of the physical game he played as a defenceman, he endured 12 surgeries for various injuries that caused him to miss a number of games in his career. Notwithstanding, Sutton played in 676 NHL games for seven different NHL teams. He registered 1,134 hits, 1,164 blocked shots and 1,185 penalty minutes, while also scoring 38 goals and 112 assists for 150 points in his career.
“My NHL career enabled me to not only play the game I love, but to also be a part of something that so many kids dream about growing up,” said Andy Sutton. “Throughout my 15 years in the league, I have played for some exceptional hockey teams and have met quality people and friends along the way. None of what I accomplished on the ice would have been possible without the unwavering support of my family, friends, teammates and fans who made playing hockey even more enjoyable.”
He was always known for his resiliency, toughness and steady play. At 6’6”, 245 lbs., Sutton was a hulking, stay-at-home defenseman who was not afraid to sacrifice his body to make a play or save a goal. His dependable play was valued by each team he played for, evident in his average ice-time of 17:42 during the regular season in his career.
“Having played with Andy, I can say that his leadership and character both on the ice and in the dressing room were extremely valuable to me as a young a player in the league,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers centre. “He taught me a lot about what it takes to play at this level, and he was a great teammate.”
Sutton’s career in the NHL began with the San Jose Sharks in 1998-99, before he went on to play with the Minnesota Wild, Atlanta Thrashers, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Anaheim Ducks and finally the Edmonton Oilers where he finished his career.
Prior to reaching the NHL, he played 121 games in four seasons with Michigan Tech, which included an outstanding senior season in 1997-98 when he scored 40 points in 38 games and was named to the All-WCHA Second Team. While developing his on-ice game in college, Sutton also earned a degree in engineering.
Sutton signed with the San Jose Sharks in 1998 and played in his first NHL game on October 20, 1998. After spending the following season with the Sharks, he was traded to the Minnesota Wild on June 11, 2000. Sutton played 69 games in 2000-01 in Minnesota, while leading the Wild in hits (123) and ranking second in penalty minutes (131). On January 22, 2002, he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers where he played for the better part of the next five years.
In the 2003-04 season with the Thrashers, he set career highs in power play goals (7), shots (102) and average ice-time (23:34), while leading all Atlanta defencemen in goals (8) and accumulating a five-game points streak in March of that year. Sutton played for GCK and ZSC in Switzerland during the 2004-05 lockout. In the 2005-06 season, he led the team in penalty minutes (144) and blocked shots (195) – fourth most in the league – while tying a personal best in goals (8) and also registering career highs in games played (76) and points (25), along with plus-minus (+13) which was tops among all Thrashers defencemen. In 2006-07, as part of the first and only Thrashers team in franchise history to make the playoffs, Sutton ranked 19th in the NHL in blocked shots (162) and he played in 55 regular season games and all four playoff games.
He played three seasons on Long Island after signing with the New York Islanders in the summer of 2007. In 2007-08, he finished second on the team in penalty minutes (86). In 2008-09, he played in his 500th career game (November 17, 2008 vs. Vancouver). In the 2009-10 season, which he split between the Islanders and Ottawa Senators, he ranked second in the league in blocked shots (204) and eighth among all defenceman in hits (197). In the six playoff games he played for the Senators, he averaged more than 23 minutes of ice-time. In 2010-11, after signing as a free agent with the Anaheim Ducks, he finished fifth on the team in blocked shots (87) and first in plus-minus on the road (+6), and made another playoff appearance.
On July 1, 2011, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Sutton was a solid contributor in Edmonton in 2011-12, registering 10 points, a plus/minus of +5, 112 hits, 95 blocked shots and 80 penalty minutes in 52 games. While under contract with the Oilers for 2012-13, he was forced to sit out the entire season due to a knee injury.
“I had the pleasure of working with Andy in Edmonton. In the season he played for us, not only did he accept his role on the team, but what he was doing in helping bring our young kids along, and the person he was, was really influential on our group. We’re grateful to Andy for that,” said Ralph Krueger, Edmonton Oilers head coach. “He always showed great character, stayed a gentleman in the process, and he gave us a good effort in his final season. We were sorry to lose him for this past season and it’s really too bad he couldn’t have played. I wish him all the best.”
Andy resides in California with his wife, Natalie, and daughter, Kseniya. He is in the process of licensing the seven technology patents for bodily protection systems that he has been working on for the past few years.
The 37-year-old rugged defenseman is facing the 12th surgery of his career in a few weeks, and the rehab that’s attached to it has certainly given him pause for thought on his NHL future.
"Especially having to go through this long, tough rehab again, I don’t know how I’m going to come out of it on the other side," Sutton told ESPN.com this week from his home in Newport Beach, Calif.
He suffered a knee injury in the summer and had surgery in early October, but that was only the beginning.
"I basically broke a chunk off my femur, the piece I broke off was giving me a lot of discomfort, so they went in and sort of cleaned up my knee and took out the chunk," Sutton explained. "Now, I have to repair the defect that’s there. Otherwise, it’ll just keep getting bigger. It’s bone on bone in two spots in my knee. I have another surgery scheduled in the next few weeks in Santa Monica to fix that defect. And I guess the road to recovery from that is quite long and arduous. So I don’t know, this is going to be my 12th surgery, I’m pretty tired of what I’ve done to my body."
There was a slight pause on the phone line before he added: "I have a 14-month-old, I just want to be able to chase her around and enjoy my life. Because there is more to life than hockey, that’s for sure."
If this is indeed it for Sutton, the toughest part will have been not knowing that when he stepped onto the ice last April 7 in Edmonton’s season finale, he was playing his last game.
"I didn’t know that the last game of the season we played in Vancouver may have inevitably been my last," he said. "It’s definitely not the way I thought I’d go out after a good, long career. But at the same time, this has allowed me to be here around my family now. I think having a child has changed my perspective about everything and certainly my priorities."
He thinks of the big picture, too, for the game he loves. Especially living in a non-traditional hockey market in Southern California, Sutton just shakes his head at the damage the second NHL lockout of his career is causing.
"I think it’s sad more than anything," Sutton said. "We gained so much momentum -- it felt like -- after the last lockout and the league really seemed to be prospering and the fans were getting more passionate about the game. I think we’ve lost that momentum that we managed to build up. That’s sad for me."
He points to hockey-crazy Edmonton, where he would be playing this season.
"Being an Oiler is an exciting time," Sutton said. "We’ve got these great, young players. That’s all on hold right now. It’s disappointing for the fans more than anything."
He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season, but it’s that rising squad in Edmonton that has him not totally closing the door on playing again if he’s able to get through his rehab without regressing.
"I really did enjoy my time there last year," Sutton said. "It’s a fun place to play. The fans are amazing. It’s such a hockey city and even more so now with all the talent growing there in front of everyone’s eyes."
Being one of the few veterans on a young and exciting team has its alluring aspects.
"The last couple of years my role has diminished significantly, but it’s been a lot of fun in Anaheim two years ago spending time with young guys like Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa, and last year in Edmonton with all the young guys there," Sutton said. "They give you so much energy, they really reinvigorated my desire to come to the rink every day.
"So I don’t know, it’s tempting. But at the same time my wife and I are going to try to have another child in the next little while. I think we’ll just leave it open and see how the rehab goes and see how the season shakes out with these labor negotiations."
In the meantime, he’s trying to keep his spirits up.
"I was pretty down when I found out the severity of the injury, it kind of slapped me in the face," Sutton said. "But there’s more to life than hockey and, when I wake up in the morning and hear my daughter cry out my name and see her standing at the end of her crib, it puts things in perspective."
Thought I'd pass on some updates on a few potential unrestricted free agents who might be a little under the radar:
Keep an eye on Johnny Boychuk. He's only 26 years old, but he qualifies as a Group 6 unrestricted free agent. He broke through last season with a solid second half and a very nice playoffs. He led all Bruins players with 39 blocked shots in 13 postseason games (Zdeno Chara was second with 24) and was second only to Chara in ice time per game in the playoffs (26:10) and shorthanded ice time per game (3:18).
Nice ręsumę to have as a potential UFA, but the blueliner wants to stay in Boston, and talks with the Bruins have gone well so far.
"We're hopeful. I think it's positive where we're at," said Boychuk's agent, Gerry Johansson, to ESPN.com on Wednesday. "You never know how it's going to end up, but our priority is to keep Johnny in Boston. It's a nice option to [being UFA], but it's certainly our intention to make it work with Boston. We've had good conversations."
• I can't tell you how many Penguins fans ask me about Matt Cooke. The veteran winger is UFA July 1, and at this point, it doesn't appear his re-signing is close.
"Currently, we're far apart," said his agent, Pat Morris, on Wednesday. "Matt would like to stay in Pittsburgh; both sides would like to get something done, but nothing is imminent."
• Morris also represents UFAs Andy Sutton and Matt Cullen, two current Senators who may hit the market. Sutton is an intriguing option: a traditional shut-down blueliner who was second among NHL defensemen this past season in blocked shots and eighth in hits.
"He'd like to stay in Ottawa, but talks with them have been slow as they try to sign [Anton] Volchenkov first," Morris said.
Cullen might stay in Ottawa, but he's also on the back burner as the Sens focus on Volchenkov.
"He can play the point on the power play and can play wing if need be on a deep team," Morris said. "Ottawa has a great deal of interest in him."
• Center Olli Jokinen, UFA July 1, appears to be headed to market and not staying with the Rangers.
"They have not talked to us. I do not expect them to at this point," said Jokinen's agent, Mark Gandler, to ESPN.com. "I thought he played well in New York. I think he has a lot of value in the league. I think a lot of teams could use him. He has a few good years ahead of him. He's healthy, he's got skill and ability."
The KHL isn't an option at this point. "He wants to play in the NHL," Gandler said.
• Pavol Demitra, 35, is almost surely leaving Vancouver, which isn't surprising given his constant place in coach Alain Vigneault's doghouse over the past few seasons. He didn't produce a whole lot with the Canucks; but on the flip side, he was named to the Olympic All-Star team after a standout performance with Slovakia in February. He will likely sign a lower-base salary with bonuses since he's over 35 years old, which makes him easier to take under the cap.
"He could be a very good value to a team that needs depth in the top six," said his agent Matt Keator to ESPN.com.