After losing Nick Bonino to free agency during the 2017 offseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins knew that the lack of a quality third-line center would be a glaring fault for the 2017-18 campaign. Trade rumors swirled for most of the season before the team acquired Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators just days before the trade deadline.
At the time, it was thought to be a great trade for Pittsburgh, a team that had hopes for a third consecutive Stanley Cup. Brassard was supposed to provide a boost in secondary scoring, but instead dealt with injuries down the stretch and failed to provide the team with much support.
Why Has Brassard Struggled as a Penguin?
Since joining the Penguins, Brassard has scored a total of 11 goals and 22 points in 51 regular season games. That .43 points-per-game pace is the worst he’s recorded with any of the four NHL clubs he’s played for during his career. Part of that could be due to his severe drop in ice time. He’s averaged just over 15 minutes of ice time in Pittsburgh opposed to his 17:47 during a season and a half with Senators.
At that time, Brassard was a strong top-nine forward with another season left on his contract. Now the 31-year-old is on an expiring deal with an offensive game that’s fallen off in recent seasons. In 37 games this season, he’s scored just 12 even strength points. During last season’s playoff run, he scored a goal and four points in 12 games and averaged a meager 13:29 of ice time. For what it’s worth, he was coming off a lower-body injury at that point and likely was not back to 100 percent.
However, it’s not all bad, as some of Brassard’s advanced statistics show that he still has the potential to be an impact player. He’s starting in the offensive zone just 41.1 percent of the time this season. That’s his lowest offensive-zone start rate and first time under 50 percent since the 2012-13 campaign.
His relative Corsi is minus-seven, and while that’s not a great number, it doesn’t help that he’s now confined to a bottom-six role on a team with a very strong top-six. For reference, Bryan Rust, a common linemate of Sidney Crosby, has a 2.1 relative Corsi. Rust is far from an elite player, but earning a spot on Crosby’s wing has its benefits.
For these reasons, it makes sense why the Penguins are looking to flip Brassard, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pointed out in his latest edition of “31 Thoughts.” Unfortunately, his trade value has seemingly taken a sizable drop compared to what the Penguins had to give up for him last season:
Where Will Brassard End up?
As Freidman mentioned, several teams, including the Winnipeg Jets and San Jose Sharks, could be interested in Brassard’s services. A few things make this trade difficult. First, he is on a $5 million expiring contract that includes a partial no-trade clause with which he can submit a list of eight teams he can block a trade to. On top of that, the Penguins won’t be interested in picks and prospects in exchange for their third-line center. GM Jim Rutherford knows that his team’s contention window won’t last forever and he’ll be looking for immediate NHL help.
Pittsburgh wasn’t satisfied with Riley Sheahan as the team’s third-line center last season and he’s done nothing to earn that job this season either. Because of that, the Penguins’ main target on the market would be a direct replacement for Brassard to center the third line. This would make it hard for a team like the Edmonton Oilers to strike a deal here. While they’re a team that is dying for some help at forward, they don’t have much to send in return that would intrigue Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg has Bryan Little and San Jose has Tomas Hertl, two options that Pittsburgh would certainly be interested in. However, both of those forwards have several years left under contract on teams that expect to continue competing in the near future.
Needless to say, a fair trade involving Brassard isn’t going to happen overnight. Finding the perfect trading partner will be tough, but that’s where the creativity of Rutherford comes into play. Approaching this season’s deadline, Rutherford has plenty of pieces to shop around with, including Brassard, Tristan Jarry, a defenseman such as Jamie Oleksiak and draft picks. After the team signed Casey DeSmith to a three-year extension, there doesn’t seem to be room for Jarry, and he might be the key to a blockbuster deal in a package with Brassard.
Jarry still has another season left on his current deal, but that contract changes from a two-way to a one-way next season. Pittsburgh’s goaltender situation appears to be locked in with DeSmith and Matt Murray, making Jarry an expendable, yet valuable, trade chip.
Rutherford had to involve a third team, the Vegas Golden Knights, to acquire Brassard last season and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see something similar to land a high-quality forward before this season’s deadline. It seems to be a near-guarantee that Brassard will be wearing a different sweater by the end of February, and fortunately for him, he’ll likely find a new home on another NHL contender.