Hockey news has been dead for the last month. There haven’t been a lot of signings or moves lately, so naturally, Derick Brassard being close to signing with a team was all the talk over the last week. It all started with a tweet from former Edmonton Oiler Georges Laraque, who “heard” that the Oilers would sign Brassard to a one-year deal. Of course, this was all hearsay, but it didn’t stop Oilers fans from making mock lineups to see how he would fit on the team.
To everyone’s surprise the next day, Brassard signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million with the New York Islanders. Analysts and journalists have made the claims that Edmonton “missed out” and that they could have benefitted tremendously from such a signing. Depth at the center position was certainly something Edmonton was looking for, but it wasn’t exactly at the top of their list. The Oilers will be fine without him moving forward.
Pundits Living in the Past
Brassard is not the same player that he was on the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, or even the Ottawa Senators for that matter. Last season, he managed to put up only 23 points in 70 games. Compare that to his season before, where he put up a very respectable 46 points in 72 games. A large factor that stands out is his drop in ice-time. With the Rangers and Senators, he was getting on average, two minutes more of time-on-ice per game than with the Penguins.
With this in mind, take a scenario where Brassard joins the Oilers. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that he would get 17-plus minutes of ice-time a night. Last season, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins both averaged over 20 minutes. With those numbers almost certainly staying the same for both players, Brassard’s minutes would likely fall below his 15 minutes from last season. Keep in mind, he struggled to produce with that amount of time, cutting his time would only make things worse.
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But what about the playoffs? He was once heralded as a top playoff performer and a clutch goal scorer but has only amassed five points in his last 21 playoff games. Even with only 12:08 of time-on-ice, he scored one goal on 32 shots for a shooting percentage of 3.1%. This is abysmal production, regardless of what line or how much playing time he’s getting. While a second chance could prove successful, it seems like age could be starting to catch up with him.
Oilers Have the Answer in Gagner
Like previously mentioned, the Oilers don’t have a lot of minutes to share at the center position. This issue can simply be replaced internally, and the Oilers definitely have guys that are more than capable of filling in at the third-line center role.
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Sam Gagner was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks last season and put up 10 points in 25 games. Very respectable for only 13 minutes of average ice-time. Also, keep in mind that he is only two years removed from his career-best season with Columbus where he totalled 50 points in 81 games. This is a player who the Oilers already have in the system that can do exactly what Brassard can on the score sheet.
When looking at advanced analytics, the Oilers were a much better team offensively when Gagner was on the ice, too.
For those confused by the visual, the areas in red are the excess amount of shots created compared to the league average. The opposite goes for the blue areas, those are shots below the league average. It has to be noted that the Oilers have a significantly higher rate of shots in front of the net and at the faceoff dots. These are two areas that are historically, very high scoring percentage areas.
The team always has the option of trading for center depth at the deadline if Gagner isn’t the answer, but it’s worth trying for now. The Oilers definitely aren’t at a huge loss without Brassard and if anything, could potentially be better without him.