The Penguins sent pending UFA centres Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan to Florida for centre Jared McCann and centre-turned-winger Nick Bjugstad. The Panthers also acquired a 2019 second-round pick and a couple of fourth-rounders to offset the contract statuses of Brassard and Sheahan.
We know Penguins GM Jim Rutherford likes to work ahead of the deadline so this fits his character, while the Panthers’ move for two pending UFAs is interesting for a team 11 points out of a playoff spot.
Here’s a breakdown of how the trade looks from both sides.
THE PENGUINS GET A COUPLE OF CAPABLE CENTRES
The Penguins were after a third-line centre all last season and first traded for Sheahan in November to try and get it, then picked up Brassard in February as their deadline acquisition. But after Brassard was a pretty successful performer for Pittsburgh last season, his production has sunk to 15 points in 40 games (though nine of them were goals) in 2018-19 and he’s been part of the rumour mill for some time now.
After Friday’s deal, Rutherford talked about how it was a hard adjustment for Brassard to make to a bottom-six role for a player who was in the top-six his entire career.
In McCann and Bjugstad, Pittsburgh gets two guys who are at least capable of playing the position. And though Bjugstad – drafted as a centre – has mostly been a winger the past couple of seasons, it seems the Penguins will try and get him back to his original position.
McCann is the surefire centre coming back, though his production (18 points in 46 games) isn’t any better than what Brassard was doing. McCann was the Panthers’ third-line pivot, but when tasked with moving up to the second slot after Vincent Trocheck went down with an injury, he didn’t fit and Florida had to try other options, including calling up 21-year-old prospect Henrik Borgstrom.
However, McCann brings a potential to play on the penalty kill that Brassard never had. Averaging a little more than one minute of PK time per game over the past two months, McCann didn’t play an overly big role in that regard for the Panthers. But now that Pittsburgh has dealt away two big PK forwards this season (Hagelin and Sheahan), perhaps they envision McCann taking on a bigger role there. Just 22 years old, McCann is a much better prototypical fit for a bottom-six role than Brassard and has potential for further growth.
Bjugstad’s primary attribute is his size, standing six-foot-six and weighing 215 pounds. He was the 19th-overall pick in 2010, but his production has been up and down throughout his career. The good news is 2017-18 was a career-best for him at 49 points, though he’s fallen back to 12 in 32 games this season. He was primarily a top-six winger when he put up those career-high totals.
FLORIDA CLEARING CAP SPACE FOR SOMETHING MUCH BIGGER?
It’s odd to see a team 11 points out of the playoffs trade for two pending UFAs, but the early expectation is that Tallon will trade Brassard (and maybe Sheahan) again before Feb. 25. Florida also got a second-rounder and two fourth-rounders in the trade, but this is by no means a team that will be taking a step back from their plans of trying to contend.
“We’re not going to sit still,” Tallon said Friday before this trade was made. “We know we have a lot of good players. We have a lot of good players coming. That’s the message we’ve been preaching. We have a plan, we’re committed to winning, (owner Vinnie Viola) has given us all the tools to be successful and we’re going to do here in the next month all the things necessary to win championships down the road.”
So the next question is, how do two pending UFAs help them win championships down the road? Maybe we should look ahead to free agency, or possibly even a more substantial trade.
The money exchanged in this deal was basically even, but if the Panthers don’t re-sign either of the players they picked up will have roughly $21 million in cap space this summer. There are the beginnings of rumblings that they could be interested in both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky from Columbus (something discussed on this week’s 31 Thoughts podcast) and that would provide them the room to do it.
And also consider that if Florida does make a big move for a goalie in the next few months, they’d need to make room at the position and James Reimer would be the likely one to leave. If his contract goes, that’s another $3.4 million on the way out, unless he’s bought out. In that case, Florida would save $2.4 million next season, per CapFriendly.
“We’re looking at everything that’s out there,” Tallon said Friday. “I’ve talked to everybody to see what they’re doing and see what makes sense. We want to finish the season strongly and make a run for the playoffs – what do we do for that? And what do we do for the off-season and the years to come?”
The Panthers really are a consistent goalie away from being a factor in the East. Roberto Luongo was injured in the very first game of the season, James Reimer had a sub-.900 save percentage in his absence, and when Luongo returned he couldn’t get back to the level he was at last season. The question is if this move is setting Florida up for a big summer, or something else before that.
“I pay for performance and expectations are high,” Tallon said. “We have a good group of players with a lot of ability, but it’s whether they have enough passion and consistency to do the work. These next few weeks will tell what the future brings for all these players.”
Remember, although Florida missed the 2018 playoffs, they were the second-best team from Feb. 1 on, finishing with a 23-8-2 record over that stretch. It’s a long shot to happen again, sure, but the potential in this roster is there.