Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is always in the trade market as a buyer pushing for Stanley Cups — and with a roster led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, why not? Rutherford chased after acquiring a third line centre all last season and finally got one in Derick Brassard three days before the trade deadline.
Given Brassard’s career history, the expectation was that Pittsburgh was getting a 40-to-50-point player (or more) who could potentially line up next to Phil Kessel and really spread out scoring across three lines. Brassard’s production down the stretch was good (eight points in 14 games), but his historically strong playoff performances vanished. Brassard managed a single goal and three assists in 12 post-season games.
Those struggles continued this season and Brassard was finally traded to Florida last week after starting with 15 points in 40 games. The Penguins got back a couple of younger forwards with more organizational control in Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.
Brassard has no ill-will at all towards the Penguins organization and had nothing but good things to say about his teammates, coaches and everyone else. But it became apparent he wasn’t excelling in the role Pittsburgh acquired him for, and he talked to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about why the production just wasn’t there.
“The last five years I had the reputation of playing well in the playoffs,” Brassard told the paper. “But my responsibilities in Ottawa and New York were playing in the top-six and playing 18-20 minutes a night. I’m someone who likes to play with emotion. I think the last five years I proved that. In Pittsburgh, I had a hard time getting involved in games and being myself.
“Their expectation was for me to be a 50- or 60-point guy. What third-line centre has 50-60 points? You’re limited somewhere — ice time or whatever.
“I think we both kind of agreed it wasn’t a good fit.”
To be fair, Rutherford echoed Brassard’s sentiment the day the deal was made, saying that it was a hard transition for the player to make in accepting and trying to thrive with decreased ice time.
This is where someone like 22-year-old McCann would be a better fit. He doesn’t have the career offensive numbers Brassard does, but there is still upside to be tapped in a player who was chosen 24th overall in 2014. He’s also used to playing bottom-six minutes because that was his role in Florida. He was also a penalty-killer for the Panthers, something the Penguins needed after dealing away both Carl Hagelin and Riley Sheahan this season, two players who were given significant PK minutes.
Bjugstad can also play centre, and would be able to fill a third-line role, but given he was more often played on the wing in Florida, that’s likely where he’ll end up in Pittsburgh, too.
“I have a ton of respect for everyone there,” Brassard said of his time with the Penguins. “I wish it would’ve worked out. But I think it was a really good experience for me to see Sid, Geno, Tanger … all their best players, the way they operate every day.
“Also the way the staff prepares; it’s a first-class organization. They pay attention to details so much. I’m not surprised they’ve won so many times.”
Brassard has played 15:32 and 16:36 in his first two games with Florida, which is up from his season average of 14:56 per game with the Penguins. He’s back in the top-six, but has been moved to the right wing next to Vincent Trocheck because Florida also has two solid top-six centres. The expectation is Brassard will be moved again before the deadline, but it’s clear the best fit for him is to end up somewhere as a second-line centre.
“A lot of times they’re going to say it’s between your ears as a hockey player or any athlete,” Brassard told the Post-Gazette. “The pressure that I had was coming in from a trade, and that expectation was real high.”