The Pittsburgh Penguins whirlwind weekend which began late Friday morning will conclude tonight in Toronto with the most important television game of the week: Hockey Night in Canada. The Penguins will need to show their newfound wares against on the best teams in the Eastern Conference which also just added a significant upgrade on defense–Jake Muzzin.
There was a buzz at PPG Paints Arena on Friday. Little birdies were chirping in our ear throughout the Bjugstad-McCann race to the arena. We also learned a few things about the trade in the process.
1. The Deal moved quickly.
We were told the Penguins were headed in different directions until Florida GM Dale Tallon called sometime mid-week. We believe Florida’s strong offer led the Penguins to feel a deal was going in the right direction. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford began serious talks and soon had a trade.
Yes, Brassard did suffer an upper-body injury but the severity was minor. We believe the Penguins were looking ahead to a deal–and kept Brassard safe– but a deal was not imminent Wednesday night.
2. The Penguins previously tried to acquire Bjugstad.
Bjugstad was on the Pittsburgh Hockey Now list of potential center acquisitions in the summer of 2017. Florida held a high asking price and the Penguins balked.
This season, Florida coach Bob Boughner (also a former Penguins defenseman), put Bjugstad on the right wing to shake up his lineup. With the return of Vincent Trocheck, the emergence of 2016 first-round pick Henrik Borgstrom, Florida had a crowded house of centers. With Florida’s reported interest in making a run at Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin in the offseason, the deal makes great sense for all involved.
Florida freed up long term salary. The Penguins got a big bodied third line center for the upcoming Metro Division battles.
I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t see it coming right away, though our attention was on Adam Lowry and the Winnipeg Jets refusal
3. Don’t sleep on Jared McCann.
The former first-round pick can skate and is a good penalty killer. McCann is just 22-years-old. If the Penguins ever get fully healthy this season, McCann is an odd-man out. But next season he could be the Penguins fourth line center if 42-year-old Matt Cullen does retire (a big “IF”).
4. Pittsburgh treated Derick Brassard well.
Penguins fans did not pile-on Brassard. There were a lot of sympathies and well wishes towards the end, especially after the Pittsburgh Hockey Now story and video in which Brassard admitted to hearing the rumors. Usually, at the end of a player’s tenure which hasn’t been successful, fans of all stripes send the player out of town on rails. Penguins fans didn’t do that.
That was pretty cool. It felt like Penguins fans accepted that it just didn’t work and didn’t tarnish his skills.
5. Mike Sullivan’s respect for Brassard was immediately evident at the press conference.
This was the second time Derick Brassard was traded to a Mike Sullivan coached team. At the 2013 trade deadline, the New York Rangers–where Mike Sullivan was an assistant to John Tortorella–acquired Brassard from Columbus. The Rangers fired Tortorella and Sullivan after an early playoff exit and the Brassard-Sullivan relationship lasted just 25 games (Brassard played in 13 regular season games and 12 playoff games).
In the 2012-13 playoffs, Sullivan got his first look at “Big Game Brass” who scored 12 points (2g, 10a) in 12 games. His respect for Brassard has been evident as Sullivan has often referenced the conversations the pair had in trying to help Brassard adjust to the diminished third line role.
Sullivan came to Brassard’s defense one more time yesterday when asked why Brassard didn’t meet expectations in Pittsburgh.
Here’s the video–it’s already cued up to 1:18 when Sullivan gets the question and begins, “In Brass’s defense…” And that’s also why Sullivan can engender loyalty from his players even as he is tough on them.
6. The Trade is a winner.
Younger, stronger, hungrier, and deeper. The Penguins line up– if Bjugstad can lock down the third line center role–is suddenly much better and playoff ready. Bjugstad’s size and willingness to go to the net will be assets. There are speed and tenacity on the Penguins wings, which now includes Teddy Blueger. The Penguins will have younger, fresher legs in their lineup.
And there is some new blood running through the Penguins veins.
Rust and Conor Sheary brought that youthful spark in 2016. Back then, they were known as the “Wilkes-Barre Crew” before their teammates began to correct the media–“they’re here now. They’re Pittsburgh Penguins,” Chris Kunitz corrected one day.
Jake Guentzel brought the new-guy spark and a pile of playoff goals in 2017.
The Brassard trade now sets the Penguins lineup (unless Jim Rutherford has a real bombshell waiting) and defines Blueger’s role. He’ll be a third or fourth line winger and penalty killer. And he’ll bring a lot of energy and spark to the task.
7. Don’t be surprised to see Brassard in Columbus
Brassard may not be long for Florida. Reading tea leaves–go back to No. 1–Florida pushed the deal forward, now. Why? They’re not in the playoff race. It could have waited until the summer when there are typically MORE suitors, and Florida could have avoided the buyers market by waiting.
It seems entirely plausible–which will allow the rumor mongers to toss it on the wall to see if it sticks–that a third team put a bug in Florida’s ear. If Florida got Brassard, perhaps another team is willing to take him off their hands. Not only did Florida free up long-term salary to chase the Columbus Russians Bobrovsky and Panarin this summer, but Florida could get immediate relief and more assets, right now.
Dale Tallon is a good GM. He built the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty before Scotty and Stan Bowman elbowed him aside. Don’t bet against the parlay here. Poor Brassard, however. The guy just wants to settle in somewhere and get back to hockey in a meaningful role.
What a strange trip it’s been for him.