The Pittsburgh Penguins got their man. Finally. Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford had to rework his three-way masterpiece to satisfy the NHL, which initially rejected the trade, but Rutherford landed his primary target Friday evening: Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard.
The Penguins get Brassard but sent defenseman Ian Cole, goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson, their first-round pick, and a 2019 third-round choice to Ottawa. The Penguins will also send Ryan Reaves and the Vancouver Canucks fourth-round choice acquired for Derrick Pouliot to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Vegas eating 40 percent of Brassard’s salary.
The Penguins also receive Ottawa’s third round selection and prospect Vincent Dunn. Vegas will send prospect Tobias Lindberg to the Penguins, as well.
The Penguins are responsible for only 60 percent of Brassard’s salary which will be a pro-rated $3 million. The Penguins release noted the salary retention is for this season, which seems to contradict published rules. The Penguins cumulative salaries traded away are $3.3 million.
Reaves and the received third-round selection were not included in the original deal but was sent to VGK after the NHL held up the trade.
The deal was initially reported before 4 p.m., by TSN’s Daren Dreger. The initial agreement for Brassard was for the Penguins first-round choice, Gustavsson, and Cole. And Ottawa kept 18 percent of Brassard’s salary.
Originally, Ottawa sent Cole to VGK, but the reworked deal will keep Cole in Ottawa.
Cole is an impending UFA who was not a favorite of Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, at least not this season. Cole spent stretches as a healthy scratch, over the past couple months, though he established himself firmly in the Penguins rotation after being reinserted on Jan. 25. Cole has six points (1g, 5a) in his last 11 games. Cole is a defensive defenseman known for shot blocking and physical play.
Gustavsson, 19, was named the top goalie of the World Junior tournament this winter. He had a .924 save percentage and 1.81 GAA for Team Sweden. This season, his third as a pro in the Swedish Elite League, Gustavsson has posted a .916 save percentage and 2.16 GAA. Gustavsson was the top goalie in the 2016 NHL draft and selected by the Penguins in the second round, 55th overall.
Gustavsson is 6-foot-1. He is thought to be at least a few years away from NHL action.
Brassard, 30, has seen a dip in offensive production since being traded to the Senators for Mika Zibanejad before the 2015-16 season. In the two seasons before being dealt to Ottawa, Brassard scored 60 and 58 points, respectively. This season, Brassard has slumped with the Senators to 38 points (18g, 20a) in 58 games.
Brassard also has Stanley Cup Final experience. He was a member of the 2013-14 Rangers team which lost to the L.A. Kings. Brassard has 55 points (22g, 33a) in 78 career playoff games.
The center is 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds. Brassard possesses speed, good hands and plays well at both ends of the rink.
This deal is an extraordinary trade for the Penguins, which now possess the best trio of centers in hockey and best four centers, as well. Brassard should be able to carry a line with Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel and drive offensive pressure from the pivot.
He is signed through next season at $5 million AAV.
Rutherford, the crafty veteran, also managed to hold onto all of his young wingers, which is a victory. Guentzel, Conor Sheary, and Zach Aston-Reese will continue to grow beside the best centers in the game, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin.
Daniel Sprong will continue to develop in the Penguins system as well.
Center Riley Sheahan, who is an active center in his own zone and penalty killer, will get to anchor the fourth line. His latest offensive surge could be a boon from the bottom spot and provide the Penguins with the same unstoppable offensive depth which Matt Cullen supplied in 2016 and 2017.
Blue Line Without Cole
The Penguins will have an immediate hole on their blueline without Cole, who was one of their top six defensemen. However, Matt Hunwick, who signed as a free agent in July, is a veteran defenseman with playoff experience. His struggles in the first half of the season were not indicative of his career arc.
In other words, Hunwick isn’t as bad as he showed. The Penguins can reasonably expect a bounce back from Hunwick and decent play from their sixth defenseman.
The Penguins were able to survive with Chad Ruhwedel as their sixth defenseman for six games in the 2017 playoffs. Ruhwedel and Cameron Gaunce also played in the 2016 playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks were able to win the 2015 Stanley Cup essentially playing only four defensemen. So, while dealing Cole leaves the Penguins without a gritty defenseman to block shots and take care of the Penguins’ zone, the benefits from Brassard will more than offset the loss.
And, Hunwick may well prove up to the task, as well. Hockey fans might remember Hunwick shadowing Alex Ovechkin in the 2017 playoffs while with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
So, the Penguins acquired a third-round pick, a legitimate second-line center who will play on their third line in exchange for a goalie who may or may not play in the NHL in three to four years, a defenseman they were not going to re-sign, and a draft pick which figures to be 29th, 30th or 31st overall. Not bad.
Vegas is paying the Penguins for the privilege, to boot.
The Penguins also lost their thumper, but defenseman Jamie Oleksiak can handle physical confrontations, as needed.
The team will now have the best crop of centers in the league for the next two seasons. For the Penguins, this is easily worth the wait. They are now the unquestioned 2018 Stanley Cup favorites.
In fact, go ahead and pencil them in for 2019, too.