The Pittsburgh Penguins trade deadline acquisition of highly sought center Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators did not have the desired result. Brassard struggled to get comfortable, winger Phil Kessel was not pleased to play with him, and the Penguins quest for a third straight Stanley Cup sputtered to an end against the rival Washington Capitals. Beginning this week at training camp, the Penguins will try Brassard at left wing in an attempt to get Brassard more ice time.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said Brassard expressed difficulty adjusting to the third line role and a need for more ice time. Here is the Sullivan interview.
That’s a problem for the Penguins because all-time greats Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are ahead of Brassard on the depth chart. Yeah, no. Brassard will not displace either of those players. And so the left wing experiment will begin.
But there isn’t enough ice time on the left side, either.
Brassard is unlikely to displace Jake Guentzel on Sidney Crosby’s left side. There also doesn’t seem to be space on Malkin’s left side where Carl Hagelin helped create one of the most prolific lines in the NHL. So, Brassard is, at best, the Penguins third-best center or third-best left wing. He is entering the final year of his contract with a $5 million average annual value. How happy will Brassard be without an opportunity to put up maximum numbers?
The Brassard to left-wing experiment has little benefit for the Penguins and has significant drawbacks. Riley Sheahan would elevate to third line center in Brassard’s absence. Sheahan is a solid player and defensively responsible but does not provide enough offense. Certainly not enough offense for a Stanley Cup contender.
More dominoes will fall if the Penguins bump Guentzel to the third line with Sheahan which will significantly limit Guentzel’s high-end offensive potential.
The best situation for the Penguins is Brassard adapts to a reduced role and produces to his fullest. But how likely is that if the player isn’t comfortable? Pittsburgh Hockey Now has looked at the Penguins depth chart before training camp begins, Friday.
One option the Penguins should consider is a trade. Brassard’s pedigree and ability to be a front-line center could easily net the Penguins a third line center and additional assets. Brassard cost the Penguins a first-round pick, a highly regarded goalie prospect (Filip Gustavsson), a thumper defenseman (Ian Cole) and fourth line winger (Ryan Reaves) who protected Crosby and Malkin.
Brassard’s market price hasn’t fallen, though the suitors may be different. The Winnipeg Jets, who were the primary suitor for Brassard last February until the Vegas Golden Knights facilitated a three-way trade with the Penguins and Ottawa to deny Winnipeg, may still be in the market and have a plethora of bottom-six centers. Several other Western Conference teams like Los Angeles and Minnesota also have high hopes and aging or thin middles. Add Cup hungry San Jose to the mix, too.
The Penguins offseason stockpile of centers makes a little more sense, now.
The simplest option is to use Brassard at third line center, where he best fits on the Penguins. He provides unparalleled depth, offensive punch, and insurance against injury to those generational talents, Crosby and Malkin. However, because Brassard is likely to leave after this season, the Penguins should also consider a deal to fill their third line center role with a player who is a better fit in a reduced role and add additional assets in the process.
Despite known answers, the Penguins experiment against their best interests is set to begin. The Penguins simply don’t have enough ice for Derick Brassard. The bigger question isn’t “if’ the experiment will work, the question is what will the Penguins do when it doesn’t work.