Both sides come out ahead in Penguins-Panthers swap

When Derick Brassard came to the Penguins for relatively little last year, it seemed like a coup.

A first-round pick and some spare parts for a guy who looked like either a low-end No. 1 center or a high-end No. 2 was the kind of deal any team in the Penguins’ position should have made. Brassard had 38 points in 58 games with the Senators last season, including 18 goals, and shored up the Pens’ iffy center depth with ease.

Or so it appeared. Instead, Brassard turned out to be the kind of player for whom a change of scenery from a dead-end franchise was a negative. He had just 12-9-23 in 54 regular-season games for Pittsburgh, and didn’t do much better in last year’s 12 playoff games (1-3-4). That went with some moribund underlying numbers.

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Did that have something to do with the fact that his most common linemates in Pittsburgh were Phil Kessel and Tanner Pearson, with whom he forged a total lack of chemistry and that he (understandably) didn’t get the kind of power play time with the Penguins that he did with Ottawa? Probably. But again, even at 5-on-5 this guy looked totally washed, and a trade had to be made.

Despite the fact that everyone knew it was coming, all the Penguins had to do to get a pretty good upgrade on this player and Riley Sheahan (a guy I’ve never really rated) was include a couple of picks they didn’t really need anyway. They got back Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann, who this season provided a little bit of help for the Panthers, versus the two guys the Pens gave up, who were both a drag on their team’s performance.

Bjugstad gives the Pens a very solid No. 3 center at a $4.1-million AAV, which I guess you would have said about Brassard this time last year, but Brassard’s contributions to the Penguins is clear: It turned out badly despite the reason for initial optimism, but maybe Bjugstad won’t. McCann, too, is a slight upgrade at the No. 4 center slot over Sheahan.

The combined cost there is $5.3 million for a pair of depth centers, but they’re really good depth centers for what they are. Perhaps more important: Bjugstad (26) and McCann (22) are significantly younger than Brassard (31) and Sheahan (27), so that’s better for Pittsburgh as well in the long run.

Again, this is a little bit of a dice roll, just because Bjugstad’s performance this year in particular hasn’t been great (5-7-12 in 32 games with okay underlyings) but this was a change that needed to be made, and it would appear as though Jim Rutherford upgraded for the cost of three lottery tickets — two of which have relatively little value in the short term — the Penguins didn’t really need anyway since they’re very much in win-now mode.

The odds are that there will be another trade for Pittsburgh to further supplement the roster that has been criticized for complacency of late. That’s probably a good decision, given how wide-open the Metro appears to be, and but this trade was a clear upgrade at two important positions for almost no real cost, so you can’t knock it.

As for Florida, the first thing to keep in mind is that everyone is already saying Brassard will probably be flipped again before the deadline, meaning the Panthers could extract even more value from the trade as they wind down another disappointing season.

The big thing with this deal is that they’re rumored to be in the hunt for the potentially dynamite combo of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, if not before the close of the trade window then certainly this summer. Brassard and Sheahan are both on expiring deals and freeing up the $5.3 million they were spending on depth centers could go a long way toward making a splashy offer. Moreover, Florida isn’t exactly the Penguins in terms of their Nos. 1 and 2 centers, but they’re solid enough up the middle at the top of the lineup, so Bjugstad and McCann were, in some ways, surplus to requirements.

Plus, if they flip either or both of their new acquisitions, that could help them continue to excel at the draft, as they have for years, and potentially dangle some prospects to Columbus in a deal for Panarin or Bobrovsky. Hell, since Jarmo Kekalainen is making noise about getting good roster players back in any such deal, either or both of these guys could end up being included, and head back to the Metro for a potential prove-you-wrong series with the Penguins.

That actually might be fun for both sides, since Sheahan and/or Brassard would have a chance at revenge, and the Penguins would get to play a rather diminished Columbus club.

I know a lot of people said the LA/Toronto trade was a win-win, but given how little the Kings got back, that’s tough for me to agree with. Here, though, the Pens got a pair of upgrades at minimal cost, and the Panthers got flexibility to take a potentially huge step forward, either at the deadline or over the summer.

Don’t think it gets more win-win than that.

The needs of the Penguins and Panthers lined up perfectly. (NBC)
The needs of the Penguins and Panthers lined up perfectly. (NBC)

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.

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