With the Eastern Conference Finals set to continue on Monday between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, one team that hasn’t been sitting around for the last couple of years is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Entering the playoffs red-hot after a key trade deadline acquistion, many people thought that the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins might make their third-straight trip to the Stanley Cup. Instead, they were ousted by the Capitals, who are fighting for their life.
The Penguins felt they hit the jackpot after making a big three-way trade between the Ottawa Senators and the Vegas Golden Knights to acquire that second-line center they desperately needed in Derick Brassard. While he seemed to be a good fit early during the final part of the regular season when he put up eight points in 14 games, Brassard suffered through an undisclosed “difficult injury,” near the end of the season and struggled throughout the playoffs. He managed just one goal and four points in 12 playoff games.
“I don’t know if we ever got there, to the comfort level where we know he’s capable of being the player he is,” said head coach Mike Sullivan following the season.
In exchange for Brassard, the Penguins gave up quite a bit to the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights, including defenseman Ian Cole (who was subsequently flipped to Columbus), goaltending prospect Filip Gustavsson, enforcer Ryan Reaves, a 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 third-round pick and the Vancouver Canucks’ 2018 fourth-round pick.
Cole fit in nicely with Columbus and became a key piece to the Blue Jackets’ defensive core and his gritty play and leadership may have been missed from the Penguins lineup, although defenseman Chad Ruhwedel did a solid job replacing him. While many won’t miss Reaves, his size and leadership also may have been underestimated as he eventually was a key figure in the Vegas Golden Knights’ playoff run, scoring the game-winning goal to clinch the team’s first trip to the Stanley Cup. And while the Penguins are overloaded in prospects, Gustavsson finished his season, came over to the U.S. and already on the Senators’ AHL roster getting valuable playing time.
That doesn’t include the picks that the Penguins have given up, not including the fact that Pittsburgh will have drafted in the first round just once in the past six years (and Kasperi Kapanen was traded not long after to Toronto).
On a positive note, the Penguins have one more year to show that Brassard was worth the haul they gave up. He still has one more year at $3MM (after Vegas retained some of his salary) suggesting he’s on a very affordable contract.
So, did the Penguins make the right decision in trading for Brassard?
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