Whoever said making a trade was easy?
Earlier this afternoon, it appeared the Pittsburgh Penguins had acquired Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators for Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson and a first-round pick — with later reports indicating a third team, the Vegas Golden Knights, were involved. But shortly thereafter it was reported by Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos that the deal had been vetoed by the NHL. After going back to the drawing board, though, the three teams were able top meet the league’s requirements and managed to complete one of the most complicated swaps in recent history.
In the deal, the Penguins acquired Brassard, prospect Vince Dunn and a 2018 third-round pick from the Senators, as well as prospect Tobias Lindberg from the Golden Knights. The Senators landed Cole, Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick from the Penguins. Meanwhile, Ryan Reaves and a fourth-round pick are heading to the Golden Knights. If that’s not confusing enough, Vegas, who first received Brassard from Ottawa, retained 40 percent of his contract before sending him along to Pittsburgh.
And now that the dust has settled on the deal, we can break it down.
For the Penguins, who have been looking to solidify the middle of the ice since the start of the season, landing Brassard would appear to be exactly what they need and makes a Pittsburgh team that is already beginning to heat up all the more dangerous just as the playoffs approach.
Pittsburgh had a front row seat to watch what Brassard can provide a team last season, as well. In the Eastern Conference final against the Penguins, Brassard put up a goal and two points. He was one of the Senators’ most effective players all post-season, too, registering four goals and 11 points in 19 games. He also possesses a strong playoff track record beyond last season. Since 2012-13, when he made his first playoff appearance as a member of the New York Rangers, Brassard has 22 goals and 55 points in 78 games, and he made a trip to the finals as a Blueshirt in 2014. That makes him a great fit on a team driving for an unthinkable third-straight Stanley Cup in the salary cap era.
By adding Brassard, a legitimate top-six center, to the mix, the Penguins now possess one of the deepest stables of centers in the league. He’s a 20-goal threat with 50-point potential that would be a solid second-line pivot on most contending teams, but Brassard will almost assuredly play third-line minutes in Pittsburgh behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, effectively giving the Penguins a three-headed monster at center that will be a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. The deal also shuffles Riley Sheahan down to a fourth-line role, which should be a much better fit.
The victory here for the Penguins goes beyond simply bringing Brassard aboard, though. While they had to give up a first-, third- and fourth-round pick, Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford was able to swing the deal without giving up any of his key roster players. Notably, he was able to retain the likes of Conor Sheary, Jake Guentzel and his stable of secondary scorers, meaning he was able to add offense without subtracting anything from his attack. Likewise, he made the move without surrendering a top prospect such as Daniel Sprong. This isn't a pure rental, either. Brassard has the remainder of the season and one more year remaining on his five-year, $25-million contract, making him an asset to the Penguins beyond this season. But the cap hit will be lessened as, with Vegas’ salary retention, Pittsburgh will only be on the hook for $3 million next season.
That said, in order to make the deal work financially, the Penguins still needed to shed salary. That’s where Cole and Ryan Reaves come in.
Despite being a key cog on the blueline when Pittsburgh's defense was bruised and battered during last season's playoffs, Cole was a bottom-pairing hand for the Penguins whose average ice time was less than that of Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta. And with additional rearguards such as Matt Hunwick and Jamie Oleksiak, Cole — with his $2.1-million cap hit — was expendable. And that Cole is on an expiring contract makes him a worthwhile pickup for the Senators if they’re in a full-on sell mode. By bringing in a potential rental, Ottawa now has another piece they can flip at the deadline to recoup more assets as they shed salary and look to rebuild a younger, cheaper team. Rest assured, that is the goal here.
In addition, adding the three draft selections gives Ottawa more opportunities to restock the cupboard at the upcoming draft. It also protects against the Senators losing their first-round pick in the off chance they manage to play their way out of a top-10 selection. (Ottawa’s own first-round pick is top-10 protected, but was included in the trade for Matt Duchene.) As for Gustavsson, he was rated as one of Pittsburgh's five-best prospects heading into the season and is undoubtedly the top goaltending prospect in Ottawa now.
That leaves the Golden Knights. Bringing in Reaves won’t do much to supplement the offense, but it will allow Vegas to add a depth piece up front and his $1.125 million salary will come off the books at season’s end. Retaining the salary of Brassard also allowed Vegas to bring in a fourth-round pick, which now gives GM George McPhee seven selections to work with at the upcoming draft.
The question now for the Senators is who's next? Cole instantly moves into the running to be the next player dealt by Ottawa, but no matter who comes next, it appears the Senators’ fire sale is only just beginning.
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