Analysis: Time is the biggest gamble in Brassard, Bjugstad swap

Midday Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers completed a trade that left many scratching their heads.

Pittsburgh sent Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, a 2019 2nd round pick and two 2019 4th round picks (Pittsburgh’s own and Minnesota’s previously acquired in a deal earlier this week with the Dallas Stars) to the Panthers in exchange for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

Brassard, 31, was in his first full season with the Penguins and amassed 9-6–15 totals in 40 games played this season prior to the trade.

He was acquired by Pittsburgh last February from the Vegas Golden Knights after the Golden Knights added Brassard in a separate deal with the Ottawa Senators first– prior to retaining salary on Brassard’s contract and flipping him along with Tobias Lindberg to the Penguins for Ryan Reaves and a 4th round pick originally belonging to the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

In 14 games with the Penguins in 2017-18, Brassard added three goals and five assists (eight points) on top of his 18-20–38 totals in 58 games with the Senators prior to being trade deadline bait last season.

He registered one goal and three assist (four points) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Pittsburgh in the 2018 postseason before the Penguins were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Never mind what he’s done for you yesterday, Brassard carries a cap hit of $3.000 million per season and is a pending unrestricted free agent this July 1st.

Not only that, but his salary can be retained one more time on his current contract if Florida desires to flip him by February 25th’s trade deadline.

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 6th overall pick of the 2006 NHL Draft, Brassard has 443 points (171 goals, 272 assists) in 756 career NHL games with the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Senators and Penguins.

Sheahan, 27, had seven goals and two assists (nine points) in 49 games with Pittsburgh prior to the trade and was previously acquired by the Penguins in a transaction involving the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 21, 2017 in exchange for Scott Wilson.

He is a pending-UFA this July and carries a cap hit of $2.100 million.

Despite failing to record a point with the Red Wings in eight games in the 2017-18 season, leading to his trade to the Penguins, Sheahan amassed his second-best season of 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 81 games with Pittsburgh and Detroit last season.

He established career-highs in assists (23) and points (36) in 79 games with the Red Wings in 2014-15 and had a career-high 14 goals in 81 games in 2015-16 with Detroit.

In 414 career NHL games, the 21st overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft has 139 career points (56 goals, 83 assists).

In summary, the Panthers added to a list of growing draft picks in 2019 (presently with nine selections, including three picks in the 4th round), while potentially clearing out enough cap space to pursue some of the big names (*ahem* Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky) that might hit the free agency market on July 1st.

While the move looks like a haphazard approach to writing off this season, Panthers fans will have to be patient and wait for the other shoe to drop in General Manager Dale Tallon‘s masterplan.

Even if that’s been said before.

Bjugstad, 26, had five goals and seven assists (12 points) in 32 games with the Panthers at the time of the trade and was the last connection Florida had to the 2010 NHL Draft as their 19th overall selection.

He posted a career-best 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games last season for the Panthers, establishing career-highs in assists and points.

The most goals he’s ever scored in one season was 24 in 72 games in the 2014-15 season as a 22-year-old. In five career Stanley Cup Playoff games, Bjugstad has two goals and two assists (four points) with one game-winning goal and a plus-six rating.

Bjugstad has two years left on his current contract with a $4.100 million cap hit and has 87-104–191 totals in 394 career games (all with the Panthers).

McCann, 22, had eight goals and 10 assists (18 points) in 46 games for Florida prior to the trade and was originally selected 24th overall by the Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft.

He posted his career-best numbers last season for the Panthers with nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) in 68 games while earning a plus-11 rating (his first positive plus/minus outcome in four NHL seasons including the current 2018-19 season).

McCann has two years left on his current contract at $1.250 million per season and can become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season. He has 27-44–71 totals in 212 games with Vancouver and Florida in his young career and was previously acquired by the Panthers in exchange for Erik Gudbranson on May 25, 2016.

Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford has a knack for finding overlooked talent in an otherwise not as lively market and making them better in his current tenure with Pittsburgh, however, his latest move in snagging Bjugstad and McCann leaves more to be desired.

While Rutherford brought in younger players with an additional year remaining on their contract, the gamble remains as to whether or not McCann will fully pan out– or if he does, whether or not he’ll price himself out of Pittsburgh with a tight cap situation and no trade or no movement clauses on some of their larger contracts that extend past 2019-20 currently on the books.

Rutherford coveted McCann and now the next step will be figuring out how he can become part of the long-term solution.

In addition to his oft-injured history, Bjugstad is a younger replacement for Brassard– one year after Rutherford made the move to get Brassard.

Winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 should be enough to overlook an otherwise mismanaged acquisition, however, Bjugstad costs more and now carries the added weight of living up to expectations or else further looking like the beginning of Rutherford’s mistakes on the way down from a Cup window.

One positive takeaway for Penguins fans– who perhaps know this best– is that Rutherford is active. No one can take that away from him in his search for finding the right pieces to build a dynasty.

As always, though, it is rare for any general manager in any sport to willingly depart an organization on their terms. Usually it’s the buildup of poor roster moves or repeated postseason failures that leads to “being relieved of duties” and kindly shown the door.

In short, the biggest takeaway for this deal is… …time will tell.