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The Derick Brassard trade has done what it was supposed to do

Has the trade actually worked?

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe you still have no idea what to make of Derick Brassard, his role, or whether or not his acquisition has worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ask most Penguins fans and they will probably tell you it has been a disappointment and not at all what they expected. Is that a fair assessment?

When Brassard arrived in Pittsburgh just before the trade deadline a season ago he came with huge expectations and excitement.

He was supposed to be the missing piece to fill the vacated third-line center hole and help lead the Penguins to a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

On most teams, he is a No. 2 center. On some teams he might even be a low level No. 1 center. He looked to be an offensive upgrade over what Nick Bonino had provided in the same spot over the previous two years, he came with a big game reputation, and along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin he was going to once again give the Penguins the best trio of centers in the league

But injuries, general ineffectiveness at times, and no clear idea on what his role actually should be — or actually is — have kind of put a wrench into the machine.

That is the perception, anyway.

The actual results paint a very different picture. The results paint a picture of a trade that has worked exactly as it was meant to work.

On his own, Brassard is currently on a 38-point pace over 82 games. If you include his production at the end of the 2017-18 season and into the playoffs he has scored at that exact same pace for his entire Penguins tenure to this point. While that may not be what anyone had in mind for him when he arrived, that is probably right in line with what you should expect from a good third-line center that does not get a ton of power play time on a contending team.

That is exactly what Bonino provided them on a couple of Stanley Cup winning teams. That is what Lars Eller did for the Stanley Cup winning Capitals a year ago. It’s more than what the Blackhawks got out of Antoine Vermette/Andrew Shaw on their 2015 championship team. It’s more than what the Kings got out of Jarrett Stoll in 2014.

Just for comparisons sake, here is Brassard’s current pace/production compared to the third-line centers on the past few Stanley Cup winning teams.

Derick Brassard Vs. Third Line Center Production For Stanley Cup Winning Teams

Player Team 82-Game Point Pace Corsi % Corsi Rel
Player Team 82-Game Point Pace Corsi % Corsi Rel
Derick Brassard This Season With Penguins 38 48.3 -3.9
Lars Eller 2018 Washington Capitals 38 48.3 0.2
Nick Bonino 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins 37 46.4 -4.9
Nick Bonino 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins 37 51.5 -0.6
Antoine Vermette 2015 Chicago Blackhawks 38 48.4 -5.9
Jarret Stoll 2014 Los Angeles Kings 29 55.5 -4.8
Dave Bolland 2013 Chicago Blackhawks 32 44.4 -11.1
Jarret Stoll 2012 Los Angeles Kings 24 53.3 -2.3
Rich Peverley 2011 Boston Bruins 41 55.2 6.1
Dave Bolland 2010 Chicago Blackhawks 34 53.3 -7.8

Again, this is probably what third-line centers on good teams produce. When you watch a team that has had the center depth the Penguins have had over the years your perception of what is an acceptable level of production gets skewed and blown entirely out of proportion.

Most first-line centers don’t score like Sidney Crosby (they are probably 70-80 point players). Most second-line centers don’t score like Evgeni Malkin (they are probably 50-60 point players). Most third-line centers don’t score like Jordan Staal used to (they are probably 30-40 point players).

On a team level, the Penguins are significantly better when all three of their top centers are in the lineup.

When Crosby, Malkin, and Brassard all play this season the Penguins are 11-3-4, which is a 118-point pace over 82 games. The Presidents’ Trophy winning team a year ago finished the season 117 points. This is not to say I think the Penguins are quite that good overall (they are not), it is just to show how good they have been when all three are in the lineup together.

The bottom-six as a group also scores at a significantly higher rate and gives up goals at a significantly lower rate during 5-on-5 play when all three are in the lineup together.

Bottom-six simply defined as when one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is not on the ice.

Pittsburgh Penguins Bottom-Six Production 2018-19 Season So Far

Situation Time On Ice Goals For/60 Goals Against/60 Shot Attempt Percentage Scoring Chance Percentage Goal Differential
Situation Time On Ice Goals For/60 Goals Against/60 Shot Attempt Percentage Scoring Chance Percentage Goal Differential
Bottom Six Production With Crosby, Malkin, Brassard All In The Lineup 349 2.75 2.57 46.1 50.1 1
Bottom Six Production Without One Of Crosby, Malkin, Brassard In The Lineup 231 1.04 3.11 48.1 46.8 -8

When they do not have to rely on Riley Sheahan or Matt Cullen (when he is healthy) or Derek Grant to be the third-and fourth-line centers, the bottom six is actually really good. It is when one of those top-three centers goes out of the lineup, forcing somebody else to get elevated up the lineup, that the bottom-six becomes a complete non-factor.

This is what they wanted. This is what they needed. This is what they received.

For as true as all of this is, I still get the disappointment fans may have with the trade and the results that followed. For as good as the numbers are, you rarely come away from a game thinking that Brassard truly stood out. He does not always finish the chances he gets. He and Phil Kessel have not really clicked on the third line the way coach Mike Sullivan so badly wants them to.

At the end of the day, however, the team is better. It plays better and it wins more.

Maybe Brassard is not producing the individual numbers everyone wanted. Maybe he is not producing the numbers he wanted in a contract year. Still, given how much of a discounted salary cap hit the Penguins are getting him at after that complicated three-team trade to get him to Pittsburgh it is highly unlikely they are going to be able to get more out of someone else for a better price in that role.

It may not be the way anyone expected it to, but the Derick Brassard trade is doing exactly what it was supposed to do.