It has been one year this week since the Pittsburgh Penguins sent Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, and a bunch of draft picks to the Florida Panthers for Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad. With that in mind, and with the Penguins playing in Florida this week, let’s take a look back at that deal because it has turned out to be a significant one for the 2019-20 Penguins.
In a lot of ways it was the perfect Jim Rutherford trade.
- He made his big move weeks before the trade deadline, as he tends to do.
- The trade itself was massive with a lot of assets involved with a clear eye on the present and trying to surround his current team with what it needs to win right now.
- It was pretty much him smashing the reset button on previous moves (Brassard and Sheahan) that did not work.
It has also been to this point a clear and decisive win for one side — the Penguins.
Rutherford does not tend to have much middle ground in his moves. He either makes a move that greatly benefits his team, or a move that puts his team behind the 8 ball a little bit and one that he has to quickly undo (and he usually does).
Rare is it that he makes a trade where both teams come away from it and say, “this worked. This is exactly what I wanted.”
Brassard and Sheahan were free agents that were not going to be re-signed anyway, while the former spent only 10 games in Florida before he was traded again. He is now on his second team (the Islanders) since that trade and outside of a brief surge at the start of this season has continued to be mostly invisible as his offensive production continues to fade away.
Given that he has hardly played this season it is easy to forget about the Bjugstad portion of this trade, but I never felt he was a key piece of this and I still do not think there is anyway he finishes out his current contract as a member of the Penguins. Whether it is at the trade deadline, the offseason, or sometime next season he is going to be traded in salary cap clearing move.
The key to the trade was always getting McCann, and Bjugstad’s contract was simply the cost they had to pay to get him.
It has proven to be worth the cost.
Entering play on Thursday, McCann has now played 82 games for the Penguins — exactly a full season’s worth of games — and produced the following stat line:
Corsi percentage: 50.0
Shots Per Game: 2.22
Pretty much the exact same numbers he has on pace for during this season.
That is legitimate first-second line production, all for a player that is still just 23 years old and — most importantly — fits the team style of play.
It was easy to see very early on why the Penguins liked him. He has the speed to play in their system and his shot is one of those shots that is just different. The puck just rockets off of his stick and makes him one of the players that can cleanly beat a goalie from 30-35 out with his shot.
For me, this point is the biggest key to this trade. McCann fits, and is exactly what the Penguins needed in a complementary player to their core. A young, fast, skilled forward that can also contribute on the defensive side of the puck. It was the type of player they did not have enough of at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. Now they have several of them.
It was this trade that kind of began Rutherford’s turnaround.
By this point the 2017 and 2018 offseasons have been talked about enough to know where things went wrong. They were too focussed on the wrong type of player and the wrong type of skill (Pushback! Size! Toughness!) and got too far away from the style of play and type of player that turned into Stanley Cups. This is the trade that started getting them back in that direction. It continued with the trade for Dominik Kahun in the offseason, (even though I did not like it at the time) the signing of Brandon Tanev, as well as the acquisition of John Marino.
The trade for Marcus Petterson (just before the McCann trade) also happened around this time.
This is not Rutherford’s best trade as Penguins general manager, but it is definitely a significant one that has really helped get the Penguins going in the right direction again.
He is going to be due a pretty significant raise this summer as a restricted free agent, but given his skill, production, age, versatility (Third-line center? First-line wing? He can play both) and overall play I am liking his chances of being worth it.