Funny enough, I suggested trading Brassard this summer. He’s a quality offensive play-making center who was a good Ranger. He came over from the Blue Jackets in the deal for Marian Gaborik on Apr. 3, 2013.The trade also netted Derek Dorsett and John Moore.
Brassard always raised his level in the playoffs. After putting up 12 points in 2013, he went 6-6-12 during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Centering a cohesive third line flanked by Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot, Brassard scored and set up big goals. The trio were terrific on the forecheck the entire 2014 postseason.
With the departure of Pouliot to Edmonton, Brassard was asked to play a bigger role. Signed to a five-year deal with an average cap hit of $5 million, he continued to improve putting up a career high 60 points (19-41-60) in ’14-15. He paced the Rangers with nine goals and 16 points in a postseason that saw the team get within a period of a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. That included a hat trick in Game 6 versus the Lightning.
His final season with the Blueshirts was very good offensively. He set a new career high with a team-leading 27 goals to go with 31 assists and 58 points. However, Brassard’s defensive game leveled off. Never the best defensive center, he fell into lazy habits refusing to backcheck at crucial moments. He and Zuccarello had to be separated by coach Alain Vigneault due to their lack of attention to detail. They didn’t have the same chemistry offensively as the previous year.
In a five-game first round series loss to the Penguins, Brassard tied with Rick Nash for the team lead in scoring with four points. However, his play in Game 5 was awful. He gave up on one goal after a costly turnover. Brassard didn’t compete in what turned out to be the final game of his Rangers career. A blowout loss to the Pens.
By trading him to Ottawa for the younger Zibanejad, who is signed through 2017 at an AAV of $2.625 million, the Rangers freed up salary. They’re saving approximately $2.375 million.
Zibanejad is 23. Like Brassard, he’s a former first round pick. Taken sixth overall by the Senators in the 2011 NHL Draft, the Swedish center is at a similar point in his career as Brassard was when he came here. Ironically, both players went sixth overall in their drafts and were given up at the same point.
Zibanejad has put up back-to-back 20-goal seasons. He followed up 20-26-46 with a career high 21 goals, 30 assists and 51 points this past season. The highest amount of points Brassard ever put up before he joined the Rangers was 47. It’s worth pointing out that his career high 27 markers were the first time he eclipsed the 20-goal mark. So, the team traded him at his high point.
Maybe it’s another smart deal that works out. By moving Brassard, it puts more trust in Kevin Hayes to take over the second line center. A role he should be up to. Given his size and skill set, getting increased minutes should benefit the pass-oriented Hayes. If he’s not up to it, Zibanejad can center the second line.
While some of the reaction has been predictably negative asking what they traded Brassard for, Zibanejad has plenty of skill. He also has some sweet moves in the shootout. Not that I love shootouts. He still has room to grow as a player.
Credit GM Jeff Gorton for making a move that was outside the box. He realized they needed to cut salary. He’s taking a chance on a younger player with similar talent to Brassard. If it works out, nobody will complain. It sets up the Rangers better for the future.
Derek Stepan is the team’s number one center. He’ll obviously need to be more consistent in terms of production. But that also means Chris Kreider better get his act together. Assuming they commit long-term to him, he will directly impact Stepan. The future is likely built around both along with recently re-signed J.T. Miller.
Nash doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. If he isn’t, he’ll have to find chemistry with someone else. Whether it’s with Stepan or likely Hayes given the puck possession and skating he possesses, Nash should be fine. Zuccarello seemed to mesh well with Stepan when tried together.
As for Brassard, thank you for four good years. You helped the team reach higher. Good luck in Ottawa.