We move on to our second edition of “Retain or Release.” Yesterday, I covered Brad Richards and his unique, seemingly inevitable compliance buyout situation. Today, we’ll move on to the free agents, of which the Rangers have 11 at the NHL level. Continuing with the centers means that it’s Derick Brassard’s turn.
Age: Turns 27 in September
Previous Contract: Four Years/$3.2 Million AAV
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent
Basic 2013-2014 Stats: 81 Games, 18 Goals, 27 Assists (23 Games, 6 Goals, 6 Assists in Playoffs)
Why You Keep Him:
Derick Brassard’s time with the Rangers has been perplexing, and mostly for the right reasons. After being the poster boy for instability and erratic play for so many years in Columbus, leading to his departure, Brassard has been pretty consistent in what he brings to the table as a Ranger. This season – a season where nearly everyone else on the team had radical high’s and low’s, Brassard could be depended on for 6-9 points every month. Altogether, he finished 49th among centers in points-per-60 minutes; ahead of players like Henrik Sedin and Mike Ribeiro.
Then there’s the chemistry and success of his line with Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot. Together, they scored 18 goals during the regular season; good for the 21st most productive line combination in the entire NHL. During the playoffs, they were far and away the team’s most productive line, combining for 21 points. Next in line was Kreider/Stepan/Nash, with 11. To qualify that, other players were thrown onto different lines constantly, meaning no three players could consistently combine for offense, but that’s exactly the point. Even when Alain Vigneault was changing things, he was rarely changing Brassard’s line. They could be counted on to, if not produce, then at least consistently provide pressure in the offensive zone.
Finally, there’s his power play prowess. Brassard was tied with Derek Stepan for second on the team in PP points, with 18. Richards, at 19, led the team. What this doesn’t account for is how much more time on the PP Stepan and Richards received in comparison. When looking at P1/60 (goals + primary assists per 60 minutes) Brassard led the team by a large margin at 5.30. To compare, Stepan and Richards averaged 4.65 P1/60 and 3.82 P1/60, respectively. Given the team’s power play struggles, most notably in the playoffs, it would seem counterproductive to rid themselves of their most efficient catalyst on the power play.
Why You Lose Him:
Get ready for a theme that is going to be constantly brought up when speaking of all the unsigned players; given the cap crunch, is this guy worth the cap space he will cost? Brassard needs to be given a qualifying offer at $3.7M, which is a bit pricy but ultimately fine. They can negotiate a deal at a lower annual cap hit. We’ll see what Brassard’s demands are but, as a restricted free agent, he’s not in much of a spot to play hardball. Ask Derek Stepan how well that went for him last season. Even if it takes some teeth pulling, the Rangers and Brassard should ultimately settle on a 2-4 year deal in the $3M-$3.5M range. If it came down to it, they could take Brassard to arbitration and come away with a one-year deal in the area of $3M-$3.25M. At least in a vacuum, there’s nothing objectionable here.
That isn’t where potential problems lie, though. The Rangers got away with lacking an elite center because they compensated for it with Stepan, Richards, and Brassard; three pretty damn good centers. Richards is just about as good as gone, which means that the Rangers have to bring in a new center. Suppose they give the spot to J.T. Miller or Oscar Lindberg. Or suppose they sign a generic third-line center. Maybe a Marcel Goc. That’s going to push Brassard unquestionably into the second-line center slot and put a lot more pressure on him to produce. Could the Rangers still contend in that situation? Perhaps, so long as they’ve given him a very good supporting cast. Should they feel comfortable with it, though? I’m not so sure.
So then let’s say make a big splash and bring in a Paul Stastny. Or Joe Thornton. Or Jason Spezza. You now have a ton of money tied up in centers, and Derick Brassard becomes a fairly expensive third-line center. While that’s great in the sense that the team has tremendous talent down the middle, it very much limits Glen Sather’s ability to spend on the rest of the roster. Oh, and by the way, Derek Stepan’s going to demand a raise himself when his contract expires in 2015.
So Sather might decide that the best compromise is to bring in that Stastny, or Thornton, or Spezza, and trade Brassard to offset some of the cost. Then you have two centers who absolutely are capable of slotting into the top-six, and you take your chances with a Miller or Lindberg or even Dominic Moore (or equivalent FA) if necessary. Your first two centers can handle the important minutes and offensive burden while Alain Vigneault spends the early part of the season figuring out who can get the job done on the third-line. At absolute worst, you address the role by moving a mid-round pick at the trading deadline if all else fails.
As previously mentioned, Stastny/Thornton/Spezza are all potential replacements (upgrades, in reality). However, Spezza and Thornton are probably longshots while Stastny, though much more plausible, is still an uphill battle for Sather to lasso in.
If any of those players (or one of a similar caliber and expense) is acquired then it’s going to make for an interesting situation, at least. Until that moment, though, there’s little reason to believe that Derick Brassard will be anywhere but New York next season. Should Sather strike out on the big targets, he’ll likely go after a Mikhail Grabovski or David Legwand or Derek Roy in free agency for the third-line spot. Or explore the trade market. Or he’ll put a lot of faith in one of Lindberg or Miller earning the spot and use the unused cap space to boost the wings. In any of those scenarios, Brassard stays, and is given a bit more responsibility. The Rangers’ center situation would be quite alright, even if not utopian.
Follow Me On Twitter: @Herman_NYRBlog
Email Me: AdamNYRBlog@gmail.com