Monday, December 5, 2011

Making a Case for Brassard

On a team full of underachievers, there always seem to be a few who take the spotlight.  Admittedly my harsh criticisms for the Blue Jackets captain have been at the forefront of many of my posts on here in recent weeks, however that may be on account of the greatest name not achieving the greatest results.  In Brassard's case, expectations could not have been lower for him since his breakthrough sophomore season that fell short due to injury.

What I do find most interesting, is the complete and utter inability to utilize him in a consistent role by coach Scott Arniel.  Claims of 'fair chances' are common, but his rag tag line combinations of fourth line grit players, and third line grinders don't exactly fit the suitable linemates needed for a creative player like Brassard to thrive.  Until now, his time with similarly skilled players seems to be limited to secondary powerplay units and random in game line juggling by Arniel.

When I look back to his most successful time with Columbus, I immediately think of his chemistry with former Blue Jackets Jakub Voracek who climbed the depth chart with Brassard a couple seasons ago.  What was interesting about the pair, is that while they were immensely successful together, they struggled to bring Nash into their offensive output.  This continued into the following season, and is what I believe to be the eventual demise of Voracek as a Blue Jacket and Brassard as a 'capable top tier forward'.  Were it a situation where Brassard and Voracek could thrive on the second line of a deeper team, I believe the results would have been substantially different.

It's with that thought that I can't help but ponder.. Is Brassard really being utilized correctly? How much of his value as a playmaking center is being diminished by not having consistent, capable wingers on his line? Are there players that can build with him while he continues to develop as a player?  What is his true potential?  Is it really worth it to deal him at this point?

Elliotte Friedman has made a very interesting comparison in the Brassard discussions.  He states:

14. Solution? Well, Brassard will get dealt at some point. But in situations like this, I remember talking to former Calgary Flames GM and current NHL Network analyst Craig Button. Button traded Marc Savard to Atlanta for nothing because head coach Greg Gilbert wasn't a fan. Savard then totalled 491 points in 463 NHL games until the Matt Cooke hit. Calgary lost a supremely skilled passer and Gilbert would eventually be fired so, as Button said, his organization got nothing out of it. The Blue Jackets feel they've given Brassard plenty of chances and were 4-2-1 in the seven games he was scratched. If other teams do like him, could this happen to Columbus?

Interesting, huh? In his first full season in the NHL (three years after being drafted) Savard had nine goals and just shy of fifty points.  Clearly a playmaker, but apparently a movable asset as he was dealt to the Flames as the season ended.  There, he played three full seasons putting together some decent numbers, with assists being his primary scoring tally, but again was traded early in the 02/03 campaign with only three points in the first ten games of the season.  From there it is fairly clear what happened.  He became something closer to awesome until his run in with concussions and brutal hits.

Does Brassard look all that different?  It was eight years after Savard's draft year that Calgary dumped him for a relative nobody (Ruslan Zainullin -- Who has tallied the same number of NHL games/points that I have).  Are the Jackets at the point that they simply cannot develop talent at a snails pace?  Certainly making a trade for a viable defensemen would be an ideal scenario, but should it come at the cost of a potential 70+ point getter with great vision and tremendous playmaking capacity?  I will be happy to defend that last statement in noting that Brassard has come nowhere near peaking, nor has he fulfilled the expectations of very many people, but based on his past ability to build as a player, I am fully confident that with the right tutelage, he can become a top tier forward.

I will take his first bout with demotion this year as a prime example.  He fell down the depth chart out of camp for one reason or another, and had to claw his way back up through the fourth line.  For a short while he struggled, but then a new game emerged from him.  Gritty, hitting, tenacious, and fired up.  It was hilarious to watch a player who seemed disinclined to make a hit only a year ago skate deep into the offensive zone and knock Shea Weber down on the forecheck.  I am only focusing on this because I think he has a ton of room for growth.  His capacity for learning seems sufficient, he just needs the right linemates to teach him the NHL game in a greater spectrum, and a couple of players he can grow with to utilize a lot of his passing capabilities.

I imagine one of the final arguments in the 'move Brassard' camp would be his 3.2 million per year contract set to expire (as an RFA) at the end of the 2013/2014 season.  Yeah, paying a player over three million dollars to be benched is a tough pill to swallow, but then again, so is paying Sammy Pahlsson 2.65 million to play defensive forward extraordinaire or paying RJ Umberger 3.75 million for 7 points in 26 games (and keep in mind he's actually being given a raise to 4.6 this coming summer).  The difference between RJ and Brass this year is 0.05 points per game.  Some would argue that RJ brings intangibles like leadership or tenacity to the ice, but that argument probably looked a lot better last spring, considering how quickly the "take Nash's 'C' and give it to RJ" movement stopped.

I personally don't think it's time to trade Brassard for scraps.  I think it's time to start utilizing him appropriately and allowing him to take advantage of similar players on a consistent basis in order to achieve line chemistry on a scoring line.  With Huselius back in the lineup, the Jackets have every ability to field three legitimate scoring lines (assuming Carter is healthy by Tuesday) and Brassard should be on one of them.  Give him the players and the time to build, and I believe he can be a top six forward with upside.  The last thing I want to see is him pull a Savard and dominate with another NHL team.

Carry the Flag!

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