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Islanders Sign Derick Brassard: A Not-So-Instant-Reaction

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A quick analysis of the contract the Isles afforded their new third-line center.

San Jose Sharks v Colorado Avalanche - Game Four Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Islanders signed Derick Brassard to a 1-year, $1.2 million contract, filling the role of third-line center. The 31-year old center is coming off a whirlwind of a season, traded twice and ultimately playing for three separate teams. That led to just 23 points in 70 games, which is objectively the worst season of his career.

Given where his contract landed, it seems that expectations are realistic — at least from the Isles’ brass (er, no pun intended) — on what Brassard can offer. Let’s take a look at a bit of a deeper level and talk about the contract and the player.

First, let’s start with the contract itself. Using CapFriendly’s Comparison Tool, we can see similar deals that were signed in the past. Similar deals, in this case, refers to age, previous season production, career point production, and cap hit percentage. The chart above calls out four other contracts with the following parameters:

  • Signed after the initial July 1 frenzy for players but before the start of the season
  • Player is between the ages of 31-34
  • Player makes between 1.30% and 1.60% of the cap ceiling
  • A threshold of point production, so that all of the players listed had been productive NHL players at the time of their signings.

All of the players above carry some name value and were signed as reclamation projects (other than Brad Boyes who was coming off a solid 2013 season with the Islanders).

Source: www.hockey-graphs.com

Still, now at 31 years old, it is fair to wonder if such a season was just a blip or if this is the hard reality of a decline. Hockey aging curves (above) show that most players are past their prime by the time they get to their 30s. Even long-time productive centers like Brassard are not necessarily immune to the idea of time.

Source: Evolving-Hockey

There’s data that backs up the idea that Brassard is declining. Using Evolving-Hockey’s WAR and GAR/60 career charts, we can see that Brassard’s career starts to turn south after the 2016-17 season before cratering last season. There’s no guarantee that Brassard’s value metrics will continue to fall, as it is quite possible he does recover in a (presumably) more stable environment. Still, expecting Brassard to be the player he was in Columbus, New York, and Ottawa might be a bit of a stretch.

Source: HockeyViz

Using Micah Blake McCurdy’s Isolated Impact charts doesn’t paint a pretty picture either, as Brassard’s teams have been negatively impacted both offensively and defensively over the last two years. And while there has been narrative about Brassard’s role as a third line center, it is worth nothing his most common linemates over the last two years have been Mark Stone, Ryan Dzingel, and Phil Kessel (via Natural Stat Trick). Certainly, last year alone was inconsistent as Brassard never really found footing with common linemates (Kessel was his most common - only 169 minutes together), but it’s not as if he had been playing with replacement level players.

In fact, it’s more likely than not that the linemates he’s been with over the past few years will far outweigh the talent level he will play with on the Island. As The Athletic’s Shayna Goldman calls out, this is especially true if Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang do not become regular mainstays in this year’s lineup.

Put bluntly, if he could not make it work with the talent level he played with in Pittsburgh and Colorado, it’s hard to imagine him making it work with the talent level on Long Island.

The one key positive here comes on the power play, where Brassard has had a positive impact over the last two seasons. He should come in and provide legitimate depth, giving the Islanders a viable second unit to complement their strongest players. If Brassard is going to make noise this season, it’s likely going to be in these situations.

Let’s go back to the beginning and take a look at the comparable contracts and see how all four other players fared the next season:

As expected, the results are kind of all over the map, but there’s no real breakout star among the bunch. Like with most things, it’s important to have realistic expectations when it comes to results. Back of napkin math - which is not at all predictive - indicates about a 29 point pace for players that have signed similar contracts.

That seems pretty reasonable for a player coming off a bad season, signed as more of a depth player, and is not making any kind of money. Consider that Valtteri Filppula had a 31 point season last year, despite making $2.75 million, and that also layers on what can more-or-less be expected for this role from a production standpoint.

Ultimately, a signing such as this is pretty straightforward. Considering the lack of prospect and organizational depth at center, the third line center role was one of a need for New York. In that regard, signing a short-term stopgap makes intuitive sense. That it’s only a one year deal for less than 1.5% of the salary cap without any movement provisions makes it minimally risky. And that alone makes this a viable project for the Islanders, because even if Brassard does not work out, they should not have any issue clearing his roster spot (be in via trade or waivers, etc.).

So, at the end of the day, this is not a steal and it’s not a savvy, out-of-the-box idea. Even if Brassard is actually “done,” it’s a worthwhile gamble that needs to come with (extremely) tempered expectations.

Sometimes, that’s just... fine.