Derick Brassard isn’t a name that has necessarily immortalized itself into the history book of any given NHL team, but that’s only due to the nature of the path his hockey career has taken.
When the 35-year-old (likely) skates in his 1000th career NHL game against the New York Rangers tomorrow, he’ll have done so across ten different organizations — almost one-third of the teams in the entire league today — donning the sweater of the Ottawa Senators, the only one of ten on which he’s seen two separate stints. The only player in the NHL’s history to have played for more clubs than Brassard is Mike Sillinger, who played for twelve (including Ottawa!).
Granted, the Senators weren’t the team that drafted Brassard. They weren’t the team to go furthest in the playoffs with him, and their acquisition of him wasn’t even the biggest NHL trade he’s been a part of, but there’s enough substance in his tenure in Ottawa for him to deserve some recognition — particularly as a player whose game wasn’t appreciated enough.
First off, to address the elephant in the room, the trade to acquire Brassard was...well it was something, let me tell you. Mika Zibanejad’s success in New York has caused it to leave a sour taste in the mouth of the fanbase, but that’s independent of Brassard’s play.
One can look at his production in his first year with the Sens and roll their eyes. 14 goals and 25 assists in 81 games isn’t what you’re looking for in a second-line center, but it’s important to point out a couple of asterisks.
For starters, he was unlucky. He shot 7.18% in 2017-18, which is a career-low and well below his 11% career average. With that rate, he would clock in at 21 goals and 25 assists, for 46 points in 81 games. Even still, there’s more to Brassard’s game than just production.
Playing the majority of his minutes with Mark Stone and Zack Smith, he proved to be a positive contributor at both ends of the ice. This is illustrated by the following heatmaps, depicting red areas as those where more shots are taken compared to the league average, and blue areas depicting fewer shots. A good two-way player will have a lot of red in the offensive zone, and a lot of blue in the defensive zone, and Brassard checks both of these boxes.
(As a quick explainer, the above charts show that with Brassard on the ice, the Sens were 9% more likely to score than the average across the NHL [top image], and the Sens were 4% better at reducing the likelihood of goals with him on the ice [bottom image]).
Of course, no notable Senator comes without a signature moment in the playoffs, and Brassard brought us two. Two of his 11 playoff points in 19 games were game-tying goals against Boston (Round 1, Game 2) and New York (Round 2, Game 5), the former being memorable for the skill on display from Karlsson, and the latter being memorable for being one of those trademark chaotic goals in which the puck seemed to gain sentience and will itself into the back of the net.
We’ll skip most of what happened next for obvious reasons, but with the Senators in a position in 2018 to sell off some of their assets, Brassard was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a return that included goaltending prospect Filip Gustavsson and a first-round pick in the 2018 draft (traded down for Jacob Bernard-Docker and Jonny Tychonick).
It’s not uncommon for a top-six player to quickly phase out of the league once he’s no longer able to produce at that same rate, but Brassard is one of those who’s done a fantastic job of transitioning into a depth role.
It wasn’t looking like it would happen at first, though. His 2018-19 campaign stands out as being his most underwhelming — underperforming with the Pittsburgh Penguins, being traded twice, and not finding success with Florida or Colorado.
However, he had enough of a track record as a playoff performer for the New York Islanders to give him a 1-year contract for the 2019-20 season, and it paid off in spades when he produced 10 goals and 22 assists in 68 games in a third-line center role behind Mat Barzal and Brock Nelson and enjoyed a fourth trip to the Eastern Conference Final in seven years.
Since then, it’s been a rinse-and-repeat process for Brassard. Despite a steady decline in physical skills, he’s managed to extend his career on one-year deals with the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers (who traded him to the Oilers), and this season — after signing a PTO for the first time in his career, the Ottawa Senators. Across the ten organizations for which he played, he has racked up 211 goals and 330 assists in 999 regular-season NHL games, as well as 68 points in 118 playoff games.
And throughout the season, Brassard has proven to still be a positive contributor at the NHL level. His transitional numbers have been decent outside of when he was forced into a top-six role by injuries, and his 9 goals on the year rank 7th among Sens forwards, proving that he belongs in the team’s bottom six. 8 of his 19 points have come on the power-play, showing that he can step into the second unit in a pinch.
It’s true that Derick Brassard was more notable in certain jerseys as opposed to others. A young gun in Columbus, a highly-skilled veteran on the Rangers, and an invaluable contributor to the Ottawa Senators playoff run of 2017. But his work ethic and dedication to the sport shine most brightly through his ability to, year after year, prove there’s still enough in the tank for one more go.
And with the Senators still clawing their way back into the hunt for a playoff spot, we might just see one final return of Big Game Brass to close out a tidy hockey career.