Usually, blockbuster NHL trades are fun. But every now and then, a Stanley Cup-hungry team confined to its salary cap attempts an "improper use of salary retention mechanism" and the whole thing devolves into a complicated, un-fun cluster of confusion.
That was the case Friday when the Penguins pulled off a trade for Senators center Derick Brassard , one of the more coveted forwards available at this year's NHL trade deadline. If only things were so simple. News of an agreement between Pittsburgh and Ottawa initially broke in the afternoon. Seven hours, six players, four draft picks and one NHL veto later, a three-team trade including the Golden Knights finally gained league approval.
So what took so long? The details are worth digging into.
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Golden Knights step in (sorry, Winnipeg)
If you're wondering, "What do the Golden Knights have to do with this?" well, that's a good question. Vegas acquired Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-round draft pick (via the Canucks) from the Penguins in exchange for retaining 40 percent of Brassard's salary, which was necessary to fit him under Pittsburgh's cap. Vegas also gave up forward prospect Tobias Lindberg as part of the deal.
Basically, the Senators traded Brassard to the Knights, who in turn ate some cash before flipping the 30-year-old over to the Penguins.
I believe there were four separate transactions involving VGK, PIT and OTT. VGK sent Brassard to PIT for Reaves and 4th-round pick. VGK also sent minor league player Tobias Lindberg to PIT for an as yet unspecified draft pick.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) February 24, 2018
In the NHL, seldom does one general manager help out another simply because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside.
It turns out Vegas' George McPhee may have had an ulterior motive. According to Sportsnet's John Shannon , the Knights were intent on keeping Brassard out of the hands of a Western Conference foe because "it's better to face him in Round 4 than Round 2." Reading between the lines, it doesn't take much to figure out that team was the Jets, who were hot on Brassard's case. For Vegas, paying $2 million (40 percent of Brassard's $5 million cap hit) for an easier path to the Stanley Cup was apparently deemed a worthy price.
Or maybe it's just McPhee's way of saying "thank you" for Marc-Andre Fleury.
The max salary a team can retain is 50% & the max number of times a contract can be retained is twice.
Theoretical max retained salary scenario for Brassard is therefore:
Trade 1: 50% of 5M (2.5M)
Trade 2: 50% of 2.5M (1.25M)
Final cap hit for #Pittsburgh : $1.25M (Theoretical) https://t.co/8vRMgg6Fgb
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) February 23, 2018
Penguins find a way ... again
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford called this "the most complex trade I've made."
That's what happens when you have to find a friend to help circumvent the salary cap. All told, Pittsburgh is the big winner in this trade. The Pens paid a high price (more on that below), but also received a 2018 third-round draft pick from Ottawa and a pair of forward prospects: Lindberg and Vincent Dunn.
The initial agreement with the Senators rankled the league office, which rejected the offer due to an "improper use of salary retention mechanism," according to TSN's Pierre LeBrun . No harm, no foul. They went back to the drawing board and got it done (though it isn't clear which details the NHL took issues with).
The bottom line is Rutherford got his guy. Brassard, 30, has 18 goals and 38 points in 58 games and is under contract through 2018-19, should the Penguins find a way to keep him. He's a bonafide second-line center who slots in behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which shouldn't be fair. Filling that spot has been a season-long mission after losing Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen in free agency. Like clockwork, Rutherford managed an upgrade through Brassard and the trade for Riley Sheahan earlier this year.
All together now: The Penguins are once again the team to beat in the Eastern Conference in their bid to three-peat.
Senators continue sell-off
It's never fun watching your favorite team tear it down. As Senators fans' heads were spinning from Erik Karlsson trade rumors the last week , the return for Brassard should make them feel a little better, at least. It breaks down as such: 2018 first-round pick and 2019 third-rounder, both from Pittsburgh, blue-chip goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson and defenseman Ian Cole, who they'll flip for another asset or two before Monday's deadline.
Even though the draft picks are bound to slot near the back of each round, Gustavsson, a second-round pick in 2016, is intriguing. You'll recall the 19-year-old starred between the pipes for Sweden at the world junior championship and could become the Sens' goalie of the future.
Not to mention, frugal owner Eugene Melnyk didn't have to pay a penny to offload Brassard's contract. Now if only someone would take Bobby Ryan ...