The Arizona Coyotes can have their cake and eat it too.
When the Arizona Coyotes traded away second-line center Derek Stepan to the Ottawa Senators for a second-round pick, it was best-case scenario a single step back to take two steps forward down the line.
To be fair, the Coyotes pretty much had to make some move to get cap compliant heading into the 2020-21 season. Landing a second-round pick for a 30-year-old center coming off the worst season of his NHL career is pretty fantastic value, especially with his contract set to expire upon season’s end.
Then again, the Coyotes are presumably set to enter a lock-down, drag-out brawl with the Minnesota Wild for the fourth playoff spot in the NHL’s new West Division, so losing out on a top-six player is a pretty tough pill to swallow. Sure, the team still has a few intriguing options to soak up minutes up the middle of the line, most notably 2018 first overall pick Barrett Hayton, but can he really be counted on to take over for a 10-year vet with only 20 career NHL games under his belt?
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Needless to say, if Arizona wanted to make the most of their final campaign facing off against teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks with regularity before migrating to the Central Division in 2021-22, they’d probably be wise to bolster their lineup with a little more firepower up the middle.
Fortunately, it looks like the team has done just that.
Though nothing has been officially announced by the team just yet – as of the time of publication – it’s been reported by multiple outlets that the Coyotes are singling in on signing veteran journeyman center Derick Brassard to a deal. Though we don’t know the exact conditions of the deal just yet – because, again, it hasn’t officially happened yet – it’s pretty safe to assume the deal is worth no more than $1.5 million and is all but surely for one year.
So, in effect, the Arizona Coyotes have traded Derek Stepan for a second-round pick and Derick Brassard. That’s… actually pretty good value.
Now granted, Brassard isn’t Stepan. He’s played for six teams over the last five years and hasn’t had a steady home since his four-year tenure with the New York Rangers in the mid-2010s. Stepan, by contract, was acquired by the Coyotes in a package for the seventh overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and gave Arizona three solid seasons as a calming presence both in the locker room and up the middle.
Brassard doesn’t bring that leadership or 224 games of experience in Rick Tocchet‘s system to the table, but what he does have is similar on-ice production, which should keep the Coyotes at least in the hunt for a playoff spot in 2021.
During his first, and probably only, season with the Islanders, Brassard recorded four more points than Stepan in four fewer contests while filling a bottom-six role as either a center or right-wing. While it seems unlikely that Brassard will immediately slot into Stepan’s former role, he’ll at least be given a chance to compete in training camp with the likes of Hayton and settle into some role for the Coyotes this season.
With the remaining stragglers of the 2020 free agent market rapidly getting snatched up by last-minute shoppers, I’d say the Coyotes made out pretty well based on the options left on the board.
Ultimately, the Arizona Coyotes made the two best moves they could to get their team compliant with the salary cap and try to remain competitive in the West. While they are objectively worse off with Derick Brassard on their roster than Derek Stepan, that doesn’t mean they are suddenly favorites to finish last in their temporary home. Far from it, actually. By immediately targeting one of the best centers left on the market and snatching him up before another forward-hungry team could, Bill Armstrong gets to remain competitive now while still having a second-round pick to play with moving forward.