There are few players in the NHL who follow the league as a whole as closely as Derick Brassard. He was always the first one who wanted to chat about the trade deadline — who was going where, what the rumors were, which team got ripped off.
Turns out eventually the meat grinder of the business sucked him in, as well. Now on the other side of it, having signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with the Islanders this summer, the 32-year-old Brassard can reflect on what has been a hellacious 10 months, if not a totally whirlwind three-plus years since the Rangers traded him in the summer of 2016.
“You can see it, sometimes [after] the trade deadline, it’s hard getting to a team and playing right away,” Brassard told The Post after Monday’s practice, as his team prepared to wrap up its three-game season-opening homestand with a Coliseum match against the Oilers on Tuesday night, having split their first two.
Brassard has now been traded several times, and his game has suffered for it. It started when the Blue Jackets’ first-round pick (No. 6 overall) in 2006 was traded to the Rangers in 2013 as part of the big Marian Gaborik deal. He spent four-plus years with the Blueshirts, going to one Stanley Cup final and another conference final, never missing the playoffs, earning the moniker of Big Game Brass.
But the Blueshirts wanted to get younger, and wanted to shed the $5 million salary-cap hit he carried as part of the five-year, $25 million deal they gave him in 2014. So they shipped Brassard and a seventh-round pick to his hometown Senators in exchange for Mika Zibanejad and a second-round pick. Even Brassard knew it was a steal for the Rangers, as Zibanejad has since emerged into a legit star.
But it began a sequence for Brassard where he could hardly call any city home. The discombobulated Senators traded him to the Penguins during the 2017-18 season, but he wasn’t that final piece the Penguins were looking for to give them a third straight Stanley Cup.
“This summer I was looking for a team to get back to my game, getting a role, because I was kind of getting lost in Pittsburgh with that,” Brassard said. “You start doubting yourself and stuff like that.”
So last season, the Penguins traded Brassard to the Panthers a few weeks before the deadline, a deal in which it was clear Florida was going to flip him again. The Panthers moved him to the Avalanche, the sixth team of his career and the fourth in three seasons.
“Last year, there’s not a lot of things I could control,” Brassard said. “Maybe it was a down year, but it was really hard to get going.”
So Brassard wanted a fresh start, and he met with Islanders team president Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz, both with reputations that preceded them. He knew the team could use a veteran center after Valterri Filppula left, not to mention the earlier departure of John Tavares.
And he knew he liked playing hockey in the New York area, even if living on Long Island and the club’s facilities have both surprised him in a good way.
“When you go from different cities — stay at a hotel, go from another hotel, to another hotel, to another hotel — it wasn’t the greatest situation,” Brassard said. “It’s behind me, and I’m looking forward.”
Trotz made it clear to Brassard that he thought he was still a good player, and that all the movement was just a matter of circumstance.
“I was saying to him when he first got here — there’s a business aspect, and sometimes where you are, salary-wise, to make things fit, you end up being that roaming piece,” Trotz said. “I think, as much as anything, that’s how he became of a product of playing on three different teams last year. It wasn’t directed at anything as a player. It was just the business side, the financial side.”
Now Trotz said that Brassard is “playing with confidence,” and has helped young fellow French-Canadian winger Anthony Beauvillier on his wing, with another vet,
Leo Komarov, on the right. With one assist through the first two games, Brassard is hoping he can get something rolling — really get his career back on track.
“I thought it was a good opportunity for me to come here,” Brassard said, “and just get back to where I was.”