The Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers each feel they won their offseason trade. Soon they'll find out for real.
Derick Brassard and Mika Zibanejad, the centers in the trade between the Senators and Rangers on July 18, are big reasons why the teams will play each other in the Eastern Conference Second Round.
Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
Brassard stayed true to his nickname, "Big Game Brass," one he earned from the New York Post during his time with the Rangers, with his play against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round.
He led the Senators with eight points (two goals, six assists), including an assist on Clarke MacArthur's series-clinching overtime goal in Game 6 on Sunday. Brassard also scored the game-tying goal in the third period of Game 2 before the Senators won in overtime, and assisted on Bobby Ryan's goal in a 1-0 win in Game 4.
Video: OTT@BOS, Gm3: Brassard slams home Ryan's nice dish
Similarly, the Rangers have to be happy with what they got from Zibanejad when their first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens wore on. He led the Rangers with four points (one goal, three assists) during the six-game series, including the overtime goal in Game 5 and an assist on their lone power-play goal of the series in their series-clinching win in Game 6.
Zibanejad struggled in the first three games playing on a line with Jimmy Vesey and Rick Nash. He talked about how he was too easy to defend because he wasn't holding onto the puck, drawing defenders to him and making plays. Zibanejad said he was guilty of being afraid to make a mistake and it meant he wasn't doing much of anything.
That changed in Game 4 when coach Alain Vigneault reunited him with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich, who was scratched for the first three games. That line was the Rangers' best line early in the regular season.
Zibanejad immediately looked comfortable again and started playing his game. He had a significant impact in New York's three straight wins to close the series.
Ottawa and New York made the trade because each had a specific need and felt the player on the other team could fill it.
Video: NYR@MTL, Gm5: Zibanejad buries shot for OT win
The Senators, who also got a seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft from the Rangers, wanted a more experienced center with cost certainty, someone they could rely on to help get them in the playoffs and be a big-time performer once there.
Brassard, 28 at the time of the trade, came to Ottawa and with 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 59 playoff games, all with the Rangers. He played in the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and got to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2015. He also had three years left on his contract with an NHL salary-cap charge of $5 million, according to CapFriendly.com.
The Rangers, who also got a 2018 second-round pick from the Senators, wanted to get younger and cheaper down the middle without giving up anything in skill and production.
Zibanejad, who came to the Rangers entering the final season of his contract with a $2.625 million cap charge, fit the bill, especially after he had 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 81 games last season. The cap savings gave the Rangers the flexibility to re-sign forwards Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.
The regular season, however, produced mixed results for each player.
Although Senators coach Guy Boucher said before the playoffs that Brassard had the greatest positive discrepancy of any of the team's forwards between scoring chances for and scoring chances against during the regular season, it didn't lead to sustained production.
Video: BOS@OTT, Gm2: Brassard nets Karlsson's nice pass
Brassard was fifth on the Senators with 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in 81 games. It was his fewest points in an 82-game season since he had 36 points with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10. Brassard averaged 23 goals and 59 points in his previous two seasons with the Rangers.
Zibanejad got off to a strong start this season, with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in his first 19 games, an average of 0.789 points per game.
He broke his left leg sliding into the boards Nov. 20 and missed 25 games, and wasn't the same upon returning, with 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 37 games, an average of 0.595 points per game.
It was important for Zibanejad to get going against the Canadiens because he needed to make up for the playoff production Brassard used to provide the Rangers.
The results in the first round mean each team can say with confidence the trade worked out for them. Starting Thursday they will go head to head to find out who won it for real.