Tim Benz: The confounding cases of Steelers’ Morgan Burnett, Penguins’ Derick Brassard
Let’s focus on a pair of Pittsburgh athletes.
The first player came to Pittsburgh in 2018. His acquisition was widely applauded as a solid move by management.
The player’s arrival filled what had been deemed to be a significant hole for quite some time.
He was going to get a minor role change, yet publicly welcomed the challenge saying the fit seemed like a good one in Pittsburgh.
But since the moment he has arrived here, he has been injured, ineffective and apparently unhappy with his job description …
… and the other guy is Penguins forward Derick Brassard.
I was actually describing soon-to-be-former Steelers safety Morgan Burnett.
Can you tell the difference, though? I can’t. They are virtually the same player.
I mean, have you ever seen either guy in the same place at the same time? Yeah. Me either. Suspicious, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, neither of these Clark Kents have ever turned into Superman.
Stunningly, on the surface, both seem like pleasant, engaging, media-friendly people. Sadly, other commonalities between the two include:
• Negative draws on the salary cap
• Similar allergies. Burnett to coverage. Brassard to contact
• Both may be out of Pittsburgh in March.
I’m as surprised as anyone that these two haven’t panned out here. I lauded the Brassard trade, and I gave a thumbs-up to the free-agent signing of Burnett. That makes me a resounding 0-2 on this front, as are many other Pittsburgh-area fans and media members.
Brassard seemed like the perfect acquisition by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford to replace Nick Bonino. In previous stops at Columbus, Ottawa and New York, he had been an effective two-way center who seemed pesky and prone to playing his best in big games.
The hunch was that “Big Game Brass” was a well-above-average second-line center on average teams. The assumption was that he would become a standout third-liner behind Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Since coming here, though, Brassard had injury problems. Also, he never has fit into that third-line role. He has failed to jell with wingers, and he often has seemed more excited to play on Sidney Crosby’s wing, while simultaneously alluding to a lack of ice time for his lack of point production. At the end of last season, coach Mike Sullivan specifically offered up an absence from the power play as a reason why Brassard may have had problems engaging offensively.
With Crosby, Malkin, Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist on this team, first-unit power play time and second-line action was never in the cards. Brassard seemed to be aware of the circumstances when Rutherford got him from Ottawa.
“I’ll play wherever they are going to put me. I know there are a lot of good centers,” Brassard said his first day at PPG Paints Arena. “We are really good at that position. Whatever the coaches decide, I’ll do whatever.”
Reports since then, though, have suggested Brassard has been less than thrilled with his job description and has not been particularly inspired to take on the tasks the Penguins have asked of him.
Similarly, Burnett said all the right things when he signed with the Steelers. He embraced the idea of essentially playing a hybrid strong safety/free safety/linebacker spot. That’s something he did to a degree with his former team, the Packers.
“In Green Bay, our defense was interchangeable,” Burnett said the day he signed.
But last week, word came out that Burnett wanted to be released or traded, because he was unhappy with the position of essentially playing a dime linebacker.
Spoke with #Steelers S Morgan Burnett, who tells me he wants to be released from his deal before free agency. During his time in Pittsburgh, he felt he played out of position as a dime LB. Burnett, with 2 yrs left on his contract, wants a new start & a chance to play safety again
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 19, 2019
The funny thing is, coming out of Green Bay, Burnett had the reputation of being a solid team-oriented guy and a positive meeting-room presence. Maybe the toxins in the Steelers locker room seeped in on him.
The Steelers would be best-served granting Burnett’s request and getting him out of town. It looks like he’s unable and unwilling to be the player they wanted him to be. While Burnett would cost $2.83 million in dead money, the team would save $3.63 million ditching the 30-year-old .
As far as Brassard goes, maybe another NHL team under his modified no-trade clause could see him as a better fit and be willing to take on the remainder of his $5 million salary before March 1. I’d be in favor of that if a good forward comes back for him.
If Crosby or Malkin gets injured after a deal, though, that would’ve been the perfect time to elevate Brassard in hopes he’d mesh with the players he wants and payoff the power play time he desires.
Given Terrell Edmunds’ ascent as a rookie, I’ll bet Burnett is done in Pittsburgh. As for Brassard, I believe Rutherford will hang onto him until the trade deadline and just hope this situation gets better. That may be determined based on the health of other players.
Regardless, both players could be described as addition-by-subtraction once they are dealt.
Your turn, Lonnie Chisenhall. Do better.