We’ve documented some of the worst trades in the history of the Calgary Flames here before, and for good reason, because under Darryl Sutter there were some bad ones. And while there were some good ones as well, it seems like the legacies of the bad ones linger for a long, long time. I still feel Darryl’s deal with the New York Rangers on February 1st, 2010 was one of the worst, in large part because of a player no longer here…Brandon Prust.
If you don’t remember the trade, I envy you. Darryl traded Olli Jokinen and Prust to the Rangers in exchange for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. It looked bad at the time; but Ales Kotalik’s tenure in Calgary has resembled a slug’s tenure in my mother’s garden. The team didn’t re-sign Chris Higgins. In short, it COULD have gone like this: let Jokinen’s contract run out, bring him back for cheaper the next year, keep Prust and don’t saddle yourself Kotalik’s semi truck dead weight. Instead, Kotalik is junk, Higgins is playing well in Vancouver, and Jokinen is Jokinen. As for Prust, well, he’s only turned into one of the most useful players for John Tortorella’s Rangers.
Look it, we knew Prust was turning into a useful player last season. Even while being deployed as a fourth line guy for much of his time here, Prust did some decent things in that role. He showed he could be more than a replacement player, as we saw him go to work on opposing fourth lines on a regular basis. Even with a 56.1% offensive zone start, Prust had his value with the Flames, contributing to the shot rate against nominal opposition. That alone made him a valuable player on the team, let alone his affordable cap hit. Even with an expiring contract (he was on an NHL minimum deal), Prust wasn’t going to be getting a huge raise, and the Rangers signed him a to a two year deal at 800k per.
But remember, Prust was an expendable part. He was traded FOR Jokinen in the initial deal that brough Olli to Calgary with the Phoenix Coyotes. He was dealt WITH Jokinen in a deal with the New York Rangers. For whatever reason, Sutter had no issue throwing the guy in on big deals…and the Blueshirts couldn’t be happier.
Head Coach Tortorella has used Prust in more than a fourth line depth role this season. Is this guy going to be a top six forward at any stage in his career? Probably not. But he has evolved into a player that can play meaningful minutes in tough, tough situations. No, he hasn’t been out there against the best of the best, but his 42.3% offensive start stat this year shows a large change in his utilization.
Granted, he’s on a very defensive team, and anyone can be deployed in defensive spots. So, compare a similar player in a similar role on the other coast. The Los Angeles Kings deployed Michal Handzus defensively 56.5% of the time with a -6.75 Corsi number. That’s fair, as few players in that spot will tread water, it’s just how it is, but nobody is going to say Handzus isn’t an important part of LA’s success. Exhibit B: Prust. He was defensively deployed more at 57.7% with a better Corsi rate, with his number sitting at -4.52. I’d argue, with watching both teams in the playoffs and plenty during the regular season, that one is as valuable as the other. Those Qualcomp numbers, which some buy and some don’t (I’m on the fence), are a pretty good wash between them too.
I know the Handzus comparison isn’t perfect, and I also know that Handzus plays down the middle and Prust doesn’t. But the contributions of the two are comparable, especially considering the similarities of the two teams. The Flames had players like that this season; Tim Jackman, David Moss and Curtis Glencross come to mind. But what’s the harm of having a guy like Prust too? I’d rather have him that Kotalik!
Look, I’m not trying to build a case for Brandon Prust’s Selke Trophy nomination. I’m building a case to show how helpful a player like Prust could be on the Calgary Flames, or any team for that matter. For his cap hit south of a million dollars, what he gave the Rangers this year was very notable. And he’s been traded by the Calgary Flames. Twice.