Does the Derick Brassard Situation Ring a Bell?

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Derick Brassard, last season’s 1st line center for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the former overall number six pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has been a ‘healthy scratch’ – a common NHL term for being benched – seven of his previous ten team’s contests until his being inserted into the lineup, last night.

While Brassards’s performance has been extremely disappointing, to peg his struggles as one of the primary reasons for the Blue Jackets disastrous start is simply not accurate.  In short, where do you start?

In Friday’s Columbus Dispatch, Aaron Portzline reported the following. 

In short, Brassard’s agent, Allan Walsh, feels that his client is being singled out as the fall guy for the Blue Jackets ills by head coach Scott Arniel.

Now if you think that Walsh’s comments are the result of an overbearing agent coddling his client, I offer you the following:

Does this stalemate ring a bell?

At the beginning of last season, former Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore was the believed fall guy to incur Arniel’s wrath via a dizzying series of events eventually leading to his demotion to the Blue Jackets American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Springfield and an eventual contractual buyout only to be claimed by Central Division rival the Detroit Red Wings.

But there was no doubt that there was a contentious relationship between Commodore and Arniel and the coach won the battle with General Manager Scott Howson’s full support.  It was widely held that Commodore was a defenseman that former head coach Ken Hitchcock lobbied for as a vital piece of revamping the Blue Jackets defensive corps which, for their lone playoff appearance, proved to be a solid Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) decision.

However, Commodore struggled with his play and conditioning during the following season, the season in which Hitchcock was fired as head coach.  Then, during the next season, when Arniel became Hitchcock’s permanent successor, he opted to send a clear message to Commodore that he was not in the organization’s plans for a change to an up-tempo system, one in which defenseman were asked to lead the offensive rushes.

Returning to the discord between Brassard and Scott Arniel, Walsh expressed his disdain for the treatment of his client:

“While I have tremendous respect for (general manager) Scott Howson and the rest ofColumbus’ management team, the situation regarding Derick Brassard has become untenable,” Walsh’s statement read. “The coach has a history of burying players and using them as scapegoats to mask his own lack of success on the ice.

“Derick has been singled out, almost from the very beginning of the season, to be the fall guy in case things don’t go well. The Columbus organization cares about Derick and has been good to him, but at some point, one has to say, enough is enough.”

Walsh did wish to express that neither he nor his client are requesting a trade.  However, Brassard has been the subject of rampant speculation of being shopped to other NHL teams by the Blue Jackets during the past several weeks.

And while Brassard’s performance this season – two goals, two assists and a horrid -10 +/- rating – does not lend to much leverage to his benching and his diminished Time On Ice (TOI), if the Blue Jackets are indeed trying to shop him to another team, both benching and healthy scratches are not the way you would generally go about trying to increase his trade value.

Then there’s the other perception of what’s occurring:  If the Blue Jackets were to trade Brassard, it would mark the fifth of six overall first-round draft picks the Blue Jackets would have traded, the exception being its captain, Rick Nash.  Six of those first-round draft selections were made by Scott Howson’s predecessor, Doug MacLean and it’s been held in some NHL circles that Howson might be trying to rid himself of the specter of first-round selections of the previous regime.

So if the Blue Jackets are not trying to trade Brassard yet they don’t feel he’s anything more than a fourth line center which is where he’s been playing on the squad, then what is the basis for these actions and what, if anything, does the future hold for Brassard with the Blue Jackets organization?

Also, if Scott Arniel is the common denominator for these actions both with Brassard and formerly Commodore, are these solely his decisions or are they being made at the Howson level?

No matter the reason, it along with the recent rumored discontent with off-season acquisition Jeff Carter and the team’s standing at the bottom of the NHL, can only make this situation puzzling and one to keep an eye out for in the coming weeks and months

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