Brandon Pirri is Available; Should the Canucks Bite?

As the NHL inches towards the February 29th Trade Deadline, more names are being added daily into the churning rumour mill. Count Brandon Pirri of the Florida Panthers among them. The second such occasion in his young professional career, no less.

Speculation was tepid, before being thrown into overdrive by a series of healthy scratches which marked a three-game stretch going into this weekend’s All-Star festivities. To the credit of Panthers head coach, Gerard Gallant, Pirri’s extended stay in the press box has been described as a motivational ploy for a struggling club.

Not that I bought that in the slightest to begin with, but Pirri’s status as an impending RFA on a budget team with several higher priorities on the horizon all but renders that moot. Let’s dig in.

Before Jim Benning was taking the league by storm with his expedited prospect accumulation, I had set my eyes on Pirri. Originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the 2009 entry draft, Pirri was eventually shown the door by Stan Bowman when there were fewer spots than there were NHL ready prospects. Pirri drifted in and out of the trade block in 2013/14, before eventually getting scooped up by the Panthers for a third and fifth round selection.

Prior to joining the Panthers, Pirri cut his teeth in the AHL as a high-scoring utility forward, playing primarily at centre. Scoring at a near point per game pace (0.84 PPG), Pirri forced the Blackhawks to find him suitable pasture in the bigs – at home, or abroad.

Since joining the Panthers, Pirri has gained recognition for his bizarre, Cy Young worthy stat line of last season, marked by 22-goals to the just 2-assists. Outside of the obvious proportional uniqueness, it’s especially puzzling because Pirri is much more a facilitator than finisher. 

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I’ve tracked a relatively significant amount of Panthers games and I can say with a certain amount of confidence that Pirri is a strong driver of success in the neutral zone. In fact, relative to his teammates, he was positively revelatory.

Beyond that, Pirri is a productive playmaker, with good vision and hands, who can fit quite literally into any spot in the lineup. Pirri is afforded this versatility by his comfort at every position other than defence. Originally a centre, Pirri has split time playing on opposite wings in Florida – a byproduct of solid centre depth more than anything.

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I can’t say with any degree of certainty that Pirri’s defensive game is solvent, but the net value is positive for the Panthers relative to when he’s not on the ice. Hockey is a zero sum game and the Panthers fare better from a territorial standpoint with Pirri on the ice than off. There’s value in finding out which side of the red line this value is derived from, but at the end of the day, we’re splitting hairs.

While I’ve a healthy amount of skepticism towards Pirri’s first-line plus offensive production since graduating to the NHL, it’s hard to ignore the company he keeps in terms of even-strength goal production over the course of these last two seasons. Being sandwiched by Brad Marchand and Marcus Johansson at G/60 among forwards at 5-on-5 with 750-minutes or more these last two seasons shouldn’t be scoffed at.

The only player to don the blue and green that’s ahead of Pirri by this regard is Shawn Matthias and it’s hardly what one would call a commanding lead. The former Canucks forward is just 0.02 G/60 ahead of Pirri, but who’s counting?

Which brings us to exactly why the Canucks should be falling all over themselves to submit a bid in the Brandon Pirri sweepstakes. The Canucks, as a team, have struggled to replace much of the even-strength scoring they parted with this off-season – not that this should have been overly surprising or qualifies as news.

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Adding a two-way capable, young forward with positional versatility addresses many of the Canucks most glaring problems. It’s a not a one-step fix all, but it’s a start.

Wherein the problem lies is the Canucks advanced place on the organizational schedule. A good problem to have, all things being equal. The Canucks have more NHL ready players than they have spots to accommodate them. Adding Emerson Etem and Sven Baertschi in less than a calendar year throws two more horses in the stable and we’re just addressing the position at hand.

The Canucks have rolled weighted dice three times already in these last two seasons. All good bets, even if the results are mixed. Finding a place for Pirri means throwing another in the cup and hoping for Yahtzee. For Jim Benning, the question becomes: are the odds better of hitting with players slated to make the jump later this season or early next? If so, can this hypothetical acquisition be accommodated by parting with one or two assets deemed a lower probability of long-term NHL success?

These are all questions I’m glad I don’t have to answer. Given the level of success Pirri has achieved already in his career, it’s a situation worth keeping tabs on, though. Running a franchise is an efficiency contest – especially in a hard capped league. Even the most incremental of edges make the most substantial of differences. Hard to say Pirri can offer that with any certainty, but there’s likely a probabilistic edge over some of the players ready to enter the fold in the not-so-distant future.

  • TrueBlue

    If he can be had for something like a 5th or even 4th round pick then definitely take a shot on him. At worst, he flames out and you waive him. He seems to have a solid skill set but maybe hasn’t put it all together just yet (or he may never?).

  • TrueBlue

    Pirri for Weber & Prust. Both of whom we may have to waive upon return of Henrik & Hamhuis anyways. Gives Florida a “depth” defenseman and “gritty” forward. Fla. has room on roster.

    May mean that Cracknell ends up being the odd man out.(Waivers)

    • Dirty30

      Rather trade bodies than picks right now and this looks like a decent trade.

      Another option is a straight up Vey for Pirri — I think Linden would do better in Florida and Pirri comes back with the same versatility as Vey to play centre or wing. WD might not be happy but maybe Pirri can stop in Medicine Hat and buy a Tigers jersey.

  • SnatchByThePool

    We could have the three Brandons on one line. However, I think we should pass. Don’t have enough spots available for the guys we have and one Brandon needs to move on.

    Trading with the Panthers is a gamble at best, Tallon is a clever old fox and makes his assets look really good just before he trades them. David Booth and Kieth Ballard are good examples as both had to be bought out by us. We almost traded for Stephen Weiss, who made it to free agency and was signed by Detroit. After a long struggle the Wings bought him out. He looked good in Florida. Then there is the matter of Luongo. I’m pleased with Markstroms development, but Mathias was the main piece in that trade.

    It seems to me, the stuff that goes to Florida is better than the stuff that comes back.

  • TrueBlue

    I think it’s worth a shot if he’s available for “a Benning Nickel” (aka a 2nd round pick).

    I have to imagine that he’s well aware of the situation and as involved as he wants to be, because it’s one of the go-to plays in his playbook. So I trust that he’ll pull the trigger if the price is right.

  • SnatchByThePool

    Perri may be a useful player but our real need is defence. It’s rumored that the Capitals are interested in Hamhuis, possibly dangling a late 1st round pick and mid range prospect. This makes sense on some levels. Hamhuis’ old coach in Nashville, Trotz, is behind the Washington bench and still thinks the world of him. Hamhuis likely has a full no trade clause but going to a Stanley Cup contender has to be enticing. If the Caps offer up a good defensive prospect (i.e. Madison Bowey) and a second round pick, that is an offer that we can bite on. Even if we need to eat some salary.

  • Dirty30

    They want a gritty winger back so, Dorsett or Burrows? Both? Throw in a late pick maybe. Guess with their burgeoning analytics dept. they might take Burrows which would be a great salary dump for us and we get a player 10 years younger.

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with Burrows, but with Daniel, Hansen, Baertschi, Virtanen, Shinkaruk, Rodin, Etem, Vey, Gaunce and maybe a fancy Finnish winger from the draft, we’re pretty set on the wings. Any you know Bennings going to make a big play for Lucic (when he should really target
    Eriksson). To be honest with that wing depth maybe we should send Hansen to the Panthers and ask for Trocheck in return.

  • Beefus

    The UFAs Benning should be targeting next year are Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Russell. It would totally make over our porous defence and would be totally affordable once we dump Vrbata, Hamhuis, Burrows and Prust for draft picks.

    • pheenster

      Seriously doubt Byfuglien would ever make it to free agency. If Jets can’t keep him, they’ll trade him for a huge return and where ever he ends up will immediately lock him up. Only way he ends up in Vancouver is if we trade to get him… and we don’t have the assets to do that.

      • Beefus

        I think if the Jets are still in the playoff hunt they will keep him and try to re-sign him in the offseason. I can’t see them making the playoffs without him.

  • TrueBlue

    Pirri is young and capable. The people here saying things like Pirri for Prust are dreaming. Plus Florida said they’re seeking a 3rd line gritty winger + a pick. Van should not surrender assets but a REALISTIC trade for Pirri would be Burrows retained 50% plus a 2nd & 3rd. Don’t forget Florida knows they’d be doing us a favour taking Burrows so they won’t for a little extra. With Burrows off the books, you could then trade Vrbata and Vey to recoup those 2 picks. Pirri is looking for a raise, that’s why they’re trading him. Not because they don’t want him, no chance Benning makes a steal, if we want him we’ll have to pony up to do it

  • Beefus

    I’m only interested if he is swapped out for one of our smaller forwards, such as Vey, Shinkaruk or Baertschi (although, the chemistry between Bae and Horvat is starting to grow on me).

    The focus should be on increasing size up front and locating two second pairing defensemen.

  • Beefus

    It’s hard to get behind going hard after smaller than 6′ less than 200lb middle six rated forward who while he managed a gaudy and largely anomalous 22 goals in an injury hampered 49 games last year shooting at a better than 15% clip has come back to earth with an 8.6% Sh% this year. Another element that does not show up on the HERO chart is that his possession numbers have suffered this year, and he is sporting negative CorsiRel while still getting 53% offensive zone starts albeit a lower % than his career average of better than 60% prior to this season which likely helped pump his possession tires.

    While another serviceable middle 6 player in the 23- 29 age range is certainly an asset worth having, I sincerely believe both Shinkaruk and Gaunce will bring similar attributes to Pirri when graduated to the NHL level, any exchange of assets in the form of picks or prospects that aren’t used in the pursuit of legitimate top 6 D-Men to add to this roster is a fool’s errand.

  • TrueBlue

    If we can get him for a 4th or 5th pick it may make sense but Pirri’s a slight centre (6 feet and 170 pounds) so I’m having trouble seeing where he would play in our lineup? Our top 3 centres are Hank, Sutter and Horvat. Vey has been reasonably good as 3rd line centre so Sutter may play wing with the Sedin’s. The only spot open would be 4th line and he’s far to slight for that. If we trade Vrbata or Burrows he may slide in as a winger on the 2nd or 3rd line but we may have better options in Utica.