Ex-Hawks Pirri making the best of it with Wolves
Brandon Pirri has been around long enough to know how things work in professional sports.
He's well aware that it's a cutthroat, what-have-you-done-for-me lately world out there, and if you don't perform there's a good chance unpleasant consequences are right around the corner.
Still, that didn't make it any easier when Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon caught Pirri in an elevator on Nov. 16 and told the forward that he was being placed on waivers.
This, after Pirri signed a two-year contract in July with the understanding that he'd be with the Golden Knights all season. He was so confident, in fact, that the 28-year-old moved his wife and young son to Vegas, renting out their home in Bucktown to former teammate and new Blackhawks forward Ryan Carpenter.
Add it all up and it's easy to see why McCrimmon's news hit Pirri like a punch to the gut.
"You know, I was frustrated. I really was. I wasn't scoring," said Pirri, who was assigned to the Chicago Wolves when he cleared waivers. "I know I need to do that to stay in the lineup. It's been like that my whole career. ...
"(This was) a lot tougher in the sense that I had my whole family across the country. That was kind of my first thought, that I had to make them move again."
McCrimmon passed on a phone interview and did not respond to a question via email.
For those who need a crash course on the offensively gifted winger, he was drafted by the Blackhawks 59th overall in 2009, played most of three seasons with their AHL affiliate in Rockford and got his first true taste of the NHL in 2013-14. He scored 6 goals in 28 games for the Hawks that season, then was traded to Florida where he scored 7 goals in 21 games.
Pirri played 101 more games for the Panthers -- all under coach Gerard Gallant -- and then went on to play nine games for Anaheim and 60 for the Rangers in 2016-17.
It was during the 2017 off-season that Pirri signed with Vegas because the expansion team's AHL team was in Chicago, where his wife is from. He pumped in 29 goals during that campaign, then took full advantage of a mid-December call-up last season by pumping in a whopping 8 goals in his first 11 games.
Things dried up from there as Pirri scored just 4 more times in his next 20 appearances, but he loved playing for Gallant, a pure player's coach if there ever was one.
So when it came time to decide which team to sign with last July -- and there were multiple offers -- it didn't take Pirri long to ink a two-year, $1.55 million deal with Vegas.
The main reason? Gallant.
"I think you need a guy that believes in you and believes in your ability. Throughout my career he's been kind of that guy," said Pirri, who added that Gallant always tried to be clear about why you were missing a shift, why you were sliding down the lineup in the middle of a game, or why you weren't playing that night. "He played, he gets it. And that's why everyone loves to play for him."
There was one other big reason Pirri signed with Vegas.
"I've made my wife move a lot over the seven years we've been together," Pirri said. "That was a big decision for me, to give her and my son a little security. Just when you think you have it, you don't."
During training camp, Vegas -- like many teams do -- jostled its forward lines to get a look at different combinations, some of which included young prospects. Pirri said he took no offense, but when the season began things just weren't clicking, for him or Vegas, which was 9-9-3 in mid-November.
After playing in the first four games, Pirri was a healthy scratch in nine of the next 16 contests. His stats when he was put on waivers: no goals, 1 assist and 19 shots on goal in 11 games.
"It was tough to get in a rhythm, but at the same time I've done it before," Pirri said. "I know how to handle it.
"I wasn't getting that puck luck, per se. I evaluate my game on if I'm getting chances. I thought I was -- it just wasn't going in at that time."
Now that Pirri's back with the Wolves -- and in his house again after giving Carpenter some time to find a new place -- he's settled into his old routine and is "happy to be here."
Pirri, who has 11 goals and 16 assists in 29 games, started helping the Wolves right away on and off the ice.
"I felt bad for him, but I was happy for us," said coach Rocky Thompson, whose team has overcome a rough 11-15-2 start and is 11-5-3 in its last 19 games. "We know how dominant a player he is for our team. He's always been a good, positive presence."
Vegas fired Gallant on Jan. 15, so Pirri knows there's almost no way he's getting called back up, meaning it's entirely possible his NHL career might be over.
And if that's the case? So be it.
"I would say I've had an NHL career -- it wasn't a long one -- but I have had one," said Pirri, who has 72 goals in 270 games for five teams. "I've made some pretty good memories, had some pretty good opportunities to do things. So we'll see what happens.
"But if this is it, I've had a good time and I'll move on to the next chapter."
By the numbersBy the numbers
Brandon Pirri's stats the last three seasons
Season, team GP G A Pts.
2017-18, Vegas 2 3 0 3
2017-18, WOLVES 57 29 23 52
2018-19, Vegas 31 12 6 18
2018-19, WOLVES 29 18 24 42
2019-20, Vegas 11 0 1 1
2019-20, WOLVES 29 11 16 27
Career NHL stats 270 72 48 120
Career AHL stats 353 125 195 320