Why a Norris might be in T.J. Brodie’s future: The Duncan Keith comparison

Steve Macfarlane
September 16 2014 09:40AM

It was the 2008 rookie tournament in Camrose when T.J. Brodie first caught my attention.

The team’s fourth-round pick that year quickly flashed his puck-handling skills and his smooth skating ability while playing mostly beside big, lumbering blueliner Matt Pelech.

He made his share of mistakes, as kids with that kind of natural talent tend to do. He was caught too far up the ice on occasion, and got a little cute with the puck at times when he should have just made the safe play, flipped it off the glass and out. But you could see the raw potential.

By the time the Young Stars Tournament moved to Penticton two years later, a member of the Flames organization somewhat quietly pointed to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith — who happened to win a gold medal with Team Canada at the Vancouver Winter Games, a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, and the James Morris Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman that previous season — as an example of the ceiling for the then-20-year-old Brodie.

Like the few others who heard it at the time, I brushed it off as a little extreme. Thought it was probably just a little hyperbole intended to get people excited about a mid-round pick. I can’t even recall now who said it. The notes are long-shredded and the only example of it I can find online is buried an old article by my former Calgary Sun partner Randy Sportak.

Keith was 27 in 2010, in his prime as an all-around defenceman. Brodie is 24 now. He has one full 82-game NHL season on his resume and another lockout-shortened year. The numbers are nice. The sample size is small.

But if things keep progressing the way they have so far, Brodie may just touch that ceiling in another few years. He made NHL.com correspondent Matt Sitkoff’s sleeper fantasy list for this coming season, and others will likely follow suit.

There are definitely differences between Keith and Brodie and their paths to the NHL. But there are also striking similarities.

They’re both 6-foot-1. Brodie is a little lighter but gaining muscle mass and strength with each off-season of training. They each boast above-average skating abilities and seem to slow the game down when they carry the puck up the ice. Confidently.

Brodie has work to do to be mentioned in the Norris conversation, a place his blueline partner Mark Giordano is currently more deserving of, but the professional progression Brodie has displayed sure reminds me of the way Keith rose to greatness.

Especially last season — Brodie’s big breakout. And with Keith earning his second Norris nod this past spring, coinciding with Brodie’s blip on the league radar, don’t be surprised if more people in and out of town start making the Keith comparison that the now faceless Flames insider boldly predicted four years ago.

After spending a couple of years in the American Hockey League, the second spurred on by the season lost to lockout, Keith was 22 when he played his first full slate in the NHL in 2005-06. Because of the recent lockout, Brodie only got a half season in at the same age as Keith.

The pro-rated numbers from Brodie’s two-goal, 14-point season in 47 games in 2012-13 put him around the 25-point mark over a full schedule. Keith posted 21 (nine goals, 12 assists) in his first NHL campaign.

Keith went on to score two goals and 29 assists for 31 points in his second season. Brodie netted nearly identical numbers with four goals and 31 points last year.

Where Brodie goes from here is a bit of a guessing game.

Keith improved quickly, as did his Blackhawks team, which was rebuilding during his first three seasons.

He’s become a perennial 40-point blueliner. a strong defender, and has twice cracked 60 points from the back end — his Norris seasons of 2010 and 2014.

With more time expected to come for Brodie on the powerplay this season, it’s safe to assume he’ll be in the high 30s or get into the 40s for points on the year. Where he may already be ahead of Keith is the possession game. His relative Corsi last year was second best on the team behind Giordano. Keith has never been top three on his team as far back as the stat is tracked on BehindTheNet.ca.

Brodie’s growing pains appear to be behind him. Despite a stellar pre-season in 2010, he was sent to the AHL because he wasn’t mature enough as a hockey player to make consistently smart decisions — which are even more important for a defenceman.

He grew up quickly under Abbotsford Heat head coach Jim Playfair, a fiery teacher who had previously groomed Giordano with great success. Keith learned under an equally intense AHL bench boss in Trent Yawney.

Playfair’s tough love approach during the 2010-11 season helped Brodie become an AHL all-star.

“That was another adjustment I had to make,” Brodie told me at the Flames summer development camp in 2011. “He’s the type of coach who likes to raise his voice and get his point across that way. It takes a while to understand how to take that from sort of a negative to a positive.”

Brodie managed to do exactly that, and continues to take steps toward NHL stardom.

A Norris trophy may not be in his future. Only 25 different defencemen have taken home that hardware since 1954. Some of the best blueliners in the game have yet to win it. But it’s a good bet that Brodie will soon be off the fantasy sleeper lists and climbing into a more flattering category.

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Former Calgary Sun Flames beat writer who has covered the team for a decade. Opinionated but reasonable, except when it comes to buffets. Follow him on Twitter at @MacfarlaneHKY
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#51 theCalgaryJames
September 17 2014, 05:19PM
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rubbertrout wrote:

*Sighs

Dude, I get it. He's good and the signs are pointing in the right direction for this to continue. Once again I'm well aware of WOWY analysis and the Corgis as well as QUALCOMP. For some reason I say something and you guys need to go running to your calculators to try and disprove something I didn't even say.

Brodie will never be a Norris candidate. Full stop.

Of course, the Norris typically ends up going to the highest point producer. Which is why Keith won it this past year instead of Chara who should have. Which is why Doughty hasn't won it. Keith doesn't even face the toughest competition on his own team and he won the Norris. I'd put money on the fact that Brodie won't ever even be a nominee for the trophy. That isn't a bad thing and it isn't a good thing. It simply is a fact.

If I'm wrong in a few years feel free to poo poo my comment. Pointing out statistical arguments that I fully understand and get (and have quite a lot of time for) as something that supposedly attack my initial premise doesn't really shut down what I have to say.

Once again, in case you missed it, he is a really good player with loads of potential who I'd like to have on my team. He just won't win the Norris. I have a tough time with categorizing him as "elite".

Your original point was that we were being "hyperbolic" by insinuating that TJ Brodie could be elite enough to be a norris candidate in a few years. The stats prove that. The numbers (which you're avoiding… I assume because you can't make them work for you) bare out that at the age of 24 TJ Brodie has already proved that he can hang with the best defensemen in the league. This includes the Chara's, Doughty's and Keiths of the world.

Your take, as I understand it, is that TJ will never win the Norris. "Full stop." Good work. You've managed to make a black and white statement using absolutely no evidence to inform your opinion. I actually can't argue that and it takes literally no effort to have that opinion so… congrats with all that.

To be clear, I'm not saying he will or will not win the Norris. That has never been my argument. I do however take exception to the black and white position you seem to have taken. Based on TJ's history in the league, his stats both "advanced" and traditional and the fact that he is already a dominant player in this league at 24 years old he would have to have a rather large step back in his progression to NOT end up as an elite player in this league (of the same ilk as the defenders you have mentioned) by the time he enters his prime years (26-27).

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#52 MonsterPod
September 17 2014, 06:21PM
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Baalzamon wrote:

The NHL award system is broken, and the Norris is the absolute worst one (though the Selke comes close).

I don't much care if another Flame ever wins an award other than the Stanley Cup (and I guess by extension the Conn Smythe).

Totally agree -- Norris is the worst.

Watching Doughty in Sochi and then this year in the playoffs, the guy just keeps getting better.

Head to head against Keith in the Chicago series, Doughty was more noticeable IMO.

Then the radio boys were talking about Doughty vs McDonagh in the finals and who would be better. What a joke.

Doughty himself said he's 10 times the dman now compared to when he was nominated for the Norris years ago.

But he plays under Sutter now and doesn't put up Karlsson-like numbers so... no Norris! Just gold medals and Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe consideration.

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#53 SavardianSpinorama
September 17 2014, 06:47PM
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The Real Slim Brodie wrote:

Some of the arguments on this site are so smart and thought out...but once re hashed and then repeated multiple times they become stupid and pointless...Tj is a great player and ill just sit back and watch what he does in the future lol

Posting "lol" at the end of a post is also quite stupid and pointless, if you think about it.

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#54 piscera.infada
September 17 2014, 10:08PM
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MonsterPod wrote:

Totally agree -- Norris is the worst.

Watching Doughty in Sochi and then this year in the playoffs, the guy just keeps getting better.

Head to head against Keith in the Chicago series, Doughty was more noticeable IMO.

Then the radio boys were talking about Doughty vs McDonagh in the finals and who would be better. What a joke.

Doughty himself said he's 10 times the dman now compared to when he was nominated for the Norris years ago.

But he plays under Sutter now and doesn't put up Karlsson-like numbers so... no Norris! Just gold medals and Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe consideration.

Couldn't agree more, however I must take issue with your "joke" analysis of McDonagh. I have alot of time for that player, and I think he's still severely underrated. The guy is one (full, almost on the dot) year older than Brodie, and he is great. He can and does take over games by himself. Sure, he's not Doughty, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see bigger and better things out of him in the coming season. Like Doughty though, he plays on a team that uses him in a lock down role, he plays heavies, and a lot of minutes, and he puts up a ton of points. The guy's a really really good hockey player.

But I am in complete agreement about the Norris being a complete joke of an award. As with most awards as well, there's Eastern bias amoungst the sports writers. I mean, how else do you explain Subban winning it - I love him as a player, I think he's great, as well as improving, but he has major deficiencies in his own zone (which, 'Defense'man). It's a broken system, but the good thing is none of these awards really mean much anyway, it's all about the cup, and everyone knows that.

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#55 KetchupKid
September 18 2014, 12:51AM
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rubbertrout wrote:

*Sighs

Dude, I get it. He's good and the signs are pointing in the right direction for this to continue. Once again I'm well aware of WOWY analysis and the Corgis as well as QUALCOMP. For some reason I say something and you guys need to go running to your calculators to try and disprove something I didn't even say.

Brodie will never be a Norris candidate. Full stop.

Of course, the Norris typically ends up going to the highest point producer. Which is why Keith won it this past year instead of Chara who should have. Which is why Doughty hasn't won it. Keith doesn't even face the toughest competition on his own team and he won the Norris. I'd put money on the fact that Brodie won't ever even be a nominee for the trophy. That isn't a bad thing and it isn't a good thing. It simply is a fact.

If I'm wrong in a few years feel free to poo poo my comment. Pointing out statistical arguments that I fully understand and get (and have quite a lot of time for) as something that supposedly attack my initial premise doesn't really shut down what I have to say.

Once again, in case you missed it, he is a really good player with loads of potential who I'd like to have on my team. He just won't win the Norris. I have a tough time with categorizing him as "elite".

I'm with you except the last sentence. It's like you spent 4 paragraphs clarifying the difference between 'Norris candidate' and 'elite' and then changed your mind.

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#56 The Real Slim Brodie
September 18 2014, 01:48AM
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@SavardianSpinorama

Yeah your right rofl

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#57 rubbertrout
September 18 2014, 09:45AM
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theCalgaryJames wrote:

Your original point was that we were being "hyperbolic" by insinuating that TJ Brodie could be elite enough to be a norris candidate in a few years. The stats prove that. The numbers (which you're avoiding… I assume because you can't make them work for you) bare out that at the age of 24 TJ Brodie has already proved that he can hang with the best defensemen in the league. This includes the Chara's, Doughty's and Keiths of the world.

Your take, as I understand it, is that TJ will never win the Norris. "Full stop." Good work. You've managed to make a black and white statement using absolutely no evidence to inform your opinion. I actually can't argue that and it takes literally no effort to have that opinion so… congrats with all that.

To be clear, I'm not saying he will or will not win the Norris. That has never been my argument. I do however take exception to the black and white position you seem to have taken. Based on TJ's history in the league, his stats both "advanced" and traditional and the fact that he is already a dominant player in this league at 24 years old he would have to have a rather large step back in his progression to NOT end up as an elite player in this league (of the same ilk as the defenders you have mentioned) by the time he enters his prime years (26-27).

I guess I'll just stick with "Wow. Just wow." I'm talking to a wall here.

And again, I'm not avoiding the stats. I understand what they say and I believe in them. It isn't a question of me not being able to make them "work for me" although I'll try my best to understand what they "bare" out.

THe premise of the article was that he'd be a Norris Candidate. I said "wow" and the numbers brigade started trumpeting a bunch of numbers that I don't disagree with. Trending well at 24 doesn't guarantee you are elite at 27. It sure doesn't guarantee you a Norris.

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#58 rubbertrout
September 18 2014, 09:48AM
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KetchupKid wrote:

I'm with you except the last sentence. It's like you spent 4 paragraphs clarifying the difference between 'Norris candidate' and 'elite' and then changed your mind.

There are lots of very good defenders in the league who are not necessarily elite. Running from the concept of "this guy plays well and is trending positively" to "he's one of the best EVER OMG" is a tad of a stretch.

He's 24. Remember when Derek Morris was going to set the world on fire? Or Phaneuf? Pump the brakes before you start talking about elite is all I'm saying.

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#59 TheCalgaryJames
September 18 2014, 10:50AM
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rubbertrout wrote:

I guess I'll just stick with "Wow. Just wow." I'm talking to a wall here.

And again, I'm not avoiding the stats. I understand what they say and I believe in them. It isn't a question of me not being able to make them "work for me" although I'll try my best to understand what they "bare" out.

THe premise of the article was that he'd be a Norris Candidate. I said "wow" and the numbers brigade started trumpeting a bunch of numbers that I don't disagree with. Trending well at 24 doesn't guarantee you are elite at 27. It sure doesn't guarantee you a Norris.

Of course the irony of that is that "Wow. Just wow" was about as coherent and well thought out a statement as the thousands of words you used trying to explain it.

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#60 rubbertrout
September 18 2014, 11:13AM
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@TheCalgaryJames

Unfortunately for me the person that is trying to debate me on my comment has been eating retard sandwiches. Makes it tough to communicate properly.

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#61 RealMcHockeyReturns
September 19 2014, 08:15PM
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The Last Big Bear wrote:

Backlund isn't going to be our stud centre.

He's going to be the Flames' under appreciated checking centre, ala Sammy Pahlsson.

There's nothing wrong with him being passed by younger and more offensive players. He is still a valuable and contributing player who vastly outperforms his cap hit.

The whole attitude of "he doesn't produce 40 points so he must suck" is very... Oilers of you.

The answer on St Louis is 26

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