January 11 2017 08:00AM
After a season spent outside of the playoffs, the Calgary Flames made a big splash on July 1 when they signed Troy Brouwer. His deal was hefty in a few key ways: it was for four years, a $4.5 million cap hit annually, and contained a no-trade clause. In other words, the Flames bet big on Brouwer.
At the time, we at FlamesNation were a tad skeptical. In retrospect, our skepticism seems warranted. So far, Brouwer hasn't been amazing for the Flames. He's basically been a third liner, albeit with significant power play and penalty kill time added on. His underlying numbers haven't been good. Even when you ignore his injury and focus on points per game, he's eighth on the team in scoring (and seventh among forwards). Thus far, the Brouwer bet doesn't look great.
With Brouwer holding his shiny no-trade deal, could the Flames attempt to wriggle free of his lengthy contract by exposing him in this summer's expansion draft? To put it concisely: they could, but I'm not certain that they will.
What the Flames do (or don't) regarding Brouwer rests on their stance on a few simple questions. They are:
- Did they made a mistake signing Brouwer to the deal that they offered him?
- Are they willing to admit that mistake in a fairly prominent, public manner?
- Are they willing to deal with the uncertainty involved in exposing Brouwer to Vegas in the expansion draft? There are consequences in both outcomes.
Did they make a mistake?
Based on the results so far, yes. That's not to say that Brouwer is a bad player, or has no value to the Flames. That's patently false. He's good at several things. But is he worth the money and term that they signed him for right now, and does it appear probable that his play will dictate that compensation for the following three seasons?
Back in July we took a look at the likelihood that Brouwer could play his physical brand of hockey for four seasons without it falling off (or him falling apart).
But here's the dilemma facing Brouwer, and the thing that makes his signing risky as heck (for both sides): if he's going to last four seasons without his play falling off a cliff, he's going to need to ease off the physicality somewhat. But the entire reason he's been effective in the NHL so far (and the thing that made him attractive to the Flames) is his physicality. So he's damned if he does and he's damned if he doesn't.
So far in Calgary, his physicality has been less apparent and he hasn't been scoring. In that lens, the signing already doesn't look great and it'll probably look worse in subsequent seasons as guys like Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk need new deals. And that's ignoring the high probability that his play may further fall off as he ages during the duration of the contract.
(This frame of analysis assumes that the club evaluates signings in the same way we do, which is probably not the case.)
Will they admit a mistake?
The game of hockey, from a managerial perspective, is fundamentally a game of poker involving human beings. Most general managers have good poker faces, and it's rare that they admit mistakes publicly with mea culpas in the media.
That said, it's not like Brad Treliving has painted himself as an infallible manager. A lot of his free agent signings haven't been amazing during his tenure, but moves like buying out Mason Raymond or burying Brandon Bollig in the American Hockey League suggest that he has a good idea of the lay of the land. His moves tend to have an underlying logic behind them and when they don't pan out, he's been smart enough to cut bait.
Granted, perhaps he shouldn't have made those moves in the first place (or perhaps he should have cut bait earlier than he did) but these moves show he's willing to tacitly admit fault. Treliving has shown a willingness to ignore sunk cost on assets and try to at least get some value out of them (see the Sven Baertschi, Curtis Glencross, Jiri Hudler and Kris Russell trades as examples), even if that "value" is having them off the NHL roster.
The challenge is that the Brouwer signing was Calgary's big swing this summer and it's extremely rare for any manager to bail out of such a prominent decision right away. It would be akin to Treliving giving Glen Gulutzan the axe after the team's dismal October. It's extremely rare for teams to cut bait on big acquisitions so quickly after signing them, but the expansion draft is a unique (and rare) circumstance and gives the Flames the opportunity to do so if they wish.
Are they prepared for any fallout?
Here's the rub: if the Flames expose Brouwer to Vegas in the draft, it's a very public pronouncement that they feel they're better off without him. Hockey players are highly-paid professionals but they're also people, and being told that you're not wanted is a gut punch to the ego. In other words: if they expose him, they better be damn sure he's going to get claimed because otherwise the relationship could be in shambles from that point forward.
Considering that there are likely to be a lot of bad contracts available to the Golden Knights, most likely the Flames would have to negotiate some kind of sweetener in order to get Vegas to nab Brouwer. That means an additional asset - probably a pick or a prospect - would be headed to Nevada. Are the Flames prepared to commit fully to bailing themselves out of the Brouwer deal?
If they're not, the fallout could be really unpleasant, and to a certain degree it speaks to the dangers of signing a player for things like "playoff experience" and "leadership." When a player is brought in to do something tangible – create or suppress offense, for example – it creates obvious parameters for evaluating him both internally and externally. If Brouwer is exposed in the draft, will the Flames explain that he wasn't using his playoff experience or leadership effectively enough?
In other words?
I don't think the Flames are going to expose Brouwer. I don't think they have a desire to move on from him after a single season, nor do I think they'd be willing to cough up the assets to the Golden Knights necessary to ensure that he'd be claimed if exposed in the expansion draft.
Short of Brouwer getting tired of Calgary and waiving his no trade clause to get a change of scenery, he's likely here for the duration of his deal.