On Saturday night, TJ Brodie added another data point to his rapid ascension up the Flames prospect depth chart, scoring two power play goals against a decidedly veteran Tampa Bay pre-season squad. Brodie was also amongst the team leaders in ice time that night at 25:04, including more than 16 minutes at ES.
With each notable performance and in light of the news today that the org has cut Seabrook, Baldwin, Keetly and Negrin, the Brodie situation is inching closer and closer to "controversy" territory. Unfortunately, the Flames depth and cap situation makes this issue far more tangled than simply a surprise rookie making a bid to oust a veteran.
There are all sorts of reasons why TJ Brodie is, in all likelihood, not going to make the Flames this year: he’s just 20 years old, he wieghs all of 180 pounds, he hasn’t played a single game of real pro hockey and the Flames already boast at least 8 established NHLers on one-way contracts. Plus now waiver-eiligible (and much older) Matt Pelech. So while Brodie has seemingly jumped the line ahead of guys like Seabrook, Negrin and Baldwin, there remains a whole host of reasons his rapid rise will inevitably meet with a glass ceiling.
On top of all that, hopes sprung from a handful of good performances in a few pre-season and prospect competitions should be tempered. Every year, a number of names show up in the exhibition scoring charts only to disappear completely once the real stuff gets going. Brodie has been tracking well throughout his career and clearly looks a step ahead of his peers at this juncture, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to him stepping out of junior and onto the big ice. There’s a sizable transition when youngsters make the leap, especially for defenders which makes extrapolating a good game here or there out to a full 82 game schedule a dangerous business.
On the other hand, there are actually a few somewhat compelling arguments to be made in favor of Brodie making the leap:
1.) While few defensemen can compete at 20, it’s certainly possible. Joni Pitkanen, Andrej Meszaros and Dion Phaneuf spring to mind. You’ll notice most of them are of the "offensive ilk" given that that is perhaps the best way to squeeze value from a defender on an ELC – protect him at ES and give him the easy minutes and PP time. The guys listed averaged 13 goals and 38 points between them in their rookie seasons.
Now, those are clearly some pretty good players and not necessarily an apt comparison, but the principle stands: one can glean some value from an offensively minded rearguard on the back-end by managing his minutes. This issue is especially notable for the Flames, whose primary weapons on the blueline will all be seeing top 4 match-ups this coming season: Ian White, Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester. The best bets to land on the bottom of the rotation are Adam Pardy, Steve Staios and Cory Sarich. None of whom are threats at the good end of the ice. This is also an issue for hopeful Matt Pelech – he doesn’t add much of anything north of the red line. It would be nice to equip the 3rd pairing with a guy who can do more than "off the glass and out". it’s a role that Mark Giordano has mostly grown up in the last couple of years. Ditto Dion, until he started making the big bucks.
2.) The cap savings for replacing, say, Staios with Brodie would be pretty significant. According to capgeek, the latter’s cap hit in the NHL would be $733,333. That’s marginally more expensive than Pelech and Kronwall, but obviously about $2M cheaper than Steady Steve. Moving or demoting Staios would also allow the club to keep Pardy in a 6th/7th defender role and swap him out with Brodie should the youngster falter. Brodie could also be demoted half way through the season without fear of losing him to waivers. In essence, it would give the cap-strapped club a tad more flexibility should the need to dodge the ceiling on a game-to-game basis arise. That’s not true of Matt Pelech.
3.) The Flames roster is strong enough to shelter Brodie. With Regehr, Bouwmeester, Sarich, White, Giordano and Pardy, the Flames have 6 established NHL defenders who will be able to soften the blow for the kid (assuming Staios is the guy that gets the heave-ho). A third pairing featuring Sarich and Brodie could be anchored by the elder statesman and still potentially keep it’s head above water. Iroincally, with lesser depth there would be greater room on the club for Brodie but it would probably be a worse idea since trusting a rookie d-man to take on anything more than marginal competition in his first year is usually a mistake.
4.) The future is rapidly approaching. Meaning two things. Firstly, the bulk of Calgary’s prospect strength is on the back-end. Pelech, Negrin, Erixon, Seabrook will all likely be pressing for an NHL job at some point in the near future. The team will have to stagger the appearances of these kids in the line-up in order to maintain competitiveness and avoid a future where a bunch of them all become notable free agents at the same time.
Secondly and of more pressing concern, the organization is looking at having to replace or re-sign Mark Giordano, Ian White, Steve Staios and Adam Pardy next summer. It’s almost certain that at least one (if not both) of Gio and White will bolt for free agency. It would be nice to get at least one kid into an apprenticeship this year so he can step in and fill the gap next season. Shopping for 30+ point/PP defenders on the open market is an expensive endeavor.
Overall, I still consider Brodie’s chance of making the squad out of camp to be close to "nill", however, it’s not as obvious a choice as it initially seems