The Calgary Flames only have two pending restricted free agents of serious importance this summer: Mikael Backlund and TJ Brodie. Last year, it was an open question whether Mikael would get another contract with the Flames after an injury and percentages hampered season. This year he got hurt again, but was clearly one of the best forwards on the ice in the games he managed to play. His re-signing shouldn’t be an issue.
TJ Brodie is a slightly more interesting case. The 23-year old defender entered the season as a healthy scratch but rapidly worked his way up the depth chart before ultimately finishing the year as a fixture on the top pairing. Brodie didn’t score a lot of points during his rapid ascent, but there’s no question he’s considered one of the brightest spots in the organization moving forward. He was voted the team’s MVP and best defenseman in FN’s year-end awards article last month.
So whereas the team was (and may be) a little more ambivalent about Backlund’s current and future value, they shouldn’t be similarly conflicted with Brodie.
Roman Josi and Comparables
The topic is of interest because the Predators recently re-signed 23-year old Roman Josi to a 7-year, $28M contract ($4M/year). Like Brodie, Josi was a sophomore in 2013 and found himself playing on the club’s top pairing. The difference is, Josi played with Shea Weber and faced tougher competition than Brodie in aggregate. He scored 18 points to Brodie’s 14 in one more game played, so there isn’t much separation there.
Josi doesn’t have the sort of underlying possession stats of Brodie, however, finishing under water in both of his first two seasons in Nashville. To be fair to Roman, he has never played in easy circumstances in his NHL career, whereas Brodie spent his entire rookie season facing the soft parade.
I doubt the Flames are interested in committing quite that much time and money to a relatively untested player (however encouraging his season) and I really doubt Brodie has the sort of leverage that would ratchet his salary up to $4M/year. That said, the Nashville model may be a good template for the Flames: commit relatively long-term to the player and bet on improving play and a rising cap to deliver value. This means Brodie might be slightly more expensive in the short term, but will turn out to be cheaper for the team in his prime years down the road.
I suggested a deal of 2.5M over 4 years on twitter this morning. That would take TJ to his 27th birthday and should give the Flames at least 2-3 solid years of above average value, assuming he continues to develop in the right direction.
Another reason to avoid a one or two year short-term deal is illustrated by the PK Subban affair this year. The Montreal Canadiens battled with their Subban over his RFA contract, leading to a short hold-out and eventually a low-ball 2 year, $2.61M/deal. They got tremendous value for those dollars in the short term since Subban will win the Norris this year, but that also means they are going to pay out the nose when his contract comes up for renewal at the end of 2014.
Obviously that is an extreme example and Brodie won’t be challenging for the Norris at any point, but there is clearly some risk in going short and cheap with a player who has a decently high-ceiling.
I think my favorite comparable for Brodie currently is Phoenix defender Oliver-Ekman Larsson in terms of style of play and impact. OEL is actually younger than Brodie having made the show as a teenager, but his progress over the years kind of mirrors the Flames youngster: he went from a capable third pairing guy with some question marks to a blueliner who can face top-sixers in tough circumstances and still advance the puck forward. Both guys aren’t physically punishing, but use mobility, smarts and puck distribution to get the job done. Neither guy is going to win the scoring race for defenders either, but both can put a solid number of points on the board.
Ekman-Larsson recently re-upped for 6 years at $5.5M per year, which suggests a potential ceiling for Brodie’s future demands if he continues the perform as well (or better) as he did this past season.
Jay Feaster has an interesting conundrum with Brodie this summer – either he signs him to a relatively long-term deal and risks locking in a player who turns out to be not worth the commitment or he goes short term and risks Brodie establishing himself as a true top pairing defender and becoming much more expensive to retain.
Around the Nation
In a recent look at a Rollie Melanson interview, Thomas Drance notes the former Montreal goalie coach shouldn’t be badmouthing his ex-charge Carey Price:
While Melanson seems like a pretty competent goaltending coach, which might partially explain why he feels comfortable speaking so freely to the local press in New Brunswick, his boast about Carey Price’s atrophying discipline and effectiveness doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
The rest here.