Three years ago, T.J. Brodie was a curious tale.
Calgary’s fourth round selection in 2008 – taken after the club had already selected Greg Nemisz, Mitch Wahl, Lance Bouma and Nick Larson – Brodie turned pro in 2010-11 and quietly (and rapidly) crept up the team’s internal rankings. Now he’s just 24 years old and already the team’s best non-Giordano defenseman. And Giordano’s nearly 31 years old and near his career peak, while Brodie still has plenty of room to grow.
But how much growth should we expect from #7 in 2014-15?
In 2010-11, Brodie spent three games in the NHL. He looked out of place and was quickly shunted down to Abbotsford to shore up his defensive game (playing primarily with Joe Piskula). In 2011-12, he was much better and split time between the AHL and NHL, but he was shielded in the NHL, particularly evident by his zone starts. Bob Hartley seemed to utterly fall in love with Brodie, and he quickly rose from a healthy scratch early in 2012-13 to being on the top pairing after Jay Bouwmeester was traded away.
What a difference a few years can make, especially for a young hockey player.
BRODIE’S 2013-14 NUMBERS
T.J. Brodie was given the tough minutes this year. After being moved up and down the pairings in Bob Hartley’s first year as coach during the lock-out year – he played with Dennis Wideman most of all, but also with Jay Bouwmeester quite a bit – he was parked on the top pairing with Mark Giordano for the majority of the season.
As a result, he was BURIED in every way possible. Quality of opposition? Sky-high. Zone starts? Lots in the defensive zone. Tough minutes? Tons of ’em! In short: T.J. Brodie spent his fourth year as a pro hockey player stacked up against the best players on every team in the NHL, while toiling on the first pairing of one of the worst teams in the league.
And he did pretty damn well at that job.
Brodie was one of a handful of Flames regulars that moved the dial puck possession-wise to a non-trivial degree. The other returnees that are members of this club are Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund. When all three of these fellas play together, the puck goes towards the other team’s net. When they don’t, things get hairy in a hurry for the Flames.
Looking at Brodie’s numbers with different players – he played 100+ even-strength minutes with 13 forwards and 3 defensemen – there’s a common thread. He made everyone better. Everyone, with the exception of Curtis Glencross (which really speaks to how weird his year was) had a better CorsiFor% with Brodie than without him. And that’s with insanely skewed zone starts and tough competition. That’s nuts.
Ignoring fancy stats, Brodie’s probably got the best on-ice vision on the team, though Johnny Gaudreau could give him a run for his money now. And that combined with his excellent passing ability sprung basically every Flames forward with nice break-away opportunities. Heck, I’d argue that Brodie’s cross-ice outlet passes are the prettiest thing in hockey right now.
Now, Brodie’s not perfect. He’s arguably a worse defensive player than Giordano (though the captain may lack Brodie’s dynamic offensive moments). Brodie can get caught flat-footed, and Calgary’s April 1 loss to Toronto showcased a few of his defensive flaws. Brodie got caught pinching on one Leafs goal, leading to a break-away the other way when the puck too a bounce, and later on he got caught with a gap in coverage, allowing another Leafs goal. Granted, he’s 24 and isn’t a finished product, but he got room for improvement on the defensive side.
Either way, he’s still really really good. And he’s 24, so he’s likely to get better still.
If you liked T.J. Brodie facing the NHL’s best players in 2013-14, be prepared for a whole lot more of it. Expect the pairing of Brodie and Mark Giordano to take on the world in 2014-15.
Now, Brodie had “just” 31 points in 2013-14, but a lot of that was because he didn’t get a ton of ice-time on the power-play compared to the other defensemen.
Now, a lot of this was likely designed to balance special teams time a bit. In order, Butler, Giordano, Smid and Brodie were the main PK defenders, so putting Brodie on both secondary units made sense to keep him fresh for the late stages of the game. But with his production relatively higher with less time – and the fact that he’s such a good passer – you may see Hartley give him extra PP time this year, if only to bolster what was the NHL’s 24th-best power-play last season.
If Brodie’s used similarly as last year, just because of his growing confidence in his offensive talents – Hartley noted multiple times last year that he doesn’t think Brodie knows how good he can be – Brodie’s production will increase a bit. He’ll still have occasional brain-farts with the puck, particularly given he may be tempted to take more chances.
But hey, it’s a rebuild. They won’t know how good Brodie can be if they don’t give him free reign to take some risks every now and then.
I’d peg the scoring range for Brodie as between 35 and 40 points. If he gets a lot more power-play time, that range could creep up a bit. He won’t out-score Mark Giordano – if he gets a fully healthy season in, the captain could be flirting with the league’s elite if he keeps up last year’s play – but I’d expect the gap to be bridged a bit.
That may be the benefit of the Brodie/Giordano pairing: Giordano’s an all-around good defenseman with an impeccable work ethic, which will only serve to push Brodie to work harder and play better. It’s probably only a matter of time before Brodie surpasses Giordano. It might not happen this year. But then again, we also didn’t think Brodie would progress as quickly as he has to this point either.
In summation: Mr. Treliving, sign him to a lengthy extension now, while he’s still (relatively) cheap.