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

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.

  • Nick24

    Brodie is the man! Gaining muscle mass and strength with each off season, oh yeahhh. Getting primed for liftoff!

    …The Norris, the Cup, Parade, Glory…

    I can dig it

  • Nick24

    Another thing I like about Brodie, is he can make those ridiculously long passes out of the defensive zone and set odd man rushes. He has such good vision! If he is able to put more mustard on his point shots, watch out, because he’s going to start racking up the points!

      • RexLibris

        Hey Kent,

        The Oilers have invited Kevin Westgarth to training camp (no contract, just an invite).

        There.

        Don’t say I’ve never done anything nice for you.

        😉

        • SavardianSpinorama

          The Oilers will have to buy out the remaining year of Tim Leiweke’s contract with the Leafs and sign him to a long-term deal so he can help the city of Edmonton plan the parade route.

          • RexLibris

            I approve of this comment.

            The postulated logic behind this is that the move somehow insures against another Kassian-esque mugging of an Oiler in preseason.

            I’ll remind readers here of the chain of events:

            Kassian high-sticks Gagner in the mouth, receives modest suspension of five games (three pre-season, two regular season).

            Oilers claim MacIntyre off waivers from the Penguins.

            Kassian responds with “it doesn’t matter because he’d have to catch me to hit/fight me”.

            Point taken. But a contract spot is nevertheless taken.

            Gagner undergoes surgery to repair broken jaw, expected to return by late-October, early-November.

            Oilers finish pre-season with 5-0 loss to the Dallas Stars and promptly claim Luke Gazdic off waivers and waive MacIntyre to OKC and points beyond. Nobody claims MacIntyre off waivers.

            Gazdic now occupies spot on Oilers roster in approximately the same situation, statistically, that Westgarth did for the Flames – a black hole of possession whose role, though limited, negatively impacts those with whom he plays.

            Gazdic is out for the start of this season after undergoing shoulder surgery (it was a caveat in his Standard Oilers Player Contract), and thus we have….Westgarth.

          • beloch

            Since you followed the Flames last season, I probably don’t have to tell you about what you should be truly afraid of. Namely, once Gazdic is back from injury, it’s likely that both he and Westgarth will play every game. If you can’t beat ’em, beat ’em to a pulp!

      • McRib

        I have a couple of friends who are Oilers fans and they all agree with a statement that I often thrown out from time-to-time…. If they had two defenders even remotely capable of producing at the caliber of Gio and Brodie they would have been a playoff team or close to it last year.

        The Edmonton Oilers brass continues to drink the Kool-Aid on Justin Schultz ($3.675 million a year, Hahah), but quietly TJ Brodie is turning into the player they wish Justin Schultz could become in their wildest dreams. One only has to watch Justin Schultz to know awful defensive zone positioning will always hold him back from becoming a Top. 2 defender. The Oilers will not make the playoffs again for another season because they continue to overlook how incredibly abysmal their blueline is and any real Oilers fans knows it (They do have some good prospects coming in the pipeline, but they are a couple years away at best). Trolls coming over from ON see something most Oilers fans don’t I guess…..

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Do you take issue with the comparison, or the likelihood of him keeping pace? So far to date, the comparison is uncanny. Further that with TJ’s better possession metrics and quality of comp, and dare I say he could be better than Keith? The potential is definitely there.

      This is why the Flames need to sign him long term NOW! The rest of the league (including ignorant Oiler trolls) are still a bit blind to how good TJ actually is.

      How does Bob Hartley put it? “TJ doesn’t know how good he can be”. Well I think we here at FN know it. The rest of the league soon will.

  • icedawg_42

    When you watch Brodie play live you can just see that he’s on another level than most of the other guys on the ice. Same with Backlund. The Flames definitely have some pieces in place and in the chute.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      I wouldn’t be hitching my wagon to Brodie and Backlund as neither has produced anything other than hope. Brodie has an upside and will likely be a very good defenceman but Backlund will be passed in a hurry by some of the youngsters including Monahan, JG and in three years Granlund. Any centre that can’t produce 40 points in a season had better not be your stud forward.

      • SavardianSpinorama

        Any forward who can’t produce 40 points in a season in the early stages of their career is crap, I guess.

        Just wondering how old Martin St Louis was before he actually scored more than 40 points.

      • The Last Big Bear

        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.

        • RexLibris

          I’ll type slower for our Edmonton contributors Rex. I didn’t say Monahan and JG were currently better players than Backlund – I said that “Backlund will be passed in a hurry by some of the youngsters.” If you need a hand with the big words, please ask. The Last Big Bear – the statement I was contending was that Brodie and Backlund “were on another level than most guys on the ice.” I disagree with that statement for a “Sammy Pahlson” type center who none oF us confused with being on another level should define who the Flames want to lead their group of forwards. Aim high Flames fans.

          • MonsterPod

            I like you MontanaMan. Too bad you’re an Oilers fan so those here can use that to discredit your opinions.

            I’m a Flames fan, I watch every game, and I don’t understand all the hooplah here about Backlund and Brodie.

            I was baffled last year at how good Gio was. 14 goals, all over the ice, laying hits, taking hits to make plays — just awesome. Brodie was fine. He skates well, but he’s not big and not physical. He’s good and I hope he continues to improve.

            Can he be Duncan Keith? Nobody knows. We’ll see. Can Gaudreau be Marty St. Louis? Nobody knows. We’ll see. Everybody just calm down and watch the games.

            Backlund is even more hilarious around here. Contract talks are north of 5M per season but then most people want to stick him on the third line someday which makes no sense whatsoever. If he’s a third, that’s overpaid. If he’s a bonafide second, then the money is fine, but he doesn’t stack up to Kesler, Couture, or Carter.

            The Flames have so far to go to be able to line up their centers against LA, SJ, and Anaheim. Backlund, like Brodie, is young and showing improvement but I’m thankful the Corsi boys here don’t get to negotiate the contracts.

          • jeremywilhelm

            I agree with your comments – except the one that I’m an Oilers fan. I’m actually a Bruins fan but I cheer for the Flames and genuinely hope they do well this year. Having said that, I’m objective and don’t jump on the FN bandwagon for every topic. I don’t disagree that Brodie and Backlund are good hockey players and I think Brodie has a big upside. I don’t agree that Backlund is the center of the future or a player we should hitch our wagon to. I don’t think he’s proven a thing and I question his upside but that’s my opinion and I don’t expect the world to agree with it. Time will tell.

          • If I was negotiating contracts, I would have fought to get Backlund and Brodie under contract long-term for something around $3.5M last summer. I can guarantee you they’re both going to cost more than that this time next year.

  • RedMan

    I don’t think the average Ouler fan can appreciate Brodie based on CORSI an other statsy metrics… after all how useful can corsi be when their team is all negative and yet teams so good? Faulty stat?

  • SavardianSpinorama

    TJB may one day get there but the question is who will be his sidekicks and will there be enough depth on the blueline to help him develop. Did any of the young PTO in Penticton look good enough to play in AHL and develop next year? How long to properly assess Sieloff? When does Wspoon return and could he be TJB’s Regher?

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    Was corrado as bad in penticton as i thought he was with the puck…then his classless elbow on Johnny. ..wow…If Ferland knew who hit Johnny they would still be hurting….Ferland got ejected he was so mad….Team guys like him, are what we need in Calgary in the future..good job

  • RexLibris

    TJ Brodie is definitely a special player for the Flames, if he follows the path of a guy like Duncan Keith that would be unreal. He’s taken massive steps forward and that’s nice to see a player get better and improve himself season after season. If he wins a Norris, the Flames will hit the jackpot with him. I would still love to see Gio win a Norris too, he’s an underrated d-man in the NHL.

  • jeremywilhelm

    Whenever I see comments about signing TJ to a long extension while he’s still cheap, I realize that that would be the ideal situation, but at the same time I have to think that Brodie’s agent is at least as knowledgable about this stuff as us fans are (duh) so his agent would probably be telling him to wait if he thinks Brodie is capable of doing the things we think he is able to this year. So as much as we may want him to be signed, maybe his agent is just trying to play it the best he can and they’ll wait till later in the season or after it’s over.

  • I am well aware of the Corgis and how they can be used in player evaluations.

    I am also well aware that Brodie is a really good player with lots more potential who I would be happy to have on my team.

    Somehow the replies to my (three word) comment have magically changed me into some kind of mouth breathing philistine who shouts “SHOOT” during power plays. Note that as someone that has spent a great deal of time at Rexall and who has Flames season tickets I can attest that I hear that far more often at the Dome but I digress.

    I am amazed at the notion that he is, or will be a Norris candidate. This isn’t coming from a team source that is trying to pump the tires of a player who doesn’t have a sniff of that potential (see Mac-T) in order to create hope for the fan base. Rather this is the (supposedly) rational thought process of someone outside of the organization. Can’t see it happening. Ever.

    That doesn’t mean he’s not a nice player by any stretch of the imagination but, hyperbole much?

    • I think the Duncan Keith comparison is fair.. not a lot of 24 year old defenseman logging more than 24 mins of ice time a night.

      I also think it is fair to suggest that he could potentially be a Norris candidate in the future..

      I think the point of the article was that Brodie is good, but there is a lot of potential there.

    • The stats tell the story on Brodie. Sorry these facts seem to get in the way of your opinion.

      It’s been well documented around these parts how Brodie and Giordano absolutely decimated their opponents last season. They drove possession and crushed the opposition playing some of, if not THE toughest minutes in the league. That’s not hyperbole that’s… you know… math.

      Check it out for yourself:
      http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts

      You’ll notice (if you care to) if you build a chart based on all defenders that played 50 games or more that TJ Brodie was an ELITE defender last year. Does that mean he can duplicate that trend going forward? That’s the question…

      Based on his shooting %, WOWY, PDO and a plethora of other metrics well documented on this site the past few seasons he shows absolutely no reason to expect him to regress or that this past season was a mere fluke.

      • *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”.

        • 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).

          • MonsterPod

            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.

          • piscera.infada

            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.

        • seve927

          * sighs

          Ok, now I’ve got no clue what you’re trying to say. I thought you were trying to stir something up, which I can appreciate – nothing wrong with that. But then to go sort of backtracking, but not really admitting it, contradicting yourself and your general logic, and on and on without having a point, but trying to say you did…

          Wow. Just wow.

        • The Real Slim Brodie

          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.

          • 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.

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    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