Great minds, guys.
TJ Brodie and Duncan Keith comparisons aren’t necessarily anything new – we’re talking about two defencemen known for their elite skating ability and two-way play, and now that Brodie is becoming known league-wide, it’s all the more appropriate to discuss – but here, at Flames Nation, you get two in two days!
Without talking it over with anyone, I kind of spontaneously started writing a piece on how Brodie is following Keith’s trajectory back on Monday. Tuesday comes, and Byron’s wonderful piece comparing this year’s Flames to the 2007-08 Blackhawks is unveiled, complete with the very same “TJ Brodie is the Flames’ Duncan Keith” thought. Now it’s Wednesday, and you get to read a more in-depth take on that.
There are more obvious comparisons out there, of course; most notably, the whole Sean Monahan-Jonathan Toews Johnny Gaudreau-Patrick Kane thing. But the Keith one is crucial because while of course the high picks of Toews and Kane helped the Blackhawks franchise massively, they already had the workings of a top defence pairing in place beforehand. And as the Edmonton Oilers have shown us, high forward picks with no defence in place doesn’t exactly get you anywhere.
Brodie has been the Flames’ Keith: an absolutely crucial part of the rebuild.
Rookies in their early 20s
The starts of Brodie and Keith’s careers don’t line up all too well. Brodie became an NHLer at the age of 21, while Keith didn’t step in until he was 22. To further complicate things, Keith played a full season in his rookie year, while Brodie’s 22-year-old year corresponded with a lockout that wiped out half of the season.
Keith missed just one game as a rookie. He jumped right into the NHL, averaging 23:26 a game right from the get-go. Brodie’s introduction to the big leagues was a bit more gradual: as a 21-year-old, he averaged 16:29 on the ice, while his 22-year-old season saw him upgrade to 20:13.
Scoring-wise, Keith led the way, too. His nine goals in his rookie season beat the four goals Brodie combined for in his first two. He took 134 shots on net, while Brodie combined for just 88. Brodie did, however, combine for 28 points (14 a season) while Keith scored 21, albeit over 20 fewer games.
The strong majority of Keith’s points came at even strength, while a fair number of Brodie’s came on the powerplay. So even though Keith had more time with which to work, he didn’t rely as heavily on favourable circumstances as Brodie to score. He was definitely the superior offensive player to start his career.
This is about where everything comes to a head, as Brodie’s numbers start to mimic Keith’s. By this point, Keith and Brodie had played pretty much the same amount in the NHL: 1,898 minutes for Keith, 1,888 for Brodie. They were starting from roughly the same position for their 23-year-old seasons.
Keith continued to average a relatively high ice time of 23:36, but Brodie, now paired with Mark Giordano and on the top pairing himself, jumped up to 24:04.
Both scored 31 points, but ultimately, Keith’s numbers were a touch more impressive considering his own circumstances: he scored more at even strength, and managed more shots, all in less ice time. The differences weren’t that huge: three more even strength points, 18 more shots, 15 fewer minutes total.
At this point, we’re splitting hairs, but the numbers were pointing slightly more in favour of the guy picked 54th overall, rather than 114th.
Seven years ago, and the present
Keith is seven years older than Brodie. Seven years ago is right about when advanced stats started really coming about. Seven years ago is when Keith garnered his first Norris Trophy votes. He hadn’t yet truly broken out, but he was steadily improving: an additional two minutes a game saw his average ice time jump up to 25:34. His scoring remained consistent, now up to 32 points, but he was shooting the puck more. He was also scoring more, his shooting percentage increasing 6.5% as he scored an additional 10 goals.
It was a great sign of things to come. Two seasons after, Keith would win that Norris Trophy, not to mention the Stanley Cup, all while averaging more than 26 minutes a game and scoring a nice career high 69 points.
Now, what about Brodie’s 24-year-old season? With 12 games to go, it’s not quite done yet.
Here’s the thing, though: his progression is still hand-in-hand with Keith’s. His averaged 25:05 a game isn’t as impressive, nor are his projected 138 shots this season (they do, however, point to continued growth, which is, of course, good), about 30 seconds and 10 shots shy of Keith. His projected 45 points, though? That’s a season ahead, as it took Keith until his 25-year-old season to score 44.
Approximately 68% of Brodie’s points this season have come at even strength, a little less than Keith’s 72%. So while 24-year-old Brodie is outscoring 24-year-old Keith, he’s relying a little more on special teams to do so.
But not by a lot. Again, we’re starting to split hairs here.
So this is where the comparisons are falling for their 24-year-old seasons: Keith played a little more, in more favourable circumstances (he started more in the offensive zone than 23 or 24-year-old Brodie have been able to), and scored a fair amount less.
With Brodie closely following Keith’s trajectory, he’s begun putting up more impressive offensive numbers while playing in more difficult circumstances.
The Flames’ Keith
Keith started getting Norris votes at age 24. With Brodie’s offensive outburst this season, the increased attention may yield the same result for him; at the same time, any votes he could get may end up in Giordano’s lap instead. While Keith is the driver of his own partnership with Seabrook, at this point in time Giordano is the Flames’ number one, with Brodie closely trailing behind.
So Brodie has the benefit of an older and better defence partner. Prior to his injury, Giordano was involved in 43% of Brodie’s offence this season, a pretty key part of his breakout. Brodie is, in part, the product of Giordano.
Still, he’s good in his own right, ultimately putting up favourable numbers throughout his career no matter who he plays with, as long as the guy isn’t named Deryk Engelland.
While Keith does have the slight edge on Brodie in everything outside of partner and circumstances of play, it’s still really, really close between the two, the differences coming down to half a minute or a couple of percentage points. He’s following his career path.
What remains to be seen is if Brodie’s offensive abilities develop further. If he manages to reach that 70 point mark Keith never has. If he overtakes Giordano – and with their age difference, he in all likelihood will one day – and starts claiming Norris Trophies for himself.
But as far as things right now, it’s one mobile defenceman doing pretty much the exact same things another did seven years before. Things worked out pretty well for that guy. If this keeps up, things should start working out pretty well for ours.