2015-16 Reasonable Expectations: T.J. Brodie

Way, way, way back in the dark days of the Flames #goingforit with older players and nary a prospect capable of replacing them, there was one small spot of light. During one of the Penticton tournaments, people started noticing him.

He took place in the form of a skinny kid wearing #66, and his name was T.J. Brodie. 

Fresh-faced (and still somewhat chubby-cheeked), Brodie took his impressive Penticton performance and turned in into a must-watch training camp. He forced his way onto the prospect-depleted Flames at the start of his first professional season, but after just three games, it was clear he wasn’t ready, and he spent the rest of the year in the AHL.

Early into his second professional year, Brodie – who had been a late cut, and started his season in the minors – was called back up when Anton Babchuk got hurt. He took his NHL spot, and he never relinquished it.

That was the 2011-12 season. Two seasons later, he established himself as a top-pairing defenceman. A season after that, he established himself as a top-pairing defenceman with increasingly evident scoring talent.

Before the past season started, Bob Hartley had the best assessment of Brodie’s potential: shoot more. It’s advice Brodie took to heart; at the start of his NHL career, he was taking just under a shot per game. That blossomed to 1.3 shots per game when he first graduated to the top pairing, and then, 1.6 in 2014-15. His points totals responded: he went from four goals and 31 points to 11 goals and 41 points.

And that’s just the offensive side of things. Even discounting that, Brodie is still a high-end defender. If you look at his career history, the growth is evident.

brodiecareer

When Brodie entered the NHL as a regular, he was very sheltered to start. This started to go away in the lockout year.

Then, he was placed with Mark Giordano on the top pairing and – whoa. Brodie rose to ridiculous heights, playing in by far the most difficult circumstances of his career, and beyond thriving. He didn’t just start scoring in 2013-14, he proved he could do it in some of the toughest circumstances afforded any player.

We saw some regression this past season, but easily explained regression: Giordano got hurt, and Deryk Engelland became Brodie’s new partner. Engelland is not the level of Giordano, so Brodie’s possession stats went down, even though he was given easier circumstances to play in: the Engelland handicap.

Here’s Brodie with Giordano (look for him in the top left):

brodiegio

And Brodie without him (again, still in the top left):

brodieengo

Not as tough circumstances, lesser possession. Still really counted upon, but not quite to the same extent as before; not a possibility with the Flames’ then-reduced defensive talents.

Expectations

When trying to determine how Brodie’s 2015-16 will go, we have to address one important, still unanswered question: who is going to be his partner?

The obvious answer is Giordano. Their performance together over the past two seasons speaks for itself; arguably, they were the best defence pairing in the NHL. And if Brodie and Giordano are reunited, we should be able to expect continued growth: still playing in the toughest circumstances, still thriving, and in all likelihood, continuing to develop as a scorer.

That might not happen, though. As Kent pointed out, there’s good reason to split up Brodie and Giordano. Hell, this might be something Bob Hartley was planning on doing anyway, now that he has a top right-handed defenceman.

Engelland became Brodie’s defence partner in part because he’s a right-handed shot, and Hartley was able to have three left-right pairings at his disposal. Two other right-handed defencemen the Flames have at their disposal are Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Wideman. 

Giordano is still the Flames’ number one defenceman; he, in all likelihood, will continue to get the toughest assignments. Should Brodie be separated from him, he’ll end up with an inferior partner. This will probably result in more offensive zone starts for Brodie (especially if he’s partnered with Wideman, who needs them), which would put him in place to score more points.

If you want to go to into specific projections, then look no further beyond the fact that Brodie is the Flames’ very own Duncan Keith.

Player Seasons in NHL Age Goals Assists Points Points Per Game Shots Shooting Percentage Average Time on Ice
Keith 1 22 9 12 21 .26 134 6.7% 23:26
Brodie 1 21 2 12 14 .26 44 4.5% 16:29
Keith 2 23 2 29 31 .38 122 1.6% 23:26
Brodie 2 22 2 12 14 .30 44 4.5% 20:13
Keith 3 24 12 20 32 .39 148 8.1% 25:34
Brodie 3 23 4 27 31 .38 104 3.8% 24:04
Keith 4 25 8 36 44 .57 173 4.6% 25:34
Brodie 4 24 11 30 41 .51 133 8.3% 25:12
Keith 5 26 14 55 69 .84 213 6.6% 26:36
Brodie 5 25 ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

There are a few things to note here:

  • Brodie was a year younger than Keith when he got his start in the NHL.
  • There are some very similar numbers to date, most notably their points per game in their rookie seasons, and when they were both 23 years old. Their fourth seasons in the NHL may are pretty close as well – this trend seems to still be ongoing.
  • The biggest difference is Keith shot much, much more often than Brodie. However, if Hartley is still actively encouraging Brodie to shoot more, that could change as he grows.

I’d say it’s reasonable to expect a mix of 25-year-old and 26-year-old Keith for Brodie’s own 25-year-old season. This would see him post the following stat line: 11 goals, 46 assists, 57 points, .70 points per game, 193 shots, 5.6 shooting percentage, and about 26 minutes of ice time a game.

The only one of those that seems totally outlandish is 193 shots throughout the year; 57 points is probably aiming high as well (especially if the Flames’ shooting percentage drops as anticipated – that would mean fewer assists), but it’s possible. Maybe not reasonable, though. Fifty points could do it, though, couldn’t it?

All in all, Brodie’s next season is going to depend a lot on how he’s used and who he’s played with, but no matter what, he should be successful. He’s had career years each season he’s played in the league. His 2015-16 should be another one.