For whatever reason, the narrative that Deryk Engelland was “really good” after Mark Giordano got injured last year has taken root in various areas of the Flames fanbase and mainstream media. I don’t know if it’s because the expectations were really low for Engelland and therefore anything not resembling total, team-wide disaster in Giordano’s absence would be considered a success, but the reality is, it’s just not true.
My guess is the correlation of the Flames winning down the stretch with Engelland in a top 4 role is what has given rise to this perception. Unfortunately, the Flames won in spite of Engelland’s promotion up the depth chart, not because of it.
Let’s be clear: the Brodie and Engelland pairing got annihilated last year.
I bring this up not only because it’s a popular myth in the media worth debunking, but because Brodie is skating with Engelland in early training camp line rushes (which may mean nothing at this juncture, but it’s distressing enough to warrant a take down). It should go without saying that playing Brodie on a third pairing with a replacement level partner is a criminal waste of one of the best young defenders in the league, but maybe it’s not that obvious.
Here is TJ Brodie’s WOWY (With or Without You) stats with Derek Engelland last year. The effect of playing with Deryk is immediate and obvious:
Away from Engelland, Brodie sported a corsi rate of 47.6% and a goal ratio (GF/GA) of 54.5%. Together? They drop to a corsi of 36.4% (!!) and a goal ratio of 31.6%. Those aren’t merely bad numbers; they are bottom of the league awful. In fact, they are the worst stats of any stretch of TJ Brodie’s career to date.
To put those numbers in context, the Buffalo Sabres were the worst possession team last year – in fact, the worst possession team of the modern era – and they finished the year with a corsi rate of 37.5%. So Brodie and Engelland together put up a marginally worst possession number than the worst NHL team we’ve seen by this metric since we started keeping these stats. That’s bad.
We can drill a bit deeper into these numbers to drive home the point. Without Engelland, the Flames managed about 52 shots at the oppsotion’s net per hour with Brodie on the ice. With Engelland, that number dropped to 39, a difference 13 shots per hour (that’s an insane drop). In addition, Brodie’s corsi against (all shots at the Flames net) per hour went from 57.13 away from Engelland to 68.13 with him (an addition of 9 shots/60). Put together, that means Brodie’s corsi differential sank by more than 22 shots per hour (!!!) when paired with Engelland last year. Yuck.
There are a few mitigating factors that suggest these outcomes exaggerate things something. For example, it was rumoured that Brodie was playing on an injured ankle to end the season, limiting his effectiveness to a non-trivial degree. He also switched from the right side to the left side in order to play with Engelland, perhaps further hampering his efficacy. And, naturally, not getting to play with Giordano anymore was going to have some negative effect on Brodie’s outcomes no matter who else he was paired with.
On top of all that, Bob Hartley absolutely buried the Brodie and Engelland paring in order to give the Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell pairing the high ground. As a result, not only did Brodie have to play top-4 competition on one ankle with Engelland as a partner, he also saw a brutal zone start percentage of 31.8% when they were paired. That means, the pairing started about 32% of their shifts in the offensive zone vs the defensive zone.
Even granting that all of those circumstances helped sink the pairing’s results, the things is Brodie+Engelland would have to vastly improve just to be bad, let alone mediocre or good. It’s therefore doubtful that even a healthy Brodie and more moderate usage can redeem things.
Let’s be explicit: the culprit of this sudden dive into the bottom of the barrel for Brodie – beyond usage and injury – is obvious. If you glance at the table above, you can see Engelland’s results away from TJ – they aren’t meaningfully better. The Flames possession rate with Engelland on the ice was just 42.5% (still awful) and their GF% rate was 34.5% (yikes).
To put that in clearer terms, the Flames gave up more than 180 shots than they generated during Engelland’s 664 even strength minutes (away from Brodie) and they gave up 32 goals against while only scoring 17 (-15 goal differential). Again, these aren’t even poor results. They are worse than that.
This seems like a cruel sideswipe of poor Deryk Engelland, who by all accounts is a really good guy and was no doubt thrown in way over his head when Gio went down last year. But the idea that he’s anything more than a replacement level NHL defender or that he’s a good partner for Brodie is fiction. Period.