There were many lessons we could take from the 2015-16 season regarding the state of the Calgary Flames. The very first one we learned?
T.J. Brodie is extremely important, and might just so happen to be the team’s MVP. The 25-year-old isn’t the highest scorer; he doesn’t even shoot the puck that much. But he provides a pretty decent offensive game – all the while eating up the most minutes, and being an absolute force defensively.
There’s literally one thing lacking to his game; the rest, he excels at, and is genuinely one of the NHL’s best. To that end, let’s kick off our year-end player evaluations with the guy who started out as, perhaps, the most unsung hero of them all – but certainly isn’t anymore.
Brodie missed the first nine games of the season due to a broken hand sustained in his first game of the pre-season. Over those first nine games, the Flames appeared to be an unmitigated disaster, particularly the defence. Johnny Gaudreau was the only player really following through with what was expected of him.
The second Brodie stepped on the ice for the 10th game of the season, he was automatically the best player there. He hadn’t missed so much as a beat, even as he was skating amongst players a month into the year already. While there were hiccups here and there – as there are for every single player – he stayed true to that throughout the season.
Brodie played 70 games this past season, averaging 25:15 a game, first on the Flames; he also averaged 30.1 shifts per game, third on the team behind Mark Giordano and Kris Russell. He scored six goals and 45 points: fifth on the Flames in raw totals. He averaged .64 points per game, fifth on the Flames out of all regulars, behind Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Giordano, and the traded Jiri Hudler. League-wide, he was tied for 13th amongst all defencemen.
Brodie only took 79 shots on net throughout the year: just barely over one a game. His low goal totals account for that, but his 39 assists – second to only Gaudreau – explain where his offence comes from. He may not be putting the puck on net, but he’s the guy setting his teammates up so they can. He’s one of the few Flames that can actually properly execute a stretch pass with an expectation of success; when he fails, his skating is elite enough to often result in no problems.
Brodie was fifth in power play ice time with 162:44 played; he was tied for fifth with nine total power play points. He was second in penalty kill ice time with 181:48, behind only Giordano; he assisted on two shorthanded goals over that time.
Via OwnThePuck, we can see that over the past three seasons, Brodie is firmly a top pairing defenceman. He’s certainly there in regards to ice time and possession. His offensive generation isn’t quite up to the levels one could hope for, but he’s getting there, consistently setting new career highs with each passing season.
He’ll only be 26 to start next season; he’s young yet, and if the only major deficiency to his game is that his goals generation is more akin to a second pairing defender than a first, well, the Flames have absolutely nothing to worry about with this guy.
Impact on team
Top left has players in most difficult circumstances: more defensive zone starts and tougher competition. Bottom right has players in easiest circumstances: a lot of offensive zone starts and weak competition. The bigger a player’s circle, the more he plays. The bluer, the greater his possession relative to his teammates; the redder, the worse. Click on image for full-sized chart from Corsica.
As far as Flames defencemen are concerned, only Mark Giordano had tougher minutes – and as they were partners throughout much of the season, only just barely. The two had some of the worst starts on the team, aside from Deryk Engelland and Jyrki Jokipakka; however, the competition they saw was top flight. They were, without a doubt, the Flames’ number one pairing.
Brodie finished the season with a raw 49.47% 5v5 CF: sixth out of all regulars, and behind just Jakub Nakladal (who was extremely sheltered) and Giordano out of all Flames defencemen. His 5v5 CF60 was 55.20 – eighth out of all Flames regulars – his 5v5 CA60 was 56.39 – sixth. Considering how he wasn’t sheltered in the slightest, to stay near the top of the team in all categories is pretty impressive.
Of the 10 teammates Brodie saw the most time with, there were just three who his presence didn’t help out possession-wise: Giordano, Mikael Backlund, and Sam Bennett. He was hardly a drag on any of those three players, however; Giordano and Backlund weren’t that much better away from Brodie.
Brodie’s presence boosted Jones, Colborne, Gaudreau, Stajan, Frolik, Ferland, and Monahan’s performances. He was a particularly big boost for someone like Monahan, and the two worked together to better the other. He was better off completely avoiding Jones and Stajan, however.
This paints a picture of a player who appears to be easy to play with and is, overall, one of the better guys his team has to offer. Most Flames could do a whole lot worse than to share the ice with Brodie.
What comes next?
For the 2016-17 season, we can easily expect Brodie to continue playing in the role of a top pairing defenceman, and to excel at it. He’s one of the best the Flames have to offer defensively, and that’s where we should see a lot of him: leading the charge in eating up much of the Flames’ most difficult minutes.
On the offensive side of things, we can expect him to improve, and remain one of the Flames’ top performers. He pro-rated to 53 points over an 82-game season this past year; he should absolutely be able to hit the 50 point mark in 2016-17. He may not be the highest-scoring defenceman – both Giordano and Dougie Hamilton could pass him – but he should still be one of the Flames’ top scorers, in addition to all else he does on the ice.
The Flames have one of the best blueliners available to them. Hopefully, they make good use of his season, though there’s nothing to suggest they won’t. So to add one last hope in: hopefully, he’s healthy throughout the year. Because the Flames without T.J. Brodie are nowhere near as good as they are with him, and his is a presence that impacts the entire lineup in an extremely beneficial way.