Despite being up tight against the cap, the Flames made a relatively big splash in the free agent market. They didn’t sign one of the most expensive contracts of the day – with some of the dollars and term being tossed around, far from it – but signing Troy Brouwer to a four-year, $18 million deal is definitely notable.
Brouwer is big. He’s a right winger. He has veteran experience. These all fit Calgary’s needs.
That’s about where it ends, though.
Brouwer in St. Louis
Brouwer spent the 2015-16 season in St. Louis after the Washington Capitals traded him for T.J. Oshie.
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He played middle six minutes and had modest production for them. If the Flames are going to put him on a line with Sean Monahan or Sam Bennett, as is rumoured, then an uptick in ice time and uptick in linemates could see an increase in production.
Speaking of linemates, let’s take a look at how Brouwer fared with who he played with in St. Louis. Via Corsica:
Almost all of Brouwer’s most common linemates were better away from him. Jay Bouwmeester is the lone exception; Brouwer was marginally better away from him than vice versa. But Brouwer and Bouwmeester still sunk each other, as did Brouwer and Alex Steen.
On his own, Brouwer sunk Paul Stastny, big time. Colton Parayko had to do major work to drag him up, as did Joel Edmundson. He brought Kevin Shattenkirk down, and suffered away from Robby Fabbri.
Considering how Stastny and Fabbri were two of his most common linemates, that’s a really bad look for Brouwer. David Backes was his other most common linemate, but they appeared to mesh together well enough (although Backes was better away from him, too).
Via OwnThePuck, we can get a general impression of what kind of fit Brouwer was with the Blues:
His linemates were better away from him. His offence was bottom six caliber. His possession was bottom six caliber. He is not getting paid bottom six money for the next four seasons.
So far, based on just last season, the Brouwer signing isn’t looking too good. But he only spent the one season with the Blues; maybe it just wasn’t as great a fit.
Brouwer in Washington
Brouwer played four seasons with the Washington Capitals after they traded the 26th overall pick in the 2011 draft for him. He was 26 years old when he started in DC; his last season there was his 29-year-old season. That’s going to give us a solid look at him, so let’s dive in.
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The first thing that jumps out to me: Brouwer got bigger minutes in Washington. Despite that, his point scoring didn’t exactly see an increase. That didn’t come until he started getting more offensive zone starts.
The second thing that jumps out to me: his corsi numbers have never been particularly great. He has had one year over 50%.
Only once in the past five seasons has Brouwer been a positive corsi rel player: in 2013-14, he was a +0.11% CFrel guy at 5v5. Every single other year, he has been negative relative to his team. (I know this is the Washington section, but his worst CFrel numbers came last season: -3.32%.)
Let’s take a look at just how Brouwer fared with his linemates over four seasons with the Capitals:
It’s not much more flattering than his portrait with the Blues. Once again, almost all of his teammates was better away from Brouwer than with him, and this is a four year sample we’re looking at. No more excuses.
Brouwer collaborated with Eric Fehr and Mike Green to all boost each other, but Fehr and Green were still better away from Brouwer than Brouwer was away from them.
He brought down John Carlson and Karl Alzner. He also brought down Brooks Laich and Jay Beagle, but was better away from them. He worked relatively well with Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
But the main talk is Brouwer playing on the top lines with the Flames’ young, budding stars. Questioning how well that’s going to turn out doesn’t have to be a hypothetical, because he lived it with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, two of the best forwards in the entire game.
And he brought them both down. Both superstar, high-scoring forwards fared better when Brouwer wasn’t on their line.
Let’s take an in-depth look at his 2014-15 season:
This is more flattering than his 2015-16 season. His production is still at bottom six levels, but Brouwer saw a massive boost in his shot suppression. It wasn’t that high throughout his tenure in Washington. It did steadily increase as he progressed, though – so it might be something to look forward to in Calgary.
Was this the best use of Calgary’s money?
The Flames are up tight against the cap; more so after today. Presumably until Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau sign their extensions, Brouwer is now the highest paid Flames forward with a $4.5 million cap hit for the next four seasons.
He’s a big, veteran right winger. That alone is a fit. It does give him a leg up over, say, Joe Colborne, who signed a two-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche for a $2.5 million annual average value. Colborne was big, and he could play right wing, but he doesn’t have quite the veteran expertise Brouwer does, and he was a left shot, compared to Brouwer’s right.
Colborne is also five years younger, signed for two years fewer, and at $2 million cheaper per year. Hell, say what you will about when most of Colborne’s points came, or the Backlund Bump – his career high is higher than Brouwer’s.
Colborne is significantly better in almost every single stat. The shot generation is on par, but that’s about it.
If the Flames were going to spend this money no matter what, they probably would have been better off just giving Colborne what he was asking for.
What this means
Signing Brouwer indicates the Flames want to win now. This isn’t a move a team makes when they’re still rebuilding; Brouwer’s reputation as a player with size who’s gone deep into the playoffs multiple times doesn’t allow for that.
The only problem is, are the Flames actually going to be a better team with Brouwer? He fills a positional need, but does he fill it particularly well? Not only that, but he’s getting older, and he’s not going to get any cheaper.
It’s easy to say that you have to pay to get players on July 1; in that case, maybe just… don’t go out on July 1? It’s easy to say Brouwer’s deal is maybe a year too long; it was just as easy to say that about Mason Raymond. It’s still just as easy to say that about Matt Stajan, Brandon Bollig, Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, Deryk Engelland. These things add up. Just because the Flames only have five players committed to Brouwer’s final season doesn’t mean they won’t add up.
And it’s $4.5 million. With Monahan and Gaudreau still to re-sign. With the defence likely needing some bolstering. With three more forwards to bring in to create a full lineup. It isn’t just going to be tight; there’s going to have to be a trade, at this rate.
My initial impression of this signing was “hm.” Now that I’ve spent a bit more time looking into it, I really, really don’t like it.
We’ll see what happens when Brouwer hits the ice. But the fact he couldn’t make it work with Ovechkin and Backstrom is a massive red flag for me – and at $4.5 million, it’s not a good one to have sitting on your cap for the next four seasons.