Can Troy Brouwer play his game for four seasons?

I’ll be honest: when the Calgary Flames announced that they had signed Troy Brouwer to a four-year contract I didn’t really see a lot of the downsides. In fact, my first reaction was, “Well, that makes sense.”

You see, the Flames likely feel this signing solves two big problems: they were super-thin on their right side, and they were easy to play against. When I use the term “easy to play against,” I refer you to the many games where Johnny Gaudreau was slashed on the wrists or hands (and the games he missed late in the season due to those slashes). Teams felt they could get away with it and let’s be honest, they largely did; the Flames didn’t have enough scoring depth to make them think twice (and their power-play was bad enough that they probably weren’t worried abut taking slashing minors).

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But let’s not mince words: four years is a long time, and $4.5 million per season is pretty pricey. Once the Gaudreau and Sean Monahan extensions get done, he’ll likely be the third-richest forward contract on the team – even if you factor in Sam Bennett’s eventual extension. What has to happen to make that contract worthwhile?

Here’s the big question: since Brouwer will be the third-highest-paid forward for the entirety of his contract, is it unreasonable to expect him to be the third-highest-scoring forward? Given the financial commitment and term given to him, I’m not sure if it’s an unreasonable bar for him to clear – though it’s unclear if it’s likely to happen.

For the sake of argument, and after a few back-and-forth e-mail exchanges with Ari debating this, let us set the bar thusly: four seasons of 40 points and 50% Corsi For. Heck, I’ll go a bit lower: four seasons in which he averages 40 points, and in which he doesn’t cause a significant possession drain on his teammates. For context, pro-rating Brouwer’s last four seasons of production gives you 58, 43, 43 and 39 points – if you remove the pro-rated lockout season of 58, 40 points is a reasonable average. 

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Given the expectation is he’ll be playing primarily with Gaudreau and Monahan, and probably getting a lot of offensive zone starts in that role, a slight production spike probably isn’t out of the realm of possibility. And new systems from a new coaching staff could conceivably result in a team-wide bump in possession stats (and improve power-play production), so I’m not about to suggest that offensive production or puck possession are necessarily the big challenges here.

Given the role that Brouwer is likely to play and the style of game that brought him to the proverbial dance, the biggest challenge for him may be longevity.

For context, I refer to a superb piece by MoneyPuck over at Hockey-Graphs looking at how physical players age from last fall.

Running a regression, I found that for the entire population, Total
Hits per game for the 25 and 26 year-old season was a statistically
significant variable when predicting games played from ages 27 on wards
(r2 0.07, p-value 2.6-10)

Here are Brouwer’s hitting statistics from his 24-year-old season (2009-10) through to his 30-year-old season (2015-16):

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 6.26.10 PM

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Brouwer’s hitting statistics from his 25 and 26-year-old seasons (2010-11 and 2011-12) put him in the “high” frequency category. The Hockey-Graphs analysis indicated that players in that frequency group averaged 135 games played from age 27 onwards. Brouwer is already at 293. Similarly, their modelling estimated only about 20% of medium-frequency players and fewer than that (eyeballed at around 12 or 15%) of the high-frequency group make it to his 31-year-old season – which Brouwer will begin in October. Even fewer made it to age 32 in the league and almost nobody made it to age 34 (which would be the final year of his contact).

The reason? Physical play takes its toll on a body, and when your calling card is having your body crash into others (and the boards), it’s probably only a matter of time before (a) a big injury takes you out of the game or (b) a bunch of small bumps and bruises accumulate to limit your effectiveness to the point where you slide out of the lineup. Based on the Hockey-Graphs analysis, Brouwer seems like a statistical outlier so far.

Here’s the best-case scenario: Brouwer plays his crash-and-bang style with the Gaudreaus and Monahans for four seasons. He scores many points. He stays healthy. He’s no more of a possession drag than he was in Washington or St. Louis. However, players that rely on his style of game typically don’t maintain a high level of play forever, so a reasonable expectation is probably for him to hold up for a season or two before his play noticeably degrades.

But here’s the dilemma facing Brouwer, and the thing that makes his signing risky as heck (for both sides): if he’s going to last four seasons without his play falling off a cliff, he’s going to need to ease off the physicality somewhat. But the entire reason he’s been effective in the NHL so far (and the thing that made him attractive to the Flames) is his physicality. So he’s damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t.

Given his expected deployments and linemates, it’s entirely possible that Brouwer’s offensive production can remain fairly solid for a couple of seasons. But whichever way you slice it and even if you try to give the signing as many benefits of the doubt as you can, given his playing style and the expected drop-off physical players usually see, it’s going to be really tough for him to justify his cap hit over four seasons.

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  • Trevy

    Bottom line is Brouwer not only brings consistency in scoring 15-20 goals, but also has a lot of intangibles that are invaluable to the game and team. Of course most will look solely at his stats and that’s a shame. I realize at his age both his stats and performance will only trend down, but he’s still in tremendous shape and if we can get the current Brouwer for the next 2-3 years and his character and leadership for his last year to pass the torch, then I for one still don’t mind the signing. You need guys like Brouwer for young upcoming teams to show them what being a professional and hard work is all about especially in the playoffs. After all, if the Flames didn’t jump on him, I would bet my last dollar a few other teams would of signed him for the same deal in a heart beat.

  • supra steve

    What percentage of UFA deals signed from July 1-7 will not look like money poorly spent when it comes to the last few years of the deals? It’s the nature of the beast.

    Any team could go out and acquire younger players that will still be performing when their deals expire, but what do you have to give up to acquire those players? What did VAN and EDM have to give up to get Gudbranson and Larsson?

    The UFA pool is not cheap, but all teams dip into that pool to fill out needs from time to time.

  • Aadvarkian Abakeneezer

    I think the most likely situation is that he’s a boon this season. He plays his game, which will be undeniably beneficial to this team. Next year, he slides a little, maybe an injury takes him out of the lineup for a bit, something like that. Overall though he remains a positive impact player for 2 years. I also expect him to have a major positive effect on the development of Bennett, Ferland and Tkachuk, which is worth something in its own right.

    Year three, he’s ageing. He gets the boot to the third line and plays a ‘veteran role’. He’s not awful, but he’s definitely overpaid. He continues mentoring kids and is beneficial in that capacity until the end of his contract. Year four he’s basically Stajan.

    If the intangibles are there and he has the effect management seems to think he will on the younger guys, I say Calgary comes out on top here. As much as pissing away money in years three and four will hurt.

  • The Fall

    Iggy changed his style as he aged: dropped weight as well. I believe smart players find ways to stay relevant in the game. Question is: is Troy Brouwer a smart player. Given his history of almost never missing a game, I would say ‘yes’.

    • freethe flames

      I wonder if Brouwer might be the guy made available in the second round of expansion if and when it happens.

      My great concern is that we might be talking about Brouwer in two years the way we are speaking of Wideman today.

  • The Fall

    Speaking of staying healthy.

    Someone with his record of 82 game seasons AND playoff games is huge. How much bad money do they play Backlund to be injured? How much does it throw the game plan off when injuries force call ups of core players? Troy seems to know how to stay healthy: that has value.

    Troy can show Ferland and Bennett how to play physical and not get banged up: that has value.

    • Troy seems to know how to stay healthy… Troy can show Ferland and Bennett how to play physical and not get banged up: that has value.

      Do you have any evidence at all that “not getting injured” is not only a talent, but a talent that can be taught to other players?

  • Jake the Snail

    All these naysayers on FN about Brouwer and he hasn’t even had a practise session with his new team…

    If Brouwer is done in 2 years, I guess the Oilers will look forward to one good year of Lucic…in year two he will suffer a season long injury….

    Predicting the career length of a hockey player is pretty dicey to say the least. Looking forward to 4 good years from the body bangers!

  • RKD

    His conditioning is very good, he’s very durable. He’s only missed 1 regular season game in the past five seasons. Depends on if he gets injured, I could see him giving us 40 points or so the next couple of seasons. Let’s see if he can keep it up in the last two seasons, if he starts getting hurt or drops off a cliff that’s a big concern. If he gives us 15-20 goals, he replaces Colborne’s production. He’s going to be good on the pp and pk and he will make room for Monahan and Gaudreau.

    • freethe flames

      I don’t hate Brouwer but I do question what he will be in 2,3 seasons. Hopefully he remains productive and healthy for all 4 seasons and is worth every penny the Flames are paying him. However I don’t have to drink the kool aid and believe he is going to lead us to the promised land or that he will be healthy for the rest of his career. (this kind of blind belief sounds to much like fans from another organization during the off season)

      Two years ago I got caught up in the height of the season only to be disappointed last year. My approach to this season and the additions the Flames make with a questioning eye; not blind faith.

  • Hockey!Hockey!Hockey!Hockey!Hockey

    @ Kent Wilson

    I think sometimes having to quantify every pro and con a person can contribute to an environment as a metric that fits into your spread sheet misses the point. I enjoy your work and have enjoyed it for some time. However, let me propose a scenario.

    I may not be in a high pressure environment like a pro athlete everyday but I have been on job sites where our lives are in danger from time to time. So what do you do with the new guy? You put him next to the old journeyman who has been around, and gone home safe for a long time. You teach him little tricks and habits that don’t come in the safety manual or from school but from being on the job. The value of the school of hard knocks if you will. You, how did you put it ” teach him the talent of not getting injured” and make sure he/she goes home every night.

    Also, isn’t that what a strength and conditioning coach does? Teaches you how to care for and maintain your body so it is less likely to get hurt or injured. Thereby teaching you how to not get hurt. Would you now say the entire occupation and science should have to justify itself somehow to fit your spreadsheet? Everyone knows there is a benefit from taking care of your body. So, If someone with a keniseology degree has useful information and can tell Ferland what he can and should do to stay fit and healthy how much more could a Troy Brouwer help Ferland use that knowledge and execute it on the ice. What “tricks and habits” does he have from years of service in a profession you and I will never experience first hand. Someone mentioned Gary Roberts. I believe this combination of schoolling and study of the body in motion and the lifetime of playing pro hockey at the highest level, aaaaand the recovery of a major injury to come back and play at the highest level is what makes him so good and sought after for the work he does. Can I put that in a spread sheet as “proof” for you I has merit? No. Do I have to? No. Just look at all the top end athletes that train with him and how they achieve their goals time after time after time.

    I would ask you this instead. Rather than have “the fall” produce evidence that this whole not getting hurt is a talent that can be taught stuff. How about you produce articles and studies that suggest mentorship is not a positive endeavour to pursue. Line up Fortune 500 companies that believe succession planning is a waste of time. Because that’s what this all is. Teaching and showing someone how to be a pro and stay safe on the job is mentorship and good succession planning. Especially when those new workers on the job go by the names Sam and Mattthew.