There is a short list of factors that can help determine if an NHL UFA signing is going to be a bad bet:
- The player’s perceived value is strongly based on reputation and intangibles.
- He’s coming off a really good playoff run.
- He’s over 30 years old.
- He’s considered a top UFA target.
- He’s asking for the biggest contract of his career.
Bonus: the words “big body” are often used to describe the player.
In isolation, some of these issues aren’t a guarantee of an overpayment, but put them together and you’re betting big money on a long shot. You have, in order: (1) stuff conventional hockey men tend to overweight, (2) a small sample and recency bias inflating the player’s evaluation, (3) a strong chance of diminishing returns in the near future, and (4,5) an auction-like environment acting to drive up the asking price.
That brings us to Troy Brouwer.
2016-17 season summary
Brouwer’s season began in October, but the Brouwer debates began months earlier when the Flames signed the former Blues right winger for $4.5M/year over four years. Calgary was derided as young, inexperienced, and small by some pundits coming out of the disappointing 2015-16 season. Troy Brouwer seemed to tick all the boxes for a team looking to get more character and more grit.
The problem is, the perceived fit between Brouwer’s scouting report and the Flames’ needs unfortunately obscured the many ways in which the player was a bad bet. We went through why a couple of times here in the wake of the signing, but, shorter version: Brouwer is a mediocre even strength scorer, an underwhelming possession player, and, at 31 years old, was poised to see his results erode over the course of his new contract.
Although some expected him to land on a line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau to start the season, Brouwer was actually paired with Sam Bennett through training camp and the initial sweep of games. While the team didn’t get off to a great start, Brouwer at least managed three goals and six points in his first 10 contests. His underlying numbers weren’t good at the time, but then again, no one’s were. At least he was producing.
After October, Glen Gulutzan took the line blender to the Flames roster out of desperation. Brouwer bounced around between the first and third lines before settling down a bit with a struggling Sean Monahan and Kris Versteeg on the third unit.
The trio got crushed during their time together. They managed a sub-45% corsi rate and sub-40% ratios of scoring chances and expected goals for. Only an on-ice save percentage of 95.24% saved them from being run over from a goals perspective.
That stretch was some of the worst hockey I can remember from Sean Monahan. I mention this because it became something of a theme during Brouwer’s season.
Eventually, Monahan found his way back on the top offensive line with Gaudreau. The formation of the mighty 3M unit then consigned Sam Bennett to play with Brouwer through much of the season. It… didn’t go well. Both players suffered through extended scoring droughts (20+ games). Bennett’s underlying numbers took a step back relative to his rookie season. The youngster looked frustrated and ineffectual through January and February.
By the time April rolled around, after weeks of being routinely outshot and out-chanced on a nightly basis, Brouwer was shunted down to the third/fourth line with Matt Stajan. That’s where he stayed during the first round series against the Ducks. And though he managed to count two points in four games, Brouwer didn’t quite live up to his reputation as a postseason difference maker.
While I considered Brouwer’s signing a bad bet, I didn’t think it would go this bad, this quickly. It’s no hyperbole to call Brouwer’s on-ice impact “disastrous” in 2016-17.
The player spent the entire season below break even in terms of possession. Often well, well below. There was the nice upswing in the third quarter of the year, somewhat in parallel with the team’s improvement. That jump may have been a silver lining if he didn’t fall off a cliff in the final quarter.
We should note here that Brouwer didn’t face the toughest circumstances on the team. Being fed to the wolves could potentially explain or excuse his nosedive this season, but in fact, the tough sledding was mostly reserved for the 3M line and Stajan when he was skating with guys like Lance Bouma and Garnet Hathaway.
On top of all that, Brouwer managed just 0.84 even strength points per sixty minutes of ice, the worst rate amongst regular forwards on the Flames. To put that in perspective, Deryk Engelland scored 0.82 ESP/60 last year. Dougie Hamilton scored at nearly twice Brouwer’s rate (1.60/60).
Most common teammates
There’s no way to sugar coat these numbers.
Almost every player Brouwer spent time with saw their underlying numbers plummet, while everyone also improved immensely away from him. Often times WOWYs can be ambiguous and somewhat sample/circumstance dependent, but there’s only one real conclusion to draw here.
Good news Sam Bennett fans: the kid’s results jumped back into respectable territory when he played with anyone but Brouwer this year.
That’s the big question, isn’t it? Brouwer’s addition did nothing to solve the Flames’ RW woes and his contract projects to be an anchor for the next three seasons. All of Brouwer’s results – from shot generation to scoring to shot suppression – at five-on-five this year were fourth liner quality, at best. If the player takes even a modest step back at any point in the next three seasons, he’ll be unplayable at this level.
There’s some hope Brouwer will be exposed during the expansion draft and former Capitals GM George McPhee will think enough of the player to take a chance on his contract, but it’s a dim light. Aside from buying Brouwer out this summer (no chance given the money it would cost and only one year into the deal), Brouwer is going to be on the opening night roster come October. Flames fans and management simply have to hope against hope that the player somehow rebounds next season.
|#1 – Brian Elliott||#5 – Mark Giordano|
|#6 – Dennis Wideman||#7 – T.J. Brodie|
|#10 – Kris Versteeg||#11 – Mikael Backlund|
|#13 – Johnny Gaudreau||#17 – Lance Bouma|
|#18 – Matt Stajan||#19 – Matthew Tkachuk|
|#23 – Sean Monahan||#25 – Freddie Hamilton|
|#26 – Michael Stone||#27 – Dougie Hamilton|
|#29 – Deryk Engelland||#31 – Chad Johnson|