Troy Brouwer is a… contentious player.
Roughly 11 months and change ago, he was the Flames’ big free agency prize. Big, a right winger, and a past Stanley Cup champion, he seemed to be everything the team was looking for. And so, he was signed to a four-year, $18 million contract.
At first, things were great. Brouwer scored six points in eight games. Then everything went off the rails, and he scored just 19 points in the following 66 games, was a drain on the team’s possession every time he stepped on the ice, and basically made almost every single one of his teammates worse by virtue of simply being out there alongside them. Not only that, but the coaching staff continued to feed him ice time over other, better players at both even strength and on the powerplay; while his usage isn’t his fault, it wasn’t as though it made anything better or justified what fast turned into a horrible contract.
One that still has three years to go on it. With some bad contracts finally over (Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland) and some approaching their end (Matt Stajan, Lance Bouma) the Flames were almost free of them – and blew it with this one.
What’s going to happen next?
If Brouwer were to be bought out, it would cost the Flames $9 million, and hit them with $1.5 million in dead cap space for the next six seasons, until 2022-23 (for perspective, Sean Monahan is the only Flame currently signed for that season). It’s certainly a tempting thought; that cap hit doesn’t seem too insufferable, and better yet, it means the very underperforming player would be gone.
It’s also absolutely not going to happen. The Flames generally don’t like buying players out to begin with, but throw in the current oil prices and quest for a new arena and it’s even less likely. Besides, it also probably wouldn’t look too good to future free agents to see that one underperforming season could see them out on their ass immediately. The logic is sound, but the optics are a nightmare, and the sunk cost of having Brouwer already owed his money no matter what relevant to ownership.
Sent to the AHL
If you can’t exile him completely, why not partially? It worked on Brandon Bollig, after all. The problem here being Brouwer is much more expensive than Bollig, and has a longer term on his contract. Sending Bollig down was an easy enough way to free up $950,000 in cap space, but a buried Brouwer still takes up $3.55 million in dead cap. Sure, he would no longer take up a roster space, and that can be meaningful enough on its own – but that may be an even worse waste of money than a buyout would be.
Not to mention that whole optics thing. A big name free agent ending up in the AHL one season after signing a new deal is a bad look, his actual quality of play be damned.
It’s very easy to see Brouwer simply starting on the Flames next season. And the season after that, and so on, and so forth. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be playing.
Oh, he probably will to start. But at some point, coaches catch on, even if it seemingly takes forever. And if Brouwer truly ends up being the 13th best forward on the team – and it’s to the point where absolutely nobody can deny it – then he’ll still be there. His cap hit will still count. He’ll still be on the Flames’ 23-man roster. But he just won’t be playing.
That would be purely the coach’s decision, though. And it’s hard to see him coming to that conclusion, especially considering the inexplicably primo ice time he continued to get on the powerplay during the playoffs. But at least the optics aren’t as bad as sending him to the AHL. And ownership wouldn’t be able to shut this down the way they could a buyout.
Claimed in the expansion draft
The expansion draft is the ultimate get out of jail free card. A new team comes in and takes one of your players, and that’s it. Their contract is gone, too. No strings attached.
The Vegas Golden Knights aren’t coming into existence just to help currently existing teams out of a jam, though. They want to build a legitimate team, preferably sooner rather than later. To do that, they’ll need to pick up a variety of players – and while it’s possible Brouwer may be one of them, it’s also entirely possible they choose someone the Flames would have much rather kept.
On the one hand, the Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg trade is probably going to follow Vegas general manager George McPhee around forever. On the other hand, he’s probably not going to make a trade like that ever again – though claiming Brouwer wouldn’t be quite so egregious.
McPhee has shown an affinity for Brouwer in the past, though: he traded the 26th overall pick for him back in 2011. (That pick, Phillip Danault, outscored Brouwer this season, for what it’s worth.) If an affinity for Brouwer exists, combined with a possible belief that this was just an off-year for him, not to mention the fabled leadership qualities and extra flexible cap, then… maybe it’ll happen?
Your bad deal for my bad deal
One way to ditch a bad contract is to exchange it for another. The Flames might even have a way to spin this to some kind of an advantage for them. Take, for example, Brouwer’s coach before Glen Gulutzan: Ken Hitchcock, who is now with the Dallas Stars. And one look at Dallas’ roster will tell you they’ve got a problem on their hands: they have three goalies signed for next season, all of whom are rather expensive, so they’ll probably want to get rid of at least one of Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi. And it just so happens the Flames could use a netminder…
Maybe the idea that a change of scenery would help could be the logic in any kind of bad deal for bad deal swap. Then again, Brouwer’s deal requires a fair commitment, hope for a rebound season or not, and that could mean a trade would go beyond a one-for-one swap.
Add a little incentive
Back at the 2014 draft, the Flames were reportedly offering to take on other teams’ bad contracts in exchange for their first round picks. Nobody bought, but hey, the offer was out there.
If the Flames really want to get out from under Brouwer’s contract, they may have to give a little, whether it be adding a sweetener in a trade with another team for another bad deal – one that’s perhaps shorter – or throwing a little something extra Vegas’ way to convince them to claim Brouwer. It’s not as good as the total get out of jail free card, as it will cost something – say, the 16th overall pick, or Oliver Kylington, or Brett Kulak and Kylington if Vegas wanted to take Kulak to begin with – but it still corrects the mistake.
It just hurts you before it does.
Bump up the lineup
What if it was just an off-year? What if he needs a little help to get going again? Brouwer barely got to play with Johnny Gaudreau, and Gaudreau is this team’s top scorer. If Brouwer can get back to those 40-point seasons, his contract doesn’t look nearly as bad, and Gaudreau could be the guy to help him do just that.
Or what about playing with Mikael Backlund? Backlund is the ultimate fixer. He helped Bouma get his own overpriced contract, after all. Most players who play with him end up better just because they’re playing alongside Backlund. Sure, this would involve breaking up the 3M line, but Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik are good enough to contribute to other lines, while if anyone could help Brouwer upgrade his play, it’s Backlund.
The $10 million fourth line
Or, there’s probably the most likely scenario: the status quo. Brouwer stays on the Flames. His $4.5 million cap hit continues to count. He gets ice time, but maybe not quite as much as last season. He plays alongside Bouma and Stajan, the other remaining bad contracts the Flames have to deal with. It’s a horrible use of the cap, but that’s the hand the Flames have dealt themselves, and they’ll just have to make the best of it.
And yes, he stays on the powerplay. He’s big and a right shot. And he’s still expensive – and points are supposed to come on the powerplay.
What’s going to happen?
I’ve listed what I believe to be the possibilities for Brouwer’s future in order of least likely to most. I think the number one preference would be for him to rediscover his game, become better than he ever has been before, and play his heart out, becoming an extremely useful fixture on the powerplay and hitting those 40+ point seasons again. (In other words, be Kris Versteeg, but better.)
Barring that happening, though, the ideal solution would be to see Vegas simply claim him in the expansion draft, and leave it at that. And it’s not the least likely possibility – but it’s certainly up there.
Unless the Flames are willing to give something of value up – and seeing them do that one year into a bad deal signed would hurt – it’s very probable that Brouwer starts the 2017-18 season for the Flames. On which line, we’re not yet sure; that could be at the mercy of other moves the Flames make this offseason, too. But he’ll probably be here.