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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

What are the odds?: Troy Brouwer edition

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?

Bought out

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.

Healthy scratch

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.

  • Eggs Bennett

    Hopefully McPhee doesn’t do a quick google search on “Brouwer” and “Flames” to find all these articles on him. The general consensus on NHL.com seems to be he just had a bad season and is a playoff performer.

  • Backburner

    Flames can’t afford Brouwer for three years. Maybe they can incentivize Vegas to take a couple of LW prospects like Klimchuck, Shinkaruck or Mangiapagne, and a 2018 pick. That way they can keep Kulak.

  • Baalzamon

    Optics optics optics. You know what? I disagree. I think “perform or you’ll lose your job to more deserving players” is a far better look than “we’ll spoon-feed ice time to veterans on bloated contracts regardless of their performance. And were completely incapable of acknowledging a mistake because intangibles baby! #Gritchart”

    But maybe that’s just me.

    • Lucky 13

      Agreed.

      Unfortunately we are in a precarious position, barring Brouwer being taken in expansion ( highly unlikely)
      McPhee will probably take Stajan over Brouwer any day, twice on Sunday. Wouldn’t you?

      What’s Brouwers deployment this year? I’m guessing 4th line again and probably PP and PK usage again. Ugh

      Maybe Brouwer needs to lose a bit of weight, he is quite muscular and perhaps dropping 10-15 pounds may speed up his wheels. He looked like he was skating in molasses last season.

      Regardless, I think I agree with Ari on this, we’re going to be stuck with him for another season at least….

    • Kevin R

      I totally agree. The guy is 31 years old, a total old fart, right? One thing Ari never mentioned here is that Brouwer was supposed to play that heavy game. When he broke his hand, those injuries take time & it also take time to regain the confidence that the hand could sustain the type of game he played. Look at Gaudreau, his numbers & game took awhile to come back & even yet I recall many posts referring to him passing when he was in a prime shooting position. Hand injury related? My question is, why doesn’t anyone think he can’t come back next season & actually put up 20 goals & play the type of game we had brought him in to play? Sometimes I find FN writers tend to get the lynch mob fired up on numbers alone. You have a bad year, don’t care the numbers suck. Not totally recovered from an injury, don’t care the numbers suck. There is now zero value in that player at a NHL level, we better give up our best prospect or first rounder to jettison that deal. Better yet lets have the GM go to his bosses & say oops we better stroke a cheque for 9.0 mill because I signed a player who didn’t perform as expected in the his first year. Just saying, maybe the guy will be the first one to tell you it was an off year & just couldn’t seem to get us game untracked for whatever reason. If he gives the same performance the next year, then yup, we have a problem.
      But then 2 years remaining isn’t as bad to address as 3 years & after just one year.

      But if I were to play consensus here that Brouwer will never rebound, at 31 he is just too old & slow for this league & we need to move the contract, well then, the first choice is to trade his contract for another contract of similar baggage to another team. If Dallas don’t seem keen on moving Lehtonen or Niemi for Brouwer & a sweetener such as Hickey or Shink or Klimchuk, fine, Detroit may be more reasonable to deal with on Howards deal & if that doesn’t work, Hawks need cap space, maybe Crawford or Seabrook could come back with obvious other pieces involved. If we take a contract back, make sure it’s a contract of need. My point is, Brouwer still has value in the NHL despite what the statistical community says on a bad year for him.

      I would like to see him back & start on the 4th line& get 2nd PP time & give him a chance whether its exceptional performance or injury need to move up the lineup. Bouma & Stajan will be a lot easier to move so we can get the price tag down on that 4th line if we need the cap space for next year. If he craps the bed again, I guess everyone will be totally right in saying I told you so. Anyway, this just my opinion.

    • BringtheFire

      Oh, Baal…you my BIG Homie now…Yup, screw the optics. Plus, I’d WANT to come to a franchise that puts Rings over players.

      Sometimes I think think teams should be allowed one straight firing per year. Just the same as if you get canned at Tim Horton’s.

      “Bro…you ain’t doin’ the Job. There’s the door. Now we got 4.5 a year back u mad?”

    • cjc

      I don’t think loyalty is a big factor in the FA market. FAs are asking how much will you pay me, is this team good and do I want to live here? The way I see it, this team will spend close to the cap anyway. If they can’t get someone to take Brouwer, I say buy him out and use the change on a useful player. Say Franson at 3 million for 3 years? That’s the same price as Brouwer if you count the buyout cost.

  • everton fc

    Kari Lehtonen for one year? Could this be a possibility? He’s got a bigger cap-hit than Niemi, but he’s also the better goalie. Tandem of Lehtonen and, say, Elliott, or Johnson, or Rittich….

    It’s one year, but you punt Brouwer’s contract. This is also a move that can be made AFTER the expansion draft. The Stars also have a few forwards they may not be able to protect – Eakin, McKenzie, Nichushkin and Rousell. How about Brouwer and Lazar got Lehtonen and Roussel (Flames would have to add another piece). I’d take Roussel over Lazar all day. Any team would. We turn that 2nd round pick into Roussel. Or even Cody Eakin. This second deal involving one of Roussel or Eakin coming this way only works if Lazar (who will be protected, but shouldn’t be) is moved…

    Just thinking out loud here.

  • jakethesnail

    Seems to me that there are close to 30 teams that would like to dump a bad contract on Las Vegas. Good luck on dumping Brouwer without taking an equally bad one back unless the pot is sweetened with a prospect and a salary hard swallow.

  • Just.Visiting

    Question number one is whether he can contribute sufficiently at this stage to warrant ice time relative to the other players available to the team (current players and Flames’ UFAs, Stockton players, other UFAs). If the answer is yes, the question then becomes one of evaluating that contribution relative to the associated cost. Is he for example, worth $3.5MM more than Chiasson? If the answer is no, what are the alternative choices (trade and salary retention, buyout, etc.) and what are those costs relative to that differential? If the answer is that his forecast contributions are not sufficient to be on the roster and there is no trade fairy to help out with a deal, they need to look at a buyout. While there is a cost per year over the next six seasons, it is actually fairly modest. As well, we are entering a critical phase of the team’s window to compete, and there is a very high opportunity cost involved in having someone who shouldn’t be on the ice taking valuable ice time away from other players who can contribute at a higher level/need that time to accelerate that development. The opportunity cost aspect of “what can’t I do because I’m doing this” is something that is often missed, and I think it is something that is important to ask in this particular case. What I certainly wouldn’t do if he’s coming back is to make a choice to compromise other lines to try to get him going. If he earns ice time up the lineup based on performance, I don’t have any particular problem with more ice time. Future lesson for everyone, don’t sign older character guys to long term deals for contracts that you can’t move if you’re wrong.

  • Skylardog

    How about Brouwer for one of the Dallas goalies and we retain $1.5 mill of Brouwers contract? It would be better to retain the $1.5 for 3 years than to buy him out at $1.5 mill per season for the next 6 years. Should probably have Dallas retain $1.5 mill of the goalie’s salary for next season.
    Not a fan of either Dallas goalie but we do need one, and I believe we are in a transition season in 2017/18. Would give us a chance to see what Rittich and Gillies can do.

    • Just.Visiting

      I think the Dallas trade might have been a good one last year for Wideman. I’m not sure an extended bad contract for one year of a bad contract would be what Dallas would have in mind. Perhaps Stajan and Bouma?

    • jakethesnail

      Transition season was last year – with bad contracts (other than Brouwer) coming off the payroll this July 1. We made the playoffs last season even with the Wideman Effect and inconsistent goaltending and need to advance beyond the first round next season. Better off retaining Elliott than getting one of the bad Dallas goalies.

  • everton fc

    Lehtonen and someone like Elliott… Or Rittich… Might work. But I’d also kick tires on Eakin, Nuchushkin, and Roussel – the latter, in particular. Move Brouwer, Lazar… And a prospect… For Lehtonen and one of the forwards, who you can protect due to Lazar being moved. Lehtonen’s the better goalie and the bigger cap-hit in Dallas. Niemi is not a goalie we want, even for a year.

    Turn our 2nd into one of Roussel or Eakin, and I think that’s good asset management (Bennett/Eakin/Versteeg – Roussel/Bennett/Versteeg…)

  • freethe flames

    The bottom line for me is that he needs to be striped of his letter. He needs to earn his spot and that means he has to have a great off season. That’s what is likely the option the Flames are hoping for. Even at that I can see him being a healthy scratch at times but that is dependent on the kids pushing the pile; force the coach to play you. If he struggles again next year then I think the buy out would come into play; but not this year. This should be on BT’s note to self list; don’t sign over 30 year old players as FA; ever.

    I also think that Bouma will spend most of the year in the AHL; like Bollig last year. But again it’s up to the kids to push the pile. Unless BT can make a move I would like to see a line up something like this for the preseason: Johnny/Monny/Ferland, Janko/Backs/Frolik, Tkachuk/Bennett/Lazar(he needs to earn this job), Shinkaruk or Klimchuk(depending on who earns it; could also be Mangiapane)/Stajan/Chaisson or Versteeg(depending on who earns it and who we are playing). Brouwer can be the 14th forward.

    Hopefully by the end of the year one of Janko or Lazar has grown into their NHL role and we can trade Stajan at the deadline and they can play center. This is working with what we have. Dreaming about who BT might add or should add is nice but it’s better to stick with realities. I would love to see BT get Ferland and Bennett signed sooner than later.

    • Kevin R

      But if you make a policy to never sign a player over 30, I guess there is no way you even consider Versteeg. Heck he’s 31 & too old for the league, right? But I see you pencilled in Versteeg in the lineup, so have you decided it’s ok to sign him? Just saying.

      • freethe flames

        Although I do have Versteeg pencilled in here it is because I see him as a current member of the team. I will clarify my intent for you don’t sign anyone over 30 to a long term contract (more than 2 years)and to clarify it even more to a contract over $2.5m. FA signings of players over 30 frequently turn out less than desirable.

  • Baalzamon

    What about Varlamov? I’m sure Colorado would love to hang onto Pickard, and Varlamov costs the same as Lehtonen. He had a VERY rough year, but he was also average or better in the previous three seasons and can handle a starter’s workload. A trade for him is far more likely to be something other than a disaster than bringing in a guy who’s clearly fallen away from the NHL game in Lehtonen.

    Brouwer and Lazar? Maybe add Hickey (Brouwer’s negative value is significant)?

    Brouwer’s NTC is a problem clearly, but he only has a limited no trade list according to cap friendly.

    • Willi P

      Brouwer has a full NTC until the last two years of the contract from what I see on CapFriendly. The only option is Vegas. I doubt he would waive considering he just built a house in Calgary.

      I don’t mind Varlamov but his game has been in decline each of the last four years? 2 more years at 5.9m cap, the Avs would have to sweeten the pot.

      • Baalzamon

        Nope it’s modified. Mouse over where it says NTC. He submits a 15 team no trade list.

        I mean it’s likely Colorado is on that list, but it’s possible they aren’t (people seem to continually believe in the avs for some reason). Even if they are, though, it’s possible he’d waive for the possibility of more ice time.

  • Puckhead

    If he comes back next season in good shape and the right frame of mind, and is utilized properly, maybe he has a bounce back year that makes his salary somewhat palatable.

    If, however, he comes back and underperforms this is how it could play out:

    Year 1 – NHL 4th line and/or 13th forward

    Year 2 – AHL

    Year 3 – buyout

  • Fan the Flames

    I don’t think Vegas will take Brouwer without giving up a blue chip prospect . Maybe they should bury him in the AHL and buyout Bouma who should be cheaper.

  • ALL THE WAY IN

    Brouwer is a bum. The comment he made in a post game interview after he scored his 4th point in 4 games almost made me throw my remote at my tv. He stated something along the lines of “this is why the Flames brought me in, I score points when it counts”. Yes Troy the Flames pay you to float for 90% of the year and hold the back of one of the opposition’s jersey whenever scrums ensue. Waive him so Bollig and him can talk about the good ole days in Chicago!

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I think it needs to be said that the fans, analysts and metrics disapprove of the Brouwer signing but all that matters is what the organization thinks. I think the organization will be forced to not protect Brouwer but that does not meven they are ready to cut him loose. It is entirely possible that Bouwer and Elliott can find their game after a sub-par season.

    • freethe flames

      Of course you are absolutely right; nothing we say or suggest matters and in the end BT and GG have the final say. But one of the purposes of a forum is for us fans to have an opinion. What does meven mean? But it’s the off season and until BT does something all we can do is speculate.

  • Kent Nilsson

    I recall mid way through last years season a few fans were going off about how we should get rid of older players and bring up the flames youth as they were ready and had something to prove and this was the way of the future. Now some of those same people want to give an older player a break and benefit of the doubt as to having a bad year. Perhaps when Brouwer got his 20 goals he wasn’t playing once in a while or on the fourth line, or maybe his spot on the Flames isn’t to produce in the same way as he previously did and maybe be a guy who can be thrown in on other lines and compliment other players in the same way as other teams in the NHL do? Every other team in the league has a few older (30+) players and maybe they try and find the best fit throughout the year instead of benching and throwing blame on a guy who plays where he’s told by the coach! I like our prospects and we do have a few good ones , but alot seem to struggle also finding a fit with the Flames and all other teams, be it line compatability or team role. Flamesnation is a good site to air our views or thoughts but no one here has GM/Pres. knowledge although many are legends in their own minds.