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Photo Credit: Candice Ward / USA Today Sports

WWYD Wednesday: What to do with Troy Brouwer?

It’s no secret that Troy Brouwer’s first season in Calgary was a disaster. The player’s scoring fell below expectations and he was essentially Typhoid Mary when it came to his impact on his linemates’ possession and scoring chance rates.

By the end of the season, Glen Gulutzan had demoted Brouwer to the team’s fourth line. In June, Calgary left Brouwer unprotected for the expansion draft. Alas, the Vegas Golden Knights opted to take pending free agent Deryk Engelland instead (yikes).

Calgary also had the option of buying Brouwer out this summer but chose instead to send the cheaper (but also grossly overpaid) Lance Bouma on his way.

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Now here we are at the end of August and it looks like Brouwer will be spending at least one more season on the Flames. The player has three more seasons left at $4.5M per year and, at 32 years old, probably isn’t in line for big rebound. So what should the team do? Bury the player as much as possible, or try to find a way to reclaim the asset?

Option 1: The fourth line

The most obvious solution is to isolate Brouwer at the bottom of the rotation where he can do the least amount of damage. There’s a reason the fourth line is the dumping ground of rookies finding their legs, replacement level grinders, and veterans who can’t keep up at even strength after all.

By all accounts, this is where Brouwer rightfully belongs. Everything about his season last year was basically fringe or replacement level – his ES scoring rate (0.76 ESP/60), his relative CF% (-7.52%), his relative scoring chance SCF% (-7.31%) – all worst or near team worst numbers amongst forwards.

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This is despite the fact that he spent almost three-quarters of the year with average or above average linemates, including Sean Monahan, Kris Versteeg, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferland, and Johnny Gaudreau. In addition, the team buried the Backlund (3M) line with the toughest circumstances, so Brouwer wasn’t exactly facing an uphill battle.

The one issue with sticking Brouwer on the fourth line and forgetting about him is, it almost certainly tanks the asset for good. If Brouwer has another low impact (or negative impact) year, there is no chance of ever moving him in a trade. As a result, Calgary would have to let the player play out the rest of his contract as one of the most expensive fourth line wingers in the league, or buy him out before the deal expires.

Option 2: The Backlund line

If the objective is to pump up the player enough to revive his perceived value, playing Brouwer with Backlund might be the way to go. As players like Joe Colborne, Lance Bouma, and many others can attest, the “Backlund Bump” is a real thing. From experience, we know that almost anyone who plays with Backs at even strength will see his possession and expected goals improve.

The drawback to this scheme is obvious – the 3M line is Calgary’s tough matchup trio. In fact, they were one of the best defensive forward units in the entire league last year. If they are broken up in order to help Brouwer get out of his rut, it potentially hobbles the team’s matchup structure and undermines the performance of its best ES forward unit. That’s a big price to pay to maybe pump up Brouwer for a potential trade.

Option 3: The Monahan line

The only other potential option for rehabbing Brouwer’s value is putting him back on a line with Gaudreau and Monahan and hoping they can pump up the vet’s scoring. Last year, Brouwer skated with the two kids near the start of the season – when they were both playing well below average. By January, Monahan and Gaudreau had shaken off their early season yips and were fairly dominant for the rest of the season (albeit in a sheltered role thanks to the 3M line).

If Gulutzan tries this experiment again, it might bear more fruit given we can reasonably expect Monahan and Gaudreau to get off to a much better start this year, and the trio can be relatively hidden if the Backlund line is still intact. I don’t consider this trio the ideal scoring line for Calgary, but it is the type of move that could lead to a quick turnaround in the asset (and lead to a subsequent trade).

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Of course, I only think the Flames should do this if they plan to move the player as quickly as possible. If this sounds outlandish, there is a precedent for this kind of scheme in the NHL – back in 2012, the Vancouver Canucks gifted Cody Hodgson some of the best circumstances available to goose his scoring stats (he managed 17 goals and 33 points in 63 games) and then flipped him near the trade deadline for Zack Kassian.

Of course, at the time Hodgson was still a young center with a top 10 draft pedigree, so the shine wasn’t completely off the player. Brouwer, at 32 years old and with a couple of years left on a $4.5M deal, may be irredeemable as a trade piece at this point.

Don’t do this – The Bennett line

The one option I consider verboten is skating Brouwer with Sam Bennett. On paper, a third line with a young, talented center playing against other bottom rotation players should be the ideal spot for a guy like Brouwer, which is partially why that is where he spent most of his time last year.

Except he tanked the line and horribly undermined Bennett’s sophomore season. Away from Brouwer, Bennett was an above 50% CF% player. With Brouwer, he sank to 45%. Both the team and the player need to find out what Bennett really is this year and to do that they can’t saddle him with Troy Brouwer again.

Conclusion

So what you do? Stick Brouwer on the fourth line and just hope you can limit the damage (scuttling the asset for good)? Or try to reinvigorate the player’s perceived value by playing him with either Mikael Backlund (killing the Flames’ top matchup unit) or the deadly duo of Monahan and Gaudreau (potentially harming the team’s most dangerous offensive line)?

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  • buts

    He’s not as bad as all of you say he is. The coach has some responsibility because there were many last year who had bad seasons. TB is a solid 3-4th line winger who when motivated can help especially in the playoffs against big teams. I hope the pride he has as a pro will make him have a re-bound season…..as well as proper usage by GG. It was a bad contract by BT for sure based on last year. TB has no where to go but up…or out.

    • Off the wall

      Sorry, no ifs and or buts.. he’s as bad as everyone says he is.
      Possession wise, truculent wise and leadership wise.
      I believe GG gave him everything a coach could possibly give him, PP time, 1/4 season on the top line.. which is more than Ferland got and still outplayed Brouwer by a landslide.

      Let’s face reality, he’s a dud.
      I don’t like him, he played with little or no emotion, was horrible at the back check,horrible at the fore check and arrogant when asked simple questions by the media.
      ” That’s what I’m paid to do” when asked about his scoring very early in the season. No it’s because he has the top 2 personnel carrying him.

      Asked about Johnny getting slashed;
      ” I do it too” Great leadership in sticking up for your teammates?

      He was rewarded with an “A” probably out of respect..he hasn’t earned it, yet feels entitled to it.
      Backlund is far superior in leadership, yet you would never hear him say that! Humility goes a long way in this business and I’m glad he received a piece of humble pie by not being protected during the expansion draft.

      If there’s one thing giving him any hope, it’s got to be Treliving saying ” we can’t protect you”

      Is he pissed? I hope so.
      Time for him to up the ante!

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    I don’t know enough about the mechanics of deals and contracts to make a call on any of the options in the article, but if he performs the same as he did last year, he can’t be on the ice.

    Period.

    • Baalzamon

      As I said above: that opportunity is called training camp. If he doesn’t play well enough in training camp to make the team then what would be the point of giving him games in the regular season?

        • BendingCorners

          Fall, I agree he will probably bounce back this year and his hand injury was one reason he posted such poor results in 2016. If Troy outperforms Micheal and/or Michael as well as Curtis then that’s great for the Flames but I think the only RW he might outperform is Curtis, and that only moves him up to a regular third line shift. If Kris is shifted back to the RW for any reason, then 4th line becomes Troy’s ceiling. I believe he will be given the opportunity to succeed, he just isn’t as good as he used to be and isn’t as good as most of the other wingers on the team, even if he returns to the level he showed last October and November.

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          @The Fall.

          Fair enough. But do you think he’s going to be a 4.5 million forward for the next three years? Do you think he can bring that consistency? I think not.

          But I hope I’m wrong. I hope you’re right.

    • TheoForever

      @ Fall – “Honour the contract and give him every opportunity to succeed…?”

      Brouwer should honour the contract and show up. He was given PP time when he didn’t deserve it, so he did get chances.
      Having said that you are right Brouwer will rebound, not $4.5 million type of rebound, but he most likely will be better than last year.

  • Craigster

    If I were Tre, I would ask (beg) GG to play him in the pre-season and for the first five or six regular season games on one of the top two lines, and give him every opportunity to succeed. I know this goes against the “always earned, never given” motto, but there is too much invested to give up on him right off the bat. Also, Calgary would benefit hugely if Brouwer could regain his form from a few years ago (i.e. trade bait, playoffs).

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    This is where a management team earns their money. I’m not going to suggest where Brouwer plays, but there has to be some very direct and honest discussions between coach/GM and player. Whatever words are used they need to deliver the messsge “performance did not meet requirements”. Requirements then need to be spelled out. First, the letter disappears. Next, the “give a S#!+ meter” has to be dialled up, truculence, effort, deterrent, etc. Do the work. If you don’t then it’s press box. To hell with the 4th line or any other position if the basics aren’t delivered.

  • L13

    Treliving should just put him on the 4th line and vow not to sign any players on July 1st ever again.

    There’s no reason to break up one of the best lines in hockey last season (3M) only to hang a stone around Backlund’s neck. He could probably prop up Brouwer for a season but at the expense of his own performance. It would be another Brodie + Wideman situation, which would be a massive waste of Backlund (and Frolik)’s talents.

    Gaudreau and Monahan struggled at the beginning of last season, especially Monahan, who was an AHL player for a (now forgotten) period of time. I’d rather not drop Brouwer on them and pray it works out. Plus, the whole reason Brouwer is here is that the Flames wanted a first-line RW for Gaudreau in the first place, and now that we all know he’s not that, playing him on Gaudreau’s line would basically be an admission the Flames don’t expect to contend this season.

    Bennett would probably snap and kill Brouwer on live TV if he had to play with him again, and with good reason. If the Flames want to give Bennett a chance to be something other than a 35-point PKer who sometimes shows flashes of skill and sometimes acts like a goon, they really need to give him linemates who aren’t Brouwer.

    What does this leave? Well, the rational choice of sending Brouwer to the AHL, which Treliving won’t make because ~optics~, or the backup plan of playing him as little as possible.

    My only objection is that exiling Brouwer to the fourth line would probably mean foisting him on Mark Jankowski, whose performance will be under intense scrutiny this season. I genuinely believe Jankowski can be a pretty strong possession player in the NHL (even if I don’t expect much from him offensively), but saddling him with Troy Brouwer in his first NHL season, when fans and management will be drawing conclusions about his long-term career trajectory, would severely limit him. But oh well. Someone has to be sacrificed if Brouwer is to be on the ice.

    • Atomic Clown

      Not necessarily. Jankowski replaces Tkachuk on the 2M line.Tkachuk takes his rightful place as a winger on Bennett’s line with Versteeg. Brouwer gets 4th line minutes with Stajan and Lazar. If anyone is to feel the brunt of Brouwer, I’d rather it be Lazar, who hasn’t earned a spot at the adult table.

      • oilcanboyd

        Sigh! Posters and their desire to break up the 3M Line. One of the most productive lines in hockey, with shutdown ability and offensive skill; and Tkachuk is still a youngster…

        • Puckhead

          Janko has been groomed to excel in a shutdown role – plus he can provide offence. He has the potential to be better than Tkachuk on that line. I do not see any issues with Janko on the second line, and Bennett / Tkachuk could be dynamite together.

        • Atomic Clown

          Exactly what theo and freetheflames have said. I don’t want to break up the 3M line just out of spite. Backlund and Frolik are honestly an elite duo; they can make anyone better. Tkachuk is also an elite power forward, I just feel like he and Bennett would complement each other better. Jankowski has a lot riding on him, and what better to was him in than the Backlund bump? I guarantee Jankowski will hit 35+ points playing on that line. Not Tkachuk’s 48 points, but then again, Tkachuk is an echelon above Jankowski

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          Oh, dude, on my ideal Flames squad we can break up that line to make three more just like it, particularly as Chucky morphs into a leader and can “Backlund Bump” his own line.

  • BendingCorners

    Brouwer is slow, he doesn’t do corner work (I still see red remembering Troy holding back while Johnny went into the corner to battle for the puck) and he isn’t a great back-checker either. But.. he does have good passing skills, has a decent shot from the top of the circle, and is able to take punishment in front of the net and deflect pucks. He will never (IMO) be worth 4.5MM, but as a fourth line guy who contributes on the PP, he only has to beat out the prospects to keep his spot. If he plays well GG will move him up; if he fails at even that limited role then eventually GG will scratch him.
    I’m not too worried about his effect on Mark J, since a rookie C only gets a few minutes a night, mostly when somebody else needs a breather after a double-shift. If Mark is playing well then he will move up when injuries occur. Plus it will be a good test for his possession skills; if he can survive Troy he can survive anybody.

  • Puckhead

    At the end of the day, if he can’t redeem himself in the top 9, $4.5 M for a 4th liner is unacceptable. If it comes to this, I would rather buy him out and free up cash to compete for the next 3 seasons.

  • Off the wall

    Absently missing is our Great Walter White.. must be in the bush..no other reason why he wouldn’t have been all over this blog.

    I wonder if we say, GG, Huska and Brouwer are being talked about whether his “WW senses” would kick in and he appears outta nowhere …

    • Intercourse the Penguins

      TB should start the season with jonny and monny because they can carry him til he proves or washes himself out.4 games . If he cannot play up to his salary then right to 4th line.4 games.

      then corndogs or echl

  • deantheraven

    Let’s assume he is ‘good in the room’ and keep him there. And the press box. I’d have no qualms about sitting his fat- a$$ contract until somebody goes down with an injury. Hopefully a healthy team and strong showing by the prospects limits Brouwer’s impact to ‘leadership off the ice’ this season.

  • Arminius

    “Killing the flames top match up duo” ??
    I said last season put Brouwer with Backs and Frolik. No one wanted to see Backlund have to deal with it. I say if Backs is as magical as everyone says, He will be fine to carry Brouwer.
    Besides in a contract year for Backlund this will probably save us a few bucks.
    Brouwer with Backlund and Frolik would be just fine together.