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Digging into the BrouwerPlay and the PenalTroy Kill

When you write about the Calgary Flames, you get a lot of good questions posed to you on Twitter. Arguably the most common of them these days – given the Flames’ challenges with their special teams – is some version of “Why is Troy Brouwer on the power play?” (There are usually some four-letter words peppered in here and there.) We also get frequent questions about Brouwer’s presence on the penalty kill.

(“PenalTroy Kill” pun courtesy of @TheBigOgle on Twitter.)

In the interest of solving these burning questions, we dug into the numbers to figure out what’s going on.

Why is Troy Brouwer, a fourth liner, on both sides of the Flames’ special teams units?

The Brouwer Play:

There are two explanations, neither of which really overrides the other. The first is that Glen Gulutzan relied upon Brouwer as a power play contributor last season and the coaching staff’s perception that Brouwer’s contributions helped them be successful. The second is that he’s a right-shot forward and the team doesn’t have very many of those – even before you factor in the long-term absence of arguably the best right-shot forward on the team, Kris Versteeg.

The right shot aspect of the PP is important because you can set up right shots on the left side of the zone and get rapid one-timers (and vice versa with the left shots on the right side).

The PenalTroy Kill:

Once again, Gulutzan used him last year and the perception is that he was effective; he played with Matt Stajan on the secondary kill unit for almost the entire season. The right shot aspect also weighs in, as it’s potentially easier to suppress zone entries with a right-shot forward on the PK and chip pucks out more rapidly.

Since the “effectiveness” perception plays into the reasoning for Brouwer’s usage, let’s dig into that.

How has Brouwer performed on both sides of special teams?

The Brouwer Play:

If you dig into Brouwer’s underlyings on the PP, the overriding message is thus: “He’s been fine.”

Last season, he was one of the better first-unit players in Corsi and bottom of the first unit pack in every other metric (Fenwick, shots, scoring chances, high-danger chances). He was better than the second unit players, but arguably didn’t drag down everybody else on the first unit. His contributions to the first unit were primarily one-timers and/or blocking the goaltender’s view with his body. But hey, the first unit scored many goals so it arguably worked.

16/17 17/18 16/17
Team
17/18
Team
CA60 106.7
(3rd)
126.2
(2nd)
98.2 104.6
FF60 75.9
(5th)
88.2
(4th)
72.5 73.4
SF60 54.4
(6th)
55.6
(6th)
51.6 51.5
SCF60 60.5
(4th)
67.9
(5th)
55.2 61.1
HDF60 23.6
(5th)
25.8
(7th)
22.2 25.9

(Rankings are out of players with 40+ PP minutes in 2016-17 and 15+ in 2017-18.)

This season, he’s one of their better Corsi and Fenwick players and is again bottom of the first unit pack in every other metric. He’s been fine. Interestingly enough, Brouwer’s “per 60” performance has been better than the Flames’ power play as a whole this season in every metric except high-danger chances – and that’s factoring in that the Flames have improved their overall “per 60” performances in every possession metric. He’s improved from last season, and his improvement is partially explained by the entire team’s overall improvement, but you have to attribute at least some of Brouwer’s uptick to Brouwer himself.

The PenalTroy Kill:

Brouwer’s performance on the PK arguably hasn’t been quite as effective as his contributions to the PP.

Last season, he was towards the bottom of the pack among PK regulars for Corsi, Fenwick and scoring chance suppression. He was worst among regulars for shot suppression, but (paradoxically) one of the best for high-danger chance suppression. Considering the team values scoring chances above all else, the assessment of his 2016-17 performance on the PK was likely positive.

This season, he’s been among the best regulars for Corsi, Fenwick and Shots. For scoring chances and high-danger chances he’s been among the worst regulars. For the things the coaching staff seems to care about, his performance has really degraded.

16/17 17/18 16/17
Team
17/18
Team
CA60 99.5
(9th)
103.1
(6th)
93.0 103.0
FA60 72.8
(12th)
82.5
(6th)
70.3 81.6
SA60 55.2
(13th)
58.9
(3rd)
50.2 60.5
SCA60 58.8
(9th)
65.8
(10th)
54.5 62.2
HDA60 18.6
(4th)
31.4
(10th)
19.5 26.3

(Rankings are out of players with 40+ PK minutes in 2016-17 and 15+ in 2017-18.)

That said, the entire team is noticeably worse on the PK than they were last season and it comes through in their underlying numbers. When you compare Brouwer’s numbers to the whole team’s, he’s been average on the PK and more or less emblematic of the team’s general malaise while killing penalties.

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    Nice analysis. This certainly points out how a “fancy stats” view can conflict with the eye test. My eye test says he is awful on the PP and acceptable on the PK.

    • Rudy27

      Not disagreeing with you. But I think a lot of us look at certain players on this team with more critical glasses than we do for others. I’ve seen some decent games for Brouwer this year and still see him getting slammed on FN the next day. Same for Stajan.

      • HOCKEY83

        He will never be forgiven for his play last season no matter how he plays this season. Even when he has a good game they find other reasons to rip him a new one.

  • Why do you want my name?

    I’d be okay with TB on my roster anytime as a 4th line support player and PK specialist, but not at his present salary, it’s like BT signed him to that deal because 29 other teams were in the hunt for such a hot commodity. Should have waited another day Brad, he’d still have been available and drastically cheaper because there ain’t no body stupid enough to pay that…except…. But anyway, That price tag stings the most. TB gets too much heat on here and I get it, but he is a good serviceable player for his role, but his salary is keeping the team back from bringing in an actual top 6 forward who can actually score. TB should be getting no more than $2 million and I’m being generous here, because it’s Christmas.

  • Lucky 13

    Brouwer has proved to be a consistent serviceable 4th liner this season.
    On his left side with a right shot proved to be a good transition for him lately and interestingly giving him a chance to use his decent shot.

    He’s getting opportunities on his off wing— so much for L-R pairings— perhaps GG should take a long look at this before drawing conclusions about the absolute need for all things equal in handedness?

    I know he makes a gross amount of money for what he does, but I do admit he’s been much better this season and I love that he is dropping the gloves to defend our players.
    I’m not trying to defend his salary, but I do notice a big difference in his work ethic as compared to last year. I actually like this version of Brouwer.

    I honestly believe we have better options for both PP and PK other than him though. I’m ok with Brouwer being a 4th line guy and nothing else. His $ shouldn’t dictate his usage.

    • Why do you want my name?

      GG insisting to ice a team that is equal in handedness has cost us valuable time. There are so many star players in the league that play on their off hand that have thrived and won Cups and but proves yet another example that GG’s philosophy is not compatible in this league. Year and a half later it’s done nothing to improve the on ice product.

      • BendingCorners

        Flames have three RH forwards on the active roster. Until he was injured Versteeg played regularly on his off-wing, the way Brouwer sometimes does now. Handedness is only an issue for the D and only Brodie is affected by it. GG does lots of head-scratching things but the handedness issue has been blown way out of proportion.

    • HOCKEY83

      Nor should his Dollars matter to anyone here. It doesn’t come out of their pockets. Last year he had a very slightly off season than his average. When he got signed by the flames he averaged 40 points over 82 games. 4.5mil is the going rate for that type of performance. It is what it is. He’s a flame for the next 2 seasons after this unless the Flames buy him out and I think they will wait for the last year of his contract to do that.

      • The Beej

        I agree on the buyout. Buying out this summer would mean 4 yrs at 1.5 which is way too long. In summer 2019 we will buy him out and that aligns with the need to resign Tkachuk. That cap space is marked for Tkachuk already so buying him out this summer wouldnt be the best move.

  • cjc

    For all the hubub about Brouwer being overused on the PP, he ranks 8th on the team among forwards in average PP TOI/GP. Now that is ahead of Bennett and Jankowski, but after last nights match I don’t see that continuing.

    As for the PK, he is 3rd among regular forwards in SH TOI/GP. I’m not saying it’s good, but look at most teams and you’ll often see the fourth line used in that secondary PK role. That’s because their instructions are simple and they aren’t getting many 5v5 minutes anyway, so it’s a way of lessening the workload on the top lines.

  • Cheeky

    You don’t have to give me a list of fancy stats and computer analogy to see that you should not have a 4th liner on a PP with much better options available… We all know why he’s on both specialty teams and it has nothing to do with shot percentages or suppression stats…

  • Stu Cazz

    Not defending the Brouwer signing but certainly his salary is a major reason why he is Calgary’s whipping boy. I can recall at the time of his signing respectful broadcasters such as Bob McKenzie and others confirmed his salary and term to be market competitive. As it turned out his subsequent lack of production is what the fans look at and despite a number of good performances he will always be in the doghouse because of his contract. As a Flames fan I look at some of the other brutal signings in the NHL and am thankful that Brouwer is a big body, strong on the PK and his contract term has only 2 years left after this season vs some of the 6 year terms contracts that will hurt teams in the long term….

  • freethe flames

    Statistics are just damned lies to sell someones point of view. In this case I say it’s true. However much I dislike Brouwer I have to say he has been much better since he was demoted to the 4th line; also I give credits to him for stepping up for Hathaway after not showing much on ice leadership for over a year. He keeps paying like that and maybe he is worth a$2m but he has played so far below his pay grade for a year and a 3rd as it becomes hard to rationalize his game.

  • Skylardog

    Once again Corsi doesn’t tell the story. GF/60. That is how you measure effectiveness in the PP.

    Player ————————-TOI ————– GF/60
    Kris Versteeg————70.08 ————–11.13
    Micheal Ferland———73.13————-10.67
    Sean Monahan———115.27—————7.81
    Johnny Gaudreau—–115.98—————7.76
    TJ Brodie——————110.48—————6.52
    Mark Giordano————82.98—————5.78
    Jaromir Jagr—————33.82—————5.32
    Sam Bennett—————34.78—————5.17
    Mikael Backlund———71.72—————4.18
    Matthew Tkachuk——-71.77—————4.18
    Troy Brouwer————–44.22—————4.07
    Dougie Hamilton———76.42—————3.93
    Mark Jankowski———-13.33—————0
    Michael Frolik————–21.37—————0

    And keep in mind that the majority of the time Brouwer has spent on the PP, he has been out with JG and Mony. To say he doesn’t drag down that pair is simply not true. Imagine JG and Mony’s numbers if they were out with Ferland every shift, not with Brouwer. Roughly 1/3 of the time they get Brouwer, and a 4.07 GF/60. In the 2/3 with Ferland, they have been at a 10.67 GF/60 pace.

    That’s a boat anchor.

  • deantheraven

    Final offer: Limited minutes on PP2, sheltered 4th line starts and some popcorn now and then and no PK. Or a permanent seat in the press box for the remainder of 2018 (if Tre can’t make Bouwer disappear before then). Younger, better skilled guys are ready for some or all of Brouwer’s ice time.

    • deantheraven

      Tell me this ain’t gold:
      PP1= Johnny Mony Ferls/Jagr Gio Dougie. Johnny QB’s from RD/half wall and Gio holds the line with Ferls & Mony & Dougie cycling, Dougie for the off-wing one-timer… Gold
      or
      PP2= Dougie Brodie on D + anybody else… Gold!

  • Skylardog

    And it only makes sense to measure the PK in GA/60 too – right?

    Player———————TOI————-GA/60
    Troy Brouwer ———61.08———-14.73
    Dougie Hamilton—-17.67———–13.58
    Matt Stajan————37.72———–11.14
    Mark Giordano—–105.33————-9.68
    Sam Bennett———-29.97————-8.01
    Michael Stone——–84.40————-7.82
    Travis Hamonic——81.40————-7.37
    Mikael Backlund—–83.42————-7.19
    TJ Brodie—————-67.40————-7.12
    Michael Frolik———82.35————-6.56
    Sean Monahan——–18.52————6.48
    Mark Jankowski——17.10————3.51
    Garnet Hathaway——-5.75————-0
    Curtis Lazar—————-8.33————-0
    Tanner Glass ————–8.53————0
    Brett Kulak——————4.13————0
    Matthew Tkachuk——-0.33————0

    Keep in mind, that for the most part, Backs and Fro go out against the oppositions top unit, and Stajan/Brouwer get the 2nd unit later in the kill. Brouwer just doesn’t belong on special teams – period.

    There are guys on this list that get almost no opportunity, Tkachuk for example. Others like Lazar get few chances and have performed well. More opportunity would give a better picture of their effectiveness. But if you believe that speed is a factor in killing penalties, it sure would explain Lazar being effective in his limited minutes. And why Brouwer and Stajan are the worst 2 forwards used.

        • oilcanboyd

          Flames’ Kris Versteeg: Going under knife
          by RotoWire Staff | Special to CBSSports.com
          (12/1/17) Versteeg will undergo hip surgery Monday.

          The veteran winger is faced with a month-to-month return timetable, with this latest report explaining that Versteeg, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, is suffering from a hip labrum issue. “He’d had some history with the hip,” GM Brad Treliving said. “He tweaked it. He zigged when he should’ve zagged.” While there’s no denying that this is a tough loss for the Flames, Versteeg can still wear his leadership hat around the locker room and mentor youngsters like Matthew Tkachuk and Garnet Hathaway, who was recently called up from AHL Stockton.

        • freethe flames

          Prior to his injury I thought Versteeg was struggling(maybe because of it) but unlike many on this site and in the media I don’t think the Flames really miss him. Hathaway has looked much better than Versteeg this year.

  • buts

    What other team gives a fourth liner PP and PK minutes. What other team puts there Fourth line out consistently in the last minute of a period, in the last minutes down a goal? Corsi means nothing except to analytic nerds. Troy Brouwers usage and GG’s overall player usage is the reason we are not near the top of the conference.

  • Hockeyfan

    it’s awesome the way Skylar dog makes these corsi fenwick nerd fluff sportswriters look stupid with stats that matter. Corsi, for people who have no clue how the game develops.

    • Chucky

      Skylardog is totally confused with his statistics. He is still living in the past where teams were evaluated by how many points they posted over a season. That type of thinking lead to all sorts of misconceptions like the team that scores the most goals wins the game and players that score more goals than they give up are playing better.
      He needs to get into the modern NHL and realize that a week flip from the point that goes 10 feet wide is just as valuable as a blast from the slot that finds the twine. The week flip may be more valuable because it does not make the goaltender feel as bad so the offensive team can get a Corsi plus without the negative impact on the defensive team so everybody wins.
      Once Skylardog realizes that the game is decided by the guy who counts shots at the net and not the number of goals he will start to understand the Gulatzan strategy, support Brouwer PP and PK use and generally be a happier Pollyanna.

  • Broken

    Regardless of what the numbers say, Brouwer doesn’t have a one-timer, doesn’t handle a pass very well, and isn’t much of a playmaker. He has been better this year and it was nice to see him stick up for Hathaway the other night after that blindside hit. I still maintain, though, he shouldn’t have anything to do out there 5-on-4. The puck just seems to die on his stick.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      I agree with everything you said. However, I think both Stajan and Brouw could be made serviceable with Jagr on their wing. They had a little something going last game and if it continues those two players might not be a liability.

      Would love to see how a Freddie/Troy/Jags combination would do.