Troy Brouwer, we hardly knew ye.
Well, that’s not quite true: Brouwer played two seasons for the Flames, scoring 19 goals and 47 points over 150 games. Initially pegged to be the Flames’ saviour on the right wing, he tumbled down the lineup, going from top six forward to bottom six. In his first year as a Flame he averaged 16:13 a game; in his second, 13:56.
On Thursday, the Flames placed him on unconditional waivers for the purposes of buying him out. He has cleared them. And now, two years into his four-year contract, Brouwer is no longer a Calgary Flame as the club has announced he has officially been bought out.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) August 3, 2018
The most obvious implication of this move is the cap: by buying Brouwer out, the Flames will save $3 million in cap space for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, while taking on a $1.5 million penalty for 2020-21 and 2021-22. The Flames need that cap space for this season: Noah Hanifin needs to be signed, and following that, just having that little extra wiggle room to the tune of at least a couple million throughout the regular season can only help.
(It’s probably worth noting that this is the third player Brad Treliving has signed he has subsequently bought out. First was Mason Raymond, then Lance Bouma, and now, Brouwer. Treliving has been the Flames’ general manager for a full four seasons, so he’s almost at a player per season [he’s over if you count Ryan Murphy and Shane O’Brien, but seeing as how they were traded for, we’ll give him a pass].)
More interesting than $3 million in cap space, however, is the roster spot that becomes available. If the Flames were to buy anyone out, it had to be Brouwer: not only was he the most obvious example of a player not living up to his cap hit, but as a forward, he plays a position the Flames just spent the past few months going hard upgrading and adding depth. While the Flames’ most intriguing prospects are defencemen, they aren’t going to suddenly flood the NHL with all of Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Juuso Valimaki; Michael Stone may also be overpaid for his role, but the veteran depth he provides on the blueline is more valuable than what Brouwer can bring.
No, what buying out Brouwer does is signals to the forward prospects knocking on the door that there’s a chance for them. The defence already had that slot open, but the forward group did not.
The fourth line centre will likely be one of Derek Ryan or Mark Jankowski. The Flames are high on free agent signing Austin Czarnik; he will likely be given every possible chance to become a regular forward on this team. But suddenly, the fourth line has a spot open. Maybe the underperforming Curtis Lazar or Garnet Hathaway will claim it, two forwards fighting to ensure they retain their status as regular NHLers.
Or maybe, instead, Andrew Mangiapane – a prospect with a breakout AHL season and 10-game NHL audition – will take it for his own. Maybe Spencer Foo, who took a bit to get going in his first professional year but shone playing out the final meaningless games of the NHL season, will declare himself ready for prime time. Maybe Dillon Dube, who impressed in training camp one year ago before returning to junior, will force the Flames to play him in the NHL sooner rather than later. Maybe Morgan Klimchuk or Hunter Shinkaruk will finally be able to grab hold of that elusive NHL spot; maybe Glenn Gawdin will explode onto the professional scene.
It isn’t just that the Flames saved cap space and gave themselves leeway in buying out Brouwer: it’s that an already upgraded forward group has the chance to promote one of its worthy prospects to a full-time role.
Brouwer wasn’t the worst NHL player ever. He was fine as a fourth liner. But he wasn’t just overpaid: he was an obstacle younger players with more potential had to leapfrog, and suddenly, they don’t have to anymore. A path may have just been cleared for one of them.