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Photo Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Were James Neal’s struggles his ‘Hamonic’ or ‘Brouwer’ season?

Expectations were high when the Calgary Flames signed James Neal to a five-year deal worth $28.75 million contract on July 2. Eighty-two games (and one playoff round) later, it’s safe to say that this acquisition hasn’t exactly met expectations.

That said, Neal isn’t the first big offseason swing by general manager Brad Treliving not to meet expectations right away. Looking back at the experiences over the first two seasons of Travis Hamonic and Troy Brouwer is illustrative of how players can adjust to new surroundings… or don’t.

Travis Hamonic

Hamonic joined the Flames via a blockbuster trade at the 2017 NHL Draft. A longtime member of the New York Islanders lauded for his two-way play and physicality – and his charity work – the expectation was that Hamonic would slot into the Flames’ second pairing and the team would have two strong pairs.

It didn’t work out. Hamonic’s structured two-way game wasn’t a great fit for TJ Brodie’s style – Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman likened it to improvisational jazz – and the pairing saw a lot of miscommunications, turnovers, and general frustration. Hamonic had just one goal and 11 points on the year, his worst-ever offensive output as a pro.

But after last summer’s swap-out of Dougie Hamilton for Noah Hanifin, things slotted much better in 2018-19. Hamonic and Hanifin played very well together and his offensive output jumped from one goal to seven.

Looking at the underlying numbers for Hamonic (via Natural Stat Trick), there’s a story behind the numbers that speaks to the chemistry problem. Hamonic’s on-ice numbers actually improved between his last season with the Islanders (2016-17) to his first season with the Flames (2017-18): his defensive per 60 minute shot attempt rates dropped pretty significantly across the board on the defensive side and jumped a fair bit on the offensive side. It’s just that his goal differential wasn’t terribly great because when he and Brodie had their challenges, the result high-danger chances they gave up ended up in their net.

Defensive metrics:

CA
/60
SA
/60
SCA
/60
HDA
/60
2016-17 64.2 33.1 31.0 12.7
2017-18 56.8 30.7 25.7 10.5
2018-19 55.0 28.6 26.3 10.3

Offensive metrics:

CF
/60
SF/
60
SCF
/60
HDF
/60
2016-17 50.1 27.4 24.9 10.9
2017-18 60.0 30.3 27.3 11.1
2018-19 65.2 33.9 32.3 13.1

Swapping out Brodie for Hanifin continued Hamonic’s year-over-year defensive and offensive rate improvements almost across the board. Heck, if you only saw Hamonic’s underlying numbers you probably wouldn’t argue that he was having challenges on the ice. After several seasons on Long Island (and in Brooklyn), Hamonic probably just needed some time to get adjusted to a new city, new routine, new role and new team and build some chemistry and comfort.

Troy Brouwer

After a pair of lengthy playoff runs with Washington and St. Louis, Brouwer signed a four-year deal worth $18 million during the summer of 2016. The idea was that he would provide the grit, leadership and playoff experience to bring the ragtag Flames over the top.

It, uh, didn’t go well. Originally tried out on the first two lines, Brouwer gradually slid down the rotation during the 2016-17 season. He wasn’t fast enough to be playing with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and not a good enough two-way player to play on Mikael Backlund’s line. As a result, he played primarily with Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg (and later with Versteeg and Matt Stajan). He had his worst offensive season as a full-time NHLer with just 25 points.

The next season (2017-18) was even worse. Turns out Brouwer didn’t get any faster in the offseason and he remained a fixture in the bottom six alongside Stajan and Curtis Lazar (aside from brief tryouts with a combination of Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Frolik and Backlund). He had another rough offensive season with just 22 points. Treliving pulled the ripcord that summer, buying out the remaining two seasons on his contract.

Defensive metrics:

CA
/60
SA
/60
SCA
/60
HDA
/60
2015-16 55.1 29.0 25.6 9.6
2016-17 60.2 33.8 25.2 10.7
2017-18 58.1 28.9 24.0 8.2

Offensive metrics:

CF
/60
SF/
60
SCF
/60
HDF
/60
2015-16 54.2 29.8 24.8 10.1
2016-17 48.2 25.4 19.3 7.3
2017-18 60.0 30.0 23.4 9.1

From his last year in St. Louis to his first in Calgary, Brouwer had struggles across the board on both sides of the puck. His defensive rates cratered with the exception of chances against, but the quality of chances against jumped. Offensively the same cratering occurred across the board. He experienced a pretty decent bounce-back from his metrics in Year 2 with the Flames, but that was getting sheltered a ton by head coach Glen Gulutzan in terms of the quality of the opposition he was playing against. In that context, it didn’t make a ton of sense to keep paying a fourth liner $4.5 million per season if he would need that much sheltering to be effective.

Which one did Neal experience?

Neal’s been a traveling, hockey-playing man over the past few seasons with two straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final (in 2017 and 2018) and he was getting used to his third team in three seasons. For a guy with a lot of mileage on his body, it makes sense that he’d slow down a bit. But was 2018-19’s seven-goal, 19-point season Neal having his Hamonic-style adjustment year or his game falling apart Brouwer style?

Defensive metrics:

CA
/60
SA
/60
SCA
/60
HDA
/60
2017-18 56.2 30.7 26.9 9.9
2018-19 55.6 30.3 26.5 10.5

Offensive metrics:

CF
/60
SF/
60
SCF
/60
HDF
/60
2017-18 57.4 30.2 26.7 8.7
2018-19 56.9 27.8 25.1 9.7

The encouraging thing about Neal’s metrics is that we don’t see the massive cratering that we did with Brouwer. Rather than an across-the-board impact – his numbers aren’t all up like Hamonic or all down like Brouwer – it’s a bit of a mixed bag. His offensive rates are down slightly – though his high danger chance rate is up slightly – and his defensive metrics are largely flat aside from a bump up for high danger chances against. All this while enjoying a lower rate offensive zone starts that he has over the past five seasons.

In simpler terms: his game doesn’t appear to imploding the way Brouwer’s was upon arrival, which leaves the door open to suggest that perhaps there’s hope for Neal to bounce back offensively the way Hamonic did this past season. Neal’s personal and on-ice shooting percentages were among the lowest of his career and points to rough puck luck being the main culprit behind his woeful offensive year. That suggests that if he keeps doing what he was doing last season – and maybe work on his foot-speed a bit over the summer – the bounces should start going the other way before too long.

    • Ari Yanover

      I’m leaving this comment up because people have already replied to it, but yeah, BringtheFire 2.0 is spot on: we DO NOT talk about players’ supposed drug habits here. WE DO NOT DO THIS. EVER.

      • Off the wall

        I respectfully disagree Ari.

        I’ve met The Fall, and he doesn’t make statements for attention, spite, nor unsupported.
        In fact, he’s a rare breed on here.
        I wish we had more members like him and less members like BTF2, who pretend to be something they aren’t. But that’s me.

        We’ve never censored in the past, why now? Because of ONE member and his little tirade shenanigans?
        Maybe someone should just grow up and not pretend he has all of a sudden, grown a conscience?

        Perhaps BTF, can keep his bold statements to himself. It’s not as if he’s made a good name for himself on FN, and speaks for the rest of us.
        He doesn’t. Period.

        Let the members trash or cheer it, it’s not as if it’s going to change the format of FN, nor change how we view one another.

        And Since when does another member have the right to tell another to STFU?!

        WE DO NOT DO THIS. EVER.

        Perhaps there’s a lesson for all of us?

        I don’t think it’s ever going to be common knowledge what a player does for extracurricular activities, but I trust The Fall, more than most.

        • Ari Yanover

          No.

          We do not speculate on people’s hypothetical substance abuses. We just don’t. All we know these people as is professional athletes. That doesn’t mean they still aren’t people. Substance abuse is a whole other world that should mean absolutely nothing to us unless the person it is affecting comes forward with it. There is still a stigma surrounding a lot of this stuff, it’s hard enough for people with resources to get the courage to go to rehab sometimes, what have you not – it’s a whole other world far deeper than a sports blog and reducing a player’s performance to “well I heard he does coke” is insensitive, stupid, and not going to happen here.

          The Flames have had players in the past be open about their battles with alcoholism – that was their choice to go public on it. We do not speculate on it before they do because it’s none of our business and we don’t need to encourage a climate that thinks it’s okay to openly talk about any issues people we do not know may or may not have.

          And, respectfully, you don’t get to disagree with me on this.

          We do not fucking speculate on people’s hypothetical substance abuses. If you want to do that kindly go somewhere else.

          • Off the wall

            Perfect. You get to swear on here but the rest don’t? Double standard Ari, you know it.

            I’m not on here to discuss a players abuse, nor have I ever made a remark about this. Ever.

            You know that. If you want to be upset with me, that’s fine.

            I never once said it’s acceptable. But I’ll defend The Fall, because I’ve met him. He’s a good person. Not malicious, unlike BTF2, who enjoys placing his fangs into a member, so he can come across as feigning indignation.

            I want to thank you for all that you do for FN. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a member here. But my time has come to leave.

            Keep up the good work Ari. When you calm down you’ll see I had no intention of getting into an argument over this.

          • The GREAT WW

            This is what having a guy like Neal on our team does to us; we are fighting amongst ourselves when we should be bashing Oiler trolls……!

            We need to get this guy off our team ASAP!!!!!!!!

            WW

          • Jobu

            Holy hell. Wtf kind of poo flinging match did Jobu walk into here!?!

            Enhance your calm everyone! We are all friends here.

            Jobus two cents (as always)

            The Internet is full of rumors. Malicious intent or not it’s unstoppable.

            Ari as much as you are trying to defend the players of the sport we all love (and kudos to you for voicing your opinion) you have to understand that this is the internet. People gonna speak. Haters gonna hate. And rumors gonna spread. It’s part of being a celebrity. Neal knew that when he signed his 6 million dollar contract in a hotbed hockey market. This one clearly hit a sensitive note though and sorry for that but these types of comments aren’t new to hockey or this site. Not endorsing it but we should just be treating it the same as the other 80% drivel and nonsense on this comment section. (Including this post)

            Fall – you seem like a good guy. Rumors are rumors. Good or bad – We all spread them here. Personally I don’t see the need to talk about a players suspected drug use though. It’s as relevant as a players love for ham sandwiches.

            OTW you’re being a bit sensitive about Aris response. So what if Ari gets to swear and no one else can? Shes also a contributing owner of this site we all love. Why would any comment force you to leave regardless of who it came from? Jobu wants you to stay as do others do don’t flip out because of one silly disagreement.

            And WW gets my vote for the “Neal is making us fight with each other” comment. +1 to that!

            Also James Neal is my lover.

            That is all.

          • withachance

            The main point was the standard we set around substance use, and how it should not be tolerated here. I really dont think we should be getting into a hissy fit about swearing….

            Just because OTW knows the Fall in person doesnt make it ok for the Fall to speculate/accuse another human being they dont know of substance use. He went too far, period.

          • Captain Ron

            I have to agree with you Ari that is not what this site was ever intended for. You were doing great until you used the F word at the end though. It was completely unnecessary to make your point.
            OTW seems like a pretty cool dude. I hope he has a change of heart and sticks around.

          • oddclod

            I’ve been soft banned here for far less. Let the forum be like the internet. As it is. Be sensitive. Disagree. But don’t audit unless it’s hate speec, mysogynist racist etc. I’ve also heard this rumour. Not surprised it’s on the interwebs. Either way, doesn’t matte. ship the apathetic loser out of town.

          • Honkydonk

            Wow.

            F bombs all around seriously? For what?

            Here’s a fact we are citizens in this city and some in the know more than others.

            Sometimes you have friends that worked closely with the players, or you have friends that were bar tenders or you have this or you have that.

            Yes often lots of speculation however the harsh reality unfortunately is that drugs and booze and womanizing is a far greater issue in the NHL but nobody wants to talk about it. Hey no one likes their dirty laundry out there blatantly however as fans looking at these guys that make a fair junk of change and are often role models to our children there needs to be perspective.

            Everyone remember SMID? Well he could barely finish a sentence without swearing, drank like a fish and cheated on his wife and is in fact now with the woman he cheated with.

            The great one and his love for the bottle.

            Yes Johnny actually having an issue he sought help for that was so obvious low level staffers saw it caught onto it were concerned about it.

            There’s Hall a first overall in Edmonton same problem and there’s that German guy in Edmonton now same problem.

            People listen, people see yes average jo bloc citizens often are part of it.

            Waitress being chased to go home with them, husbands with other woman.

            Let’s get real here this all happenings to none athletes and it most definitely happens to and because of athletes.

            And at the end of the day it is what it is! We simply look up to these folks way too much in one hand

            And in another hand who’s to say you or me with $6million a year and five months to spare wouldn’t falter?

            All we want are players that give their best on and off the ice, all we want from these extremely gifted talented and often lucky individuals is to be present at puck drop.. play like it’s their last game and leave it all out there. When we don’t get that then this other stuff comes into it.

            There simply expressing not judging. This is a community site where we communicate it should be open and if we aren’t here nor would the sponsorship money, the advertising funds and whatever pays you fine folks to run this plays.

            Thanks for the fine job cheers

          • Albertabeef

            F-Bombs? What is this JaysNation? Writer there always swears on his blog. But then if you click on the Jays schedule on JN it hasn’t been updated since 2017. Pretty bad for a site covering a team from the center of the universe lol. At least FN is mostly professional.

          • Albertabeef

            You know I’m gonna blame Ari for the Flames flop in the playoffs. It’s all her fault for not changing her avatar. She’s givin the Canes all the Flames mojo! She also turned me into a newt, I got better. Can I change the subject lol

      • The GREAT WW

        I remember it was all the rage to talk like that about Johnny and Money not too long ago.
        Nobody said crap about it then…..
        I’m glad I won’t be reading garbage like that about them anymore!

        WW

        • HOCKEY83

          That was ON fans talking crap about johnny and Monny…Calling johnny…Cokey and what not. That spread to FN and I’ve actually heard people here in Calgary talking about it. I did make comments regarding it back then and i will still make comments regarding it…like i said the most classless type of fans spread these drug rumors. To spread something so horrible about someone that you heard from someone who thinks he knows something because he heard it from someone else shows a real lack of class…especially spreading it online for the masses to spread even further. Absolutely 100% in Ari’s corner on this one.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      Hey Fall? Instead of accusing a seasoned NHL pro of being a drug addict from an anonymous account on a blog, how about you give your real name and the real name of your source, and then contact James Neal and tell him that’s what you’ve done? Or kindly STFU?

      I’m sick of these keyboard warriors talking bullsh!t about ACTUAL PEOPLES’ lives. The truth is, you nor anyone else has a f@cking clue about his or anyone’s personal habits.

      James is an actual person, man.

      F@ck your rumour mill.

      • Stu Gotz

        BringtheFire..agreed. The Fall is the guy that jumped all over me for making FN posters aware of the fact that James Neal girlfriend is a beauty NFL NBC sideline reporter. He took offence to my comment. What a hypocrite this guy is!

    • The Fall

      Not trying to start anything other than a conversation. I thought I clearly said this was a rumour. I did not mean it to be a disparaging remark; I don’t think drug addiction to be something to be ashamed of.

      I apologize.

      • Off the wall

        What a long thread! Perhaps the discussion about James Neal brings out the worst in us?
        That’s never a good sign.

        I’m no quitter though. Frustrated at times, but never a quitter.

        I owe Ari an apology. The Fall apologized, he intended no malice. Neither did I .

        I’m sorry Ari. I’ve chosen to ignore BTF’s remarks for a long time. I know he can’t resist the urge to call out people. His penchants have become nauseating though. Calling out someone I deem a friend, well I took exception to that. So I hope you understand why I didn’t take too kindly to another members remarks.

        Its ok to punch me in the nose Ari. I stuck it where it didn’t belong. We’ll call it a Technical Knockout. Sometimes I need habitual reminders, for I can lose objectivity.

        You accomplished that Ari, even though I really wanted to swear back at you, for no other reason than I could enjoy the same satisfaction you enjoyed! 😉

        Ari works like crazy to make this site the best Nation. I shouldn’t have got involved. My apologies Ari, in principle you’re correct.
        Ari did not ban me. She made her point and I accept it.

        • Kevin R

          Hey OTW! Glad you took this road because I value your contribution to these threads. I did think you over reacted but kinda understood. Maybe your hockey pools arent going too good lol. Every site has its internet self proclaimed heroes. I lose it sometimes too & then my language goes way offside. Long run, this is just an avenue for entertainment & a place to post some good & idiotic thoughts we come up with from time to time. That’s all it is. You have many friends on FN.

          • Kevin R

            Yeah its been brutal this year. This is when you draw the the ball that has you picking near the end because by the time it comes to you, you have no choice but to venture off. I have 1 pool Im winning & I picked at the end & loaded up on Boston, Colorado, I have some San Jose & a few St louis. I am the only one that has all my players left in a pool where we picked 16 players per team & there are 12 teams. Two pools I have been totally decimated & a fourth that I am in first yet with a huge lead but I only have 3 Carolina guys left & losing ground badly because Vegas got knocked out. That one was the big money one & would have walked away with it if not for that horsecO*k call. :-<

          • HOCKEY83

            Speaking of Hockey pools Kevin R…I’ve been running my playoff pool for over 30 years now and never once has so my entered teams lost almost all of their players or all of their players in the first round…Quite Amazing.

        • HOCKEY83

          I think this…”We do not fu@#$ing speculate on people’s hypothetical substance abuses. If you want to do that kindly go somewhere else.”
          Was not directed at OTW rather more of a drive it home general comment to everyone regarding playing around with random unproven substance abuse comments regarding hockey players.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Hamonic’s problem was D pairing, Neil’s problem was desire, or lack of. He didn’t seem to fit in with the team from the get go. Sometimes when a guy gets a big guaranteed contract they get content, knowing it’s likely his last one.
    Just hope this is last veteran free agent signing.

    • Luter 1

      He was brought in for two reasons, firstly a top 6 who would play with an edge and secondly as a sniper. I mentioned 15 games into the season this guy was done and somebody commented you don’t lose your 20-30 goal scoring talent over one summer. Well this guy did and no amount of training is going to help this stiff legged poor skater back to a top 6. If he’s not top 6 then he has absolutely no role on this team and his heart, dedication and edge along with sticking up for teammates was non-existent. That attitude doesn’t just change, Neal has no intention of getting his nose dirty, he played two aggressive games and ended up injured. He will be a problem in the dressing room this year, cut your losses, him and Czarnik to Canucks for a bag of pucks.

    • The GREAT WW

      Maybe I’m making too much of this; but healthy scratching Neal for the last and most important game of the season hopefully signals the end of Neal as a Flame…..

      WW

      • The GREAT WW

        There was some chatter on a previous article about trading Neal and Dube as a sweetener….
        Would we get anything back?

        What is it worth to rid ourselves of Neal and get back $5 million a year in cap for 4 years of our window?

        WW

          • Albertabeef

            If we add sweetener I’d say add Frolik as well and get a 7th round pick back. If we can get rid of Stone as well. I was just thinking of Artemi Panarin. If we could swing a couple reasonable UFA contracts with Eberle and Panarin our entire lineup could look to be a little better.
            Johnny-Lindholm-Tkachuk
            Panarin-Monahan-Dube
            Bennett-Backlund-Eberle(not in love just saw he will be UFA)
            Mangiapane-Ryan-Czar(maybe offer Simmonds 2x2mil)

  • buts

    A very reliable source told me Neal banged heads with Peters all year long and I don’t believe Peters is going anywhere. How will training this summer improve the slowest anchor on the flames? After the game 5 scratching and the disappointment shown by Tre I believe Neal is Gone. Give up a prospect retain salary and move on.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I expect the Flames would try to move Neal, but I’m not holding my breath that they’d be successful. Who wants a 7 goal $5.75M player for the next 4 years.
      Get used to James Neal in crimson for the long run.

    • freethe flames

      I have no doubt your source is reliable. Neal expected to be given a chance to play with Johnny and Monny but BP had decided he would try Lindholm there first(and it worked). After that it became painfully obvious to everyone except Neal and a few of his supporters on this sight that Neal did not have the wheels to play top 6 in BP system. After failing to earn a spot based upon his play and not his reputation Neal floundered.