You’re a fan of a hockey team, one that happens to wear blue and white. Things are looking up. Or, at least not down. Games are being won somewhat often, players that were missing during these wins are starting to return, and the key to this year seems to be consistency rather than streakiness. You find out one of your young wingers is on his way back into the lineup, after starting the season on a point per game pace. But to get him back in, a fourth line fighter has to go.
NOOOOOOOOOOO! NOT MIKE BROWN! Wait, what?
Brown was traded to Edmonton today for a draft pick that’s position is dependent on the Oilers making a progression towards the playoffs instead of their usual one towards the basement. At worst, it’s their fourth round pick; at best, their third. This leaves a range between 76th overall (quick first round exit), and 105th (barely missing the playoffs). As usual, the bipolar fanbase can’t decide whether to be happy or upset about this deal.
Usually, I like to suggest that both sides are taking an extreme, and that the real answer is somewhere in the middle. In this case though, it’s pretty clear cut. Immediately wax nostalgic all you want, but offloading Brown for such a return is highway robbery.
The first thing that has to considered; yes, Brown can drop the gloves, but how many guys do the Leafs need to do that? Frazer McClaren, Colton Orr, and Mark Fraser have also dropped the gloves five times, leading the team. McClaren and Orr are forwards. Once you let it sink in that most of these fights were staged bouts, and this team still has plenty of guys who can fight their own battles if necessary, you can see a clear redundancy. Claim all you want that fights are helping the Leafs win games, but if true, there’s still a point where “intimidation” becomes “our forward core can’t shoot”.
Beyond fighting, what was Brown really doing for the Leafs this season? Despite Randy Carlyle’s bias towards grit, Brown had a team worst average ice time of 4:39 per game, taking just 8.9 shifts. His 10 total seconds on the Powerplay are lower than anybody other than David Steckel, and for all those who claim he can play on the Penalty Kill, he’s played half a shift the entire season thus far.
If hits are your thing (they shouldn’t be), he’s on par with Orr and McClaren, and behind the likes of Leo Komarov and Nikolai Kulemin. He has zero giveaways or takeaways, an indication that he wasn’t touching the puck. When he was, he’s taken just two shots in 12 games, and has one assist. The bulk of his penalty minutes, which lead the Leafs, are from a game misconduct. His five minor penalties in twelve games is the worst ratio on the team.
What you’re stuck with, is a guy who fights, just like a bunch his teammates did. He hits, just like a bunch of his teammates did. He takes penalties that see the Leafs down a man, and never sees special teams time of his own. He’s arguably made not one single contribution to the actual flow of hockey for the Leafs this year.
Yet with his back against the wall, Dave Nonis managed to scoop out a draft pick for him. To make things even more absurd, Brown was considered a more effective all-around player when the Leafs acquired him, and they gave up a 5th round pick to Anaheim, meaning they got to use him for two and a half years, send him out with lower expectations, and get a better asset back for him. All while McClaren, who essentially replaces him, was claimed off waivers for free just a few weeks ago.
I can understand Oilers fans tolerating the move, if they believe that toughness is an issue. No player on Edmonton has dropped the gloves more than once this year, which may or may not mean anything. But from a Leafs perspective, this move was a no brainer. You’ll miss the fights for about eighteen seconds until someone else jumps over the boards. There’s little in actual game contribution to remember (Dion Phaneuf actually had trouble). The only true loss here is the man’s stunning contributions to the facial hair game, and we’ll forget all about those if Jerry D’Amigo eventually gets called up and doesn’t shave for a week.
This isn’t a “beat up on the new departure” moment. While it’s my honest belief that he didn’t make much of a contribution, all signs point to him being a good sport about the process, a solid teammate, and someone who put in his best effort every game. One hopes for the move to work out for both him and the Oilers. But from a pure hockey perspective, and a Toronto point of view, there’s no way to take this than a shrewd, sensible, decision by the Leafs to get rid of a redundancy to restore roster spce.