Let’s start off by saying there isn’t a whole lot left for the Leafs to do this off-season, so figuring out what the hold up in the Connor Brown signing is one of the few things left to passionately debate (or begrudgingly discuss.)
We’ve put it to our panel of experts to tell us what makes the most sense for the 23 year old winger. Should he be signed short term to see whether he can repeat his success? Is now the time to get him on a long term contract that is affordable for the Leafs? Or did we witness a marvelous debut that he’ll struggle to live up to and the best course of action is to deal him now for the riches we would surely receive in return?
Here are our takes, tell us who is right.
As a fan, I’d be gutted if the Leafs moved Brown, but if I was an outside observer, I’d probably be preaching the “sell high” idea pretty hard. I mean, Brown just scored 20 goals as a rookie, and while he is going to remain a good NHL player, he might be 8th or 9th among Leafs forwards when you factor in upside (i.e. I do believe Kapanen will be the better player in the long run). And they have a bit of a crowded forward group, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he was shipped.
With all that said, separating person from player entirely isn’t the best strategy, and I think Brown is going to be an assistant captain on this team – he comes across as one of the smarter and most personable players I’ve seen on the Leafs in the limited times we’ve been given access. If he comes in at a reasonable number like Hyman, I’ll be glad to see him return.
I usually couldn’t care less about where a player’s from, but with Connor Brown, it’s different. You can see how much being a Leaf means to the guy. Hell, his celebration after his goal against Pittsburgh might have been my favourite moment from last season. I’d love for the Leafs to lock him up on a reasonable long-ish term deal.
Having said that, if someone’s willing to (massively) overpay, the Leafs would be silly not to entertain the thought. Yeah, he’s an incredibly easy guy to root for, but the end goal here is to win. As hard as it would be to say goodbye to someone like Connor Brown, it may be necessary depending on what teams are willing to give up.
So, yeah, my preference would be to get him re-signed, but that’s assuming other teams haven’t offered anything of significant value in return.
Sign him. Do short term. Short term is almost always the answer. You can never have too many good local boys who always dreamed of playing for their hometown team. Just think of the narratives and intangibles.
In all seriousness, though, Connor Brown is a more than serviceable third liner, and while he may not be a sure bet for 20 goals, he’ll probably hover around that 15 goal range as a conservative estimate. He’s not as shiny as the Leafs Trio rookies from last year, but he’s dependable, defensively sound, and has that scoring touch that some others (*cough, Hyman, cough*) tend to lack a bit. What are you going to receive right now for Connor Brown? Certainly not the marquee defenseman that the Leafs are supposedly on the lookout for. Don’t fix what ain’t broke. Keep Connor Brown (for now).
Assuming the trade market for Brown is pretty mediocre, I think the right move is to keep him. The Leafs will likely try to lock him up for 4-6 years, between $2-3M. As the Big 3 start to get their extensions, good depth players on cheap deals are going to be key. Obviously you’d prefer these to be ELC players, but a locked up depth player for cheap provides you stability in case that ELC player doesn’t exist. As teams get successful, there’s a risk of overvaluing depth players and signing them to big contracts (Bolland, Clarkson, Abdelkader, etc.). If you get your depth guys locked up on cheap deals while they aren’t too valuable, you’re preventing yourself from being in a situation where you either give them big money or lose them. However, if he’s a piece that a team is interested in as a package for a top 4 defenseman, I’m certainly not going to say no to that.
There’s probably no player that I’ve consistently been wrong about more than Connor Brown. I really like the guy, but I have the habit of underestimating him and never believing that he will take the next step in his career. I’ve labelled him a career AHLer, a bottom line role player, and certainly never expected 20 goals out of him in the NHL.
All that being said, I still refuse to learn from my mistakes and feel it’s better to move on from Brown and to see whether he can be used to address more pressing needs (i.e. right side defense.)
Brown isn’t going to land a top pairing defenseman on his own, and if there’s a lesson to learn from the comical Hall for Larsson deal, it’s that in a one for one deal, you’re going to be left wanting, but it’s also fair to note that not every GM is as bad as Peter Chiarelli.
Brown doesn’t need to be the only piece in the deal, he can be a key piece, and he certainly would hold some value as an affordable scoring option for a team with plentiful right side defense depth (hello Calgary and Winnipeg.)
The nice thing about the situation is if a deal can’t be found you can still probably sign Brown for a reasonable short term deal and watch him make me look like a damned fool for doubting him again.