This season’s year in review posts kick off with homegrown, long-time Leaf fan, Connor Brown. The 25-year-old was a staple in this roster throughout the season, being a hard-working, grind-it-out type of player, a favourite for Head Coach Mike Babcock.
While playing a reduced role for the majority of the season, either on the 3rd or 4th line for most of the season, Brown managed to have a pretty good season statistically. Last year, he scored a moderate 28 points, and he hit a similar mark at 29 points this year. This pales in comparison to the 20-goal rookie season, but that’s to be expected. Most of that high-scoring season was played with Auston Matthews, who you would expect to help boost Brown quite a lot, being the special player that he is.
This year, he was centered instead by either Nazem Kadri or Frederik Gauthier. Kadri, while pretty good in his own right, is simply not able to create chances for Connor Brown the way Auston Matthews was.
A lot of people have complained about Connor Brown this season, but a lot of that probably comes from the higher expectations set by his 20-goal-season, as well as the depth that the Leafs boasted in their forward group. With one of Petan, Ennis, or Moore sitting in favour of Brown, it’s easy to get frustrated that he’s not as good a player as perhaps one would like him to be.
However, ignoring who he was played in favour of, he had a decent season. His Expected Goals% from the table above is stellar, which makes sense given his known playing style. He likes to cycle the puck, and generate dangerous chances in tight. While sometimes he doesn’t have all the skill necessary to finish those chances, or to get the puck where it needs to be for someone else to finish, he does do a great job of getting the puck to those dangerous areas.
Brown finished 10th on the team in Individual Expected Goals (ixG), well above all of his 4th line counterparts. So, while he lacks in some of the playmaking abilities that other players on the team possess, he is still a competent offensive player in his own right.
While Brown’s season was pretty well devoid of any exciting offensive highlights, the video that I remember most of him this year was this special done by Sportsnet on him:
The worst line by shot attempt numbers rolled out by the Leafs this season, by a pretty wide margin, was the Johnsson-Lindholm-Brown 4th line that ran for most of the start of the season. They had a horrible 39.29% Expected Goals%, and a not-much-better 46.47% Corsi%. And yet somehow, they were the 4th best on the team in Goals%, allowing 3 goals and scoring 6, for a Goals% of 66.67%.
It is speculated by many that Connor Brown won’t return for the Toronto Maple Leafs next season. His contract is a little more than one would want to pay a 4th liner, which is where he should be playing when this team is healthy.
There’s obviously a lot that can happen between now and September 2019, and the uncertainty around Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson due to their expired contracts will certainly factor into this.
In all likelihood, Brown will be traded (perhaps at the NHL Draft), to make room to re-sign Kapanen and Johnsson. The Leafs have plenty of players chomping at the bit for a 4th line opportunity, and any of them will be significantly cheaper than Brown. Any of Moore, Engvall, Marchment, Bracco or Petan could fill that role next year in his absence.
There remains the possibility that he comes back, and if he does then Mike Babcock will be sure to make the most of him.
Personally, if I were to put money on it, I wouldn’t expect to see Brown in a Leafs uniform in 2019-20.