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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Maple Leafs Re-sign Jeremy Bracco?

Remember when everyone in Leafs land was trying to put together a package for a top pairing right-shot defenseman? Remember when Jeremy Bracco was usually at the forefront of those trade proposals? It’s crazy how much can change in a year. Bracco went from having one of the best offensive seasons in Toronto Marlies history, to becoming an afterthought when discussing the team’s top prospects.

At season’s end (whenever that is), Bracco will be a Restricted Free Agent and in need of a new contract. The 2020-21 season will see Bracco become waiver eligible for the first time which means the clock is ticking on Bracco taking that next step to becoming an NHLer.

For those who have not kept up to date with Bracco, let’s take a look at his progression over the course of his Entry-Level contract.

Year Team League GP G A P PIM +/- SH S%
2017-18 Toronto Marlies AHL 50 6 26 32 10 6 71 8.5%
2018-19 Toronto Marlies AHL 75 22 57 79 16 1 129 17.1%
2019-20 Toronto Marlies AHL 44 4 30 34 2 -10 58 6.9%

Looking solely at Bracco’s boxcar stats, Bracco’s breakout season in 2018-19 coincided with a massive spike in his shooting percentage. That season, Bracco recorded 129 shots on goal in 75 games, which averages out to 1.72 shots on goal per game. In comparison, Auston Matthews has averaged 3.57 shots on goal per game over his four seasons in the NHL. Bracco is not a volume shooter a la Matthews, but more of a selective or last resort shooter similar to Mitch Marner. Having said that, even Marner shoots the puck more than Bracco, averaging 2.52 shots on goal over his NHL career.

After looking at Bracco’s boxcar stats, I started to wonder about how the Powerplay affected his point totals. Bracco is the quarterback for the Marlies top powerplay unit and occupies the Mitch Marner spot on it.

Year Bracco PPG Bracco PPA Marlies PP%
2017-18 2 11 18.0%
2018-19 8 31 21.8%
2019-20 1 14 19.4%

There are a few takeaways from these stats in regards to Bracco:

  1. The Marlies powerplay in 2019-20 relied less on Bracco to generate offense, instead spreading the offense across the other four players on the ice. This hurt Bracco’s offensive numbers significantly. If we pro-rated Bracco’s powerplay production in 2019-20 across 75 games, that number jumps to 26 powerplay points, a 13-point decrease from last season.
  2. Bracco needs to work on his goal-scoring touch a little bit more. Adding an ability to score more goals will turn Bracco into more of a threat offensively and also make him less predictable.
  3. In 2018-19, Bracco was an extremely lucky goal-scorer, riding an unsustainable shooting percentage that dried up this season. The dramatic decrease in shooting percentage can be attributed to Bracco being a pass-first player and not generating enough quality shots on goal.

So What Next?

Looking back on Bracco’s ELC, he had a decent rookie season, a breakout sophomore season and a disappointing third season. With zero NHL games played over this time period, Bracco does not have a lot of bargaining power. Regardless of how you feel about Jeremy Bracco though, I would be shocked if Bracco is not given a qualifying offer at the very least. Bracco’s qualifying offer would be a one-year deal with a cap hit of $787.5k.

If Bracco is re-signed, the question becomes where does he slot in? The Leafs have a logjam at RW and an abundance of wingers that can play both sides.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Andreas Johnsson Auston Matthews Mitch Marner
LW $3,400,000 C $11,634,000 RW $10,893,000
Zach Hyman John Tavares William Nylander
LW $2,250,000 C $11,000,000 RW, LW $6,962,366
Pierre Engvall Alexander Kerfoot Kasperi Kapanen
LW. RW $1,250,000 C, LW $3,500,000 RW $3,200,000
Fourth Line LW Fourth Line C Alexander Barabanov
RW, LW $925,000

The Leafs have nine forwards under contract for next season who played 30+ games for the team. The 10th player, Alexander Barabanov, is the Leafs latest signing from the KHL and all signs point towards him being giving a shot to play on the big club.

This leaves two spots up for grabs, fourth-line center and a winger spot. I would expect Jason Spezza to be re-signed as the fourth-line center. Ilya Mikheyev is an RFA this offseason and if they can make the money work, he will be back and would push Pierre Engvall down to the fourth line. The Leafs top forward prospect Nick Robertson is also expected to make a hard push for a roster spot next season after scoring 55 goals in the OHL this season. As of right now I would put him ahead of Bracco in regards to odds of making the team.

Elliotte Friedman released a 31 Thoughts column in December that noted Bracco, alongside a few other players within the organization had requested a change of scenery. Later in February, it was announced Bracco was away from the team for “personal reasons”. Bracco would return to the team just over a month later and days before the AHL season was suspended due to COVID-19. If Bracco’s trade request from earlier in the year is legitimate, his camp might be hesitant to re-sign with the team, knowing very well there isn’t an easy path to the NHL for him. Now if the Leafs move out some roster players to try and address their problems on defense, different story.

Lastly, and I mentioned this at the top of this post, Bracco is waiver eligible next season. This means that if he does not make the Maple Leafs roster once training camp concludes, Bracco will need to be placed on waivers in order to be sent down to the Marlies. Bracco has some holes in his game, but he does offers an intriguing skillset and I could see a bottom feeder team looking for some skill to take a flyer on Bracco (see Red Wings, Detroit).

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Jeremy Bracco are going to be at a crossroads this offseason and it will be interesting to see how this situation gets resolved.