Peter Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers had a fairly quiet free agency period. Due in large part to very limited cap space, the Oilers were not in the market for any of the higher end free agents, however, they were able to sign three unrestricted free agents to NHL contracts: (1) Tobias Rieder to a 1 year, $2M contract, (2) Kyle Brodziak to a 2 year, $2.3M contract and (3) Kevin Gravel to a 1 year, $700K contract.
I am of the opinion that this was a successful free agency period for the Oilers and am happy Chiarelli resisted any urges for “quick fixes” that would bleed further draft picks and young talent in the name of immediate improvement. At the same time, I am not blind and fully acknowledge Chiarelli’s culpability in the cap crunch the team is in which limited his ability to acquire higher end talent in the first instance.
There is value in each of the three players signed on July 1 but today I want to discuss Kyle Brodziak and some of the data may surprise you.
Kyle Brodziak’s 2-year contract comes with an annual average salary and cap hit of $1.15M and, from accounts, the majority of Oiler fans were happy with the signing. The general consensus is that Brodziak will solidify the fourth line center position for the next two years and at a lower cost than the $1.8M cap hit Mark Letestu had for the previous 3 seasons. Additionally, Brodziak is a better penalty killer than Letestu who struggled mightily on the PK last season. The contract comes with very little risk as the majority of the cap hit can be buried in the AHL and the team would only accrue a $125K cap hit if Brodziak is re-assigned to the AHL.
At 34 years of age, it is not out of the question that Brodziak could undergo a steep regression over the term of the 2-year contract, however, his game has not seen any regression to this point and, in fact, Brodziak is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and his best offensive season since 2011/12. Brodziak finished the season with 10 goals and 33 points in 81 games. Of note, with 12 first assists, 22 of those 33 points were primary points (goals plus first assists) which we know to be a better indicator of future production than total points. It is also worth noting that 29 of the 33 points were scored at 5 on 5. Brodziak played a little over 11 minutes per game at 5 on 5 and finished the year scoring at a rate of 1.89 P/60 at 5 on 5 which is firmly within top 6 territory.
This was a massive offensive season from Brodziak as he hadn’t surpassed 24 total points in a season since accumulating 44 points in 2011/12 while playing for the Minnesota Wild. The 1.89 P/60 at 5 on 5 was the second highest of Brodziak’s career and, again, the highest rate he’s scored at since 2011/12.
Suffice to say, Oiler fans should not expect Brodziak to score at top 6 rates and accumulate almost 30 points at even strength during his tenure as an Oiler.
With that said, a bit of a deeper dive in to the numbers leads to the argument that Brodziak could potentially play up the lineup in times of need.
At the 2018 trade deadline in late February, the St. Louis Blues traded Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets. Up and till the point of the trade, Brodziak’s most common linemate was Scottie Upshall with whom he played 423 of his 620 5 on 5 minutes with. Other common linemates were Chris Thorburn (195 minutes), Dmitrij Jaskin (194 minutes) and Robert Bortuzzo (176 minutes). To that point in the season, Brodziak only played 74 minutes at 5 on 5 with Alex Steen and 102 minutes with Patrick Berglund and was clearly playing with bottom 6 linemates (and mainly 4th line linemates).
All that changed after Stastny was traded away and, for the last 16 games of the season, Brodziak was used up the lineup and played mainly on a line with Alex Steen and Patrick Berglund. In the last 16 games of the season, Brodziak played 155 minutes with Berglund and Steen at 5 on 5 and another 90 minutes with at least one of those two. The results were stunning and sparkling.
In those 16 games, Brodziak’s TOI/G at 5 on 5 was increased to over 15 minutes, he had positive possession metrics, a 57% goal share, produced 11 points (8 primary) and scored at a massive team-leading rate of 2.74 P/60 (including 1.99 primary P/60). Brodziak had a fantastic end to the 2017/18 season, was a material part of the success the Blues had down the stretch and almost helped the team make the playoffs despite being sellers at the trade deadline and trading away one of their top players. The Blues ended up one point out of a wild card spot.
Brodziak is 34 years old and will be 35 for the entirety of the second year of his contract, has played the vast majority of his career as a responsible defensive-minded bottom 6 center and has never been a plus skater. If anything, one could reasonably expect regression over the term of the 2-year contract, however, Brodziak is coming off one the best seasons of his career where he was fantastic on the penalty kill, responsible defensively (as always) and provided excellent offensive production in limited 5 on 5 minutes. He also went on a massive 16 game heater when used up the lineup with more skilled offensive players during very meaningful games.
It is clear that Brodziak will be penciled in as the Oilers 4th line center and will be counted on to provide solid defensive play, take tougher zone starts, play important defensive minutes and be a material force on the penalty kill. Offensive production from Brodziak should be seen as a bonus. With that said, even while entering the twilight years of his career, Brodziak has shown the ability to play up the lineup with more skilled players and, at least for stretches, be a material contributor to secondary scoring.
When the Oilers are in situations where they need an offensive push or injury cover, Brodziak can be a material player. For example, the coaching staff may want to move Ryan Strome on to one of the top 2 lines and shorten the bench and, in such a situation, Brodziak is a great candidate to move up the lineup and provide solid play as the third line center and help with secondary scoring in the middle six. We all know the Oilers need to find a way to score more goals when Connor McDavid is not on the ice.
There is a very reasonable chance that contract Peter Chiarelli signed Kyle Brodziak to will prove to be a value contract, something the Oilers are in desperate need of.
All numbers are provided by naturalstattrick.com