Troy Brouwer

Perry, Spezza, and other NHL free agent forwards with uncertain futures

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When Corey Perry told the Dallas Stars website that “I know there’s more hockey left in me,” Perry was discussing being ready for play to resume. But what about next season, and possibly beyond?

Perry falls into a category of upcoming NHL free agents with uncertain futures. The reasoning is simple: they may or may not get to make the call about retirement. A lack of interest might simply force them to hang up their skates.

Let’s take a look at Perry and some of the most interesting cases of borderline players. To be clear, players most likely to decide for themselves (example: Joe Thornton) are fodder for different posts. This list also skates past players with expiring contracts who already essentially retired, such as David Clarkson and Johan Franzen.

When in doubt, I’ve also focused on NHL free agent forwards who are 30 or older.

This list focuses on forwards. Later this week, we’ll also tackle defensemen and goalies.

Perry and other forwards with uncertain free agent futures in the NHL

Corey Perry

The lasting image of Perry’s first (and possibly last) Stars season was his “walk of shame” after getting ejected during the 2020 Winter Classic.

Perry’s season got off to the wrong foot in a literal way, as he broke it before his first game in a Stars uniform. He never really got any traction from there, managing just five goals and 21 points over 57 games.

Perry’s possession stats were mediocre, and they’ve honestly been that way for a while. The difference is that his offense plummeted, with the drop-off being especially sharp these past two seasons. Combine that decline in offense with Perry being a 35+ contract, and there are a lot of hurdles.

But all it really takes is one team to consider him a low-risk option, much like the Stars did in 2019-20. It’s not that outrageous to give Perry a mulligan. If you want a nasty veteran with some scoring touch, you could talk yourself into a cheap, one-year deal for Perry.

While Perry’s production has been putrid lately, he generated 49 points in 2017-18, and 53 in 2016-17. Perry also suffered bad puck luck (6.5 shooting percentage) in 2019-20, so there’s another way teams can talk themselves into signing the 2011 Hart Trophy winner.

Jason Spezza

Once you accept that Spezza is no longer going to push 90 points, it’s pretty easy to embrace investing in the 36-year-old. No, 25 points in 58 games isn’t spectacular, but managing that many with an ice time of just 10:50 TOI per night is impressive.

Check Spezza’s historical isolated impact at Hockey Viz and you’ll notice that, as his offense has declined, Spezza’s become a responsible defensive presence.

Spezza viz, Perry and other NHL free agents
via Hockey Viz/Micah Blake McCurdy

Spezza also mostly took Mike Babcock’s Babcockery in stride, which should count for something. Spezza is a low-risk no-brainer.

Carl Soderberg

Carl Soderberg’s a little older than I realized, as he’ll turn 35 on Oct. 12. Some of his underlying stats are pretty underwhelming, so I wonder if his place in the league may involve ranking lower in the pecking order than he has with Arizona and Colorado in recent seasons?

Ryan Reaves

Honestly, Ryan Reaves seems like the type of player I’d expect to be teetering out of the league at 33. Teams want a menacing presence who can play a bit, though, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue to get pretty lucrative deals. And, really, Reaves checks out reasonably well in this RAPM comparison with Spezza at Evolving Hockey, too:

Reaves vs. Spezza, Perry and other NHL free agents
via Evolving Hockey

Other forwards

  • I assume Martin Hanzal will retire, being that he last played in 2018-19, and in just seven games. Then again, he’s merely 33, so maybe he’d give it another shot? Large, defensive-minded centers don’t grow on trees. At least, I have never been to such forest, and would prefer to get that image out of my head now, thank you.
  • Trevor Lewis is one of those supporting cast members from a championship team who garners a somewhat baffling level of loyalty. (See: many, many Detroit Red Wings.) It’s not that Lewis, 33, is terrible. It’s just that I’m not sure how much he moves the needle. His ice time plummeted by more than two minutes (14:01 to 11:54), too, so that’s not a great sign for Lewis.
  • NHL teams sure do love 35-year-old Nate Thompson. The Flyers gave up a fifth-rounder for him during the past trade deadline, and Montreal coughed up two picks for Thompson the year before. All for REASONS! So maybe “Nate Boucher” will remain in some demand?
  • I’m not certain about Patrick Maroon‘s health, but … can the guy catch a break? It would be sad if the 32-year-old spent another offseason twisting in the wind.
  • There’s a subcategory of “I’m surprised that person played so many games in the NHL this season.” Two of the biggest were Troy Brouwer (34, 13 games) and Chris Stewart (32, 16 games, first season in NHL since 2017-18). I’d say that they probably won’t land on teams in 2020-21 but … I’ve already been wrong about NHL free agent forwards before, and likely will be again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What is the Blues’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the St. Louis Blues.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Outside of top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who would be the top free agent available this summer, pretty much every key player on the Blues’ roster is signed (or under team control) through the end of next season.

Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are the two most impactful forwards on the roster and both have long-term deals through the end of the 2022-23 season at a combined salary cap number of $15 million. As long as they maintain their current levels of play (Tarasenko being a 30-35 goal winger; O’Reilly being a dominant two-way center) they are going to be the foundation of a contending team at a pretty fair price against the cap.

Things do get a little more complicated after next season when forwards Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, and Tyler Bozak, as well as BOTH goalies (Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen) will all be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou also provide some nice long-term potential at forward, with Thomas being especially intriguing. The team’s first-round pick (No. 20 overall) in 2017 has already shown flashes of top-line ability and is one of their best play-making forwards at even-strength. Still only 20 years old, big things could be in his future. He still has one more season after this one on his entry-level deal. Given how good he has already been, the potential he still has, and his current contract status he could be one of the Blues’ most valuable assets next season.

On defense, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella and Robert Bortuzzo are all signed to long-term deals, while Dunn is still under team control as a restricted free agent after this season.

Overall, it remains a top-tier team in the NHL in the short-term and should still be a Stanley Cup contender.

Long-Term Needs

Getting Pietrangelo re-signed would probably be at the top of the list.

He is their captain, their top defenseman, and if he leaves they do not really have another option to take over that role. With Parayko, Faulk, Dunn, and Bortuzzo there would still be a solid defense there, but none of those players really fills the No. 1 defender spot. It is also unlikely — if not impossible — they would be able to find anyone comparable to Pietrangelo on the open market.

Scott Perunovich is probably their top prospect, and he does have a lot of potential on the blue line, but he has yet to play a game of professional hockey and is a long way off from being able to fill a top-pairing or meaningful role.

Beyond that, their farm system as a whole is not the strongest and they have some fairly significant free agents over the next two years that they will need to do with — including the two goalies.

Long-Term Strengths

In the more immediate future they have an outstanding goalie with Binnington and Allen in place, and that is also probably the one position in their farm system that has some potential long-term options.

Their biggest strength, though, is simply the players they have at the top of their lineup.

Acquiring O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres before the 2018-19 season has turned out to be an enormous win for the organization. Not only because it gave them a bonafide No. 1 center that could drive play at both ends of the ice, but because it cost them almost nothing of consequence to get him. He scores at a top-line rate, is a sensational defensive player, and plays big, tough minutes against other team’s best players while being able to stay out of the penalty box. At a $7.5 million salary cap hit that is an enormous bargain.

Then there is Tarasenko.

He has been one of the NHL’s most dangerous goal-scorers for the past six years and can be a game-changing talent when he is on the ice. The Blues did not really get a chance to experience much of that this season due to injury, but he is a star and might be the one player on this roster that might (emphasis on might) have Hall of Fame potential if he continues on his current path.

MORE Blues:
Looking at the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues
Blues biggest surprises and disappointments so far

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Life after Laviolette; Kovalchuk impresses in Habs debut

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The firing of Peter Laviolette shows thats GM David Poile still believes his team has a chance this season. [Tennessean]

• Ilya Kovalchuk impressed in his first game with the Canadiens. [Habs Eyes on the Prize]

• Should the Maple Leafs sell high on William Nylander? [Faceoff Circle]

• The son of Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle was reportedly found dead in Los Angeles. [CBS Pittsburgh]

• Mike Sullivan deserves all the praise with how he’s found ways to get the Penguins to succeed through all of their injuries. [Pensburgh]

• Jim Rutherford is working the phones seeking a winger to replaced the injured Jake Guentzel. [Tribune Review]

• The big difference between Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid? The supporting casts around them. [TSN]

• Oilers GM Ken Holland stating the obvious: “When you’ve got Connor McDavid and you’ve got Leon Draisaitl … I believe the window to try to be in the playoffs is now.” [Sportsnet]

• Jacob, 8, wanted a Maple Leafs cake. The bakery used the Maple Leaf Foods logo instead. [CBC]

• How close are the Bruins to undergoing a shakeup? [Boston Herald]

• A good look at the strong season that Hurricanes forward Lucas Wallmark is having. [Canes and Coffee]

• The Flyers, regression and the second half of the NHL season. [Sons of Penn]

• Is Aaron Dell the new No. 1 goalie in San Jose? [NBC Sports Bay Area]

• U.S. goalie Arthur Smith will be one of the few black athletes among the 1,800 competitors from 70 countries at 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games which opens Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland. [NHL.com]

• “As [Jets defenseman Sami] Niku was preparing for his NHL return, a report was making the rounds on Monday morning from Finnish media outlet Yle Urheilu, one that suggested Niku was unhappy with how he was being handled in the organization — going as far to say that he was readying a trade request.” [Winnipeg Free Press]

• What the 2020 Winter Classic meant to the NHL, Dallas and the southern hockey fan. [Sporting News]

• Goaltending has been looking up for the Devils of late. [All About the Jersey]

Troy Brouwer was signed by the Blues for forward depth but has found it difficult to stick in the lineup. [Post-Dispatch]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Winter Classic Memories: Late winner has extra special meaning for Brouwer

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Every Tuesday in December we’ll be looking back at some Winter Classic memories as we approach the 2020 game on Jan. 1 between the Stars and Predators from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.

Alex Ovechkin recalled after the 2015 Winter Classic that Troy Brouwer, who was a Blackhawks rookie during the 2009 edition at Wrigley Field, told his Capitals teammates that the New Year’s Day outdoor game was a “good time to show up and make a show.”

Brouwer would back up his words and help the Capitals to a 3-2 win over his old Blackhawks teammates in front of 42,832 fans at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. His goal with 12.9 seconds left in the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and spoiled Chicago’s hopes of completing a comeback after going down 2-0 after the first period.

The goal earned the Capitals two points and made Brouwer the hero for the day. But the Winter Classic experience meant much more to the then 29-year-old forward. Among the many friends and family members of the players that were in the crowd that afternoon was his father, Don, who had not seen him play live since 2010.

Don Brouwer suffered a serious stroke in April 2010, a few days before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was in a coma for six days, needed emergency surgery for a brain blood clot, had difficulty walking, and his vision was affected. Troy got on a plane once he received the news and flew to Vancouver where he stayed with his father, who was unconscious at the time. Brouwer told the Blackhawks he would be gone until his dad woke up.

Fortune worked out for the family when the Blackhawks met the Canucks in Round 2 that postseason, meaning Brouwer could visit his dad as he recovered. When Chicago went on to win the Stanley Cup that spring, Don celebrated his son’s achievement with friends from his hospital bed. 

Later that summer, when Troy had his day with the Cup, he brought it the hospital for the medical personnel who helped Don through the entire process. Nearly five years later, Don was inside Nationals Park watching his son play in person.

With Jonathan Toews in the box and 20 seconds to go in regulation, Alex Ovechkin carried the puck into the Blackhawks’ zone. He first shot attempt was blocked by the skates of Brent Seabrook. In the split-second the defenseman lost sight of the puck, Ovechkin recovered it, but his follow-up attempt failed when Brandon Saad slashed and snapped his stick in half. 

As a 5-on-3 power play was pending for the Capitals, Brouwer quickly scooped up the loose puck, spun and fired a shot by Corey Crawford.

“It was one of those where you just know the time, you know the score and you’re just trying to get a puck on net,” Brouwer said afterward. “Thankfully, it went in.”

“For Troy, with his dad coming here, it is a real special occasion just with that,” said Capitals forward Eric Fehr. “For him to score that goal at the end to get the win, he has to be feeling unbelievable right now.”

Brouwer hadn’t spoken with his dad as he met the media following the game, but he did see there was a text waiting for him and could imagine how emotional Don was at the moment.

The Winter Classic is always a special time for those involved. It comes at the end of the holiday season and friends and family are around adding to the memorable experience. For the Brouwers, New Year’s Day 2015 could not have been any more perfect.

“It’s pretty special,” Brouwer said. “I’ve had some good moments in my hockey career, but this one, with all the intangibles, that played a part in it. My parents being able to come into town, playing against my former team, this being the first goal that I scored against my former team and the dramatic fashion at the end of the game of how everything played out.  

“It’s going to be a memorable day, a memorable event. The entire lead up to this has been a lot of fun and the finish couldn’t have worked out any better for us as a team and me personally.”

NBC will air the 2020 NHL Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas, Texas, at 1 p.m. ET.

PREVIOUSLY:
The snow storm at The Big House
• Syvret’s first NHL goal comes at Fenway Park

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Banged-up Blues: Blais out 10 weeks, St. Louis signs Brouwer

ST. LOUIS — The banged-up Blues have lost another forward to injury and added some reinforcement.

Sammy Blais will miss at least 10 weeks after undergoing surgery on his right wrist. Blais was injured Tuesday in St. Louis’ 3-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With Blais out long term, Alex Steen sidelined with a high ankle sprain until early December and Vladimir Tarasenko expected to miss the rest of the regular season following shoulder surgery, the team on Wednesday signed winger Troy Brouwer to a $750,000, one-year deal. Brouwer had been practicing with the Blues on a professional tryout.

Brouwer, 34, was the Blues’ choice to sign over Jamie McGinn, who was also brought in for a tryout. A 13-year NHL veteran, Brouwer rejoins the Blues after playing the 2015-16 season in St. Louis.