Signing Brouwer to a one-year pact a worthwhile gamble for the Panthers

Less than a month after being bought out, Troy Brouwer has been signed to a one-year, $850,000 contract by the Florida Panthers. He’s not the player he once was, but it’s a gamble worth taking.
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That Troy Brouwer was bought out by the Calgary Flames was by no means a surprise. Two years into a four-year, $18-million contract, the signing of the veteran winger had gone sideways. Brouwer’s two-season production of 19 goals and 47 points a far cry from what he had accomplished during his final seasons as a Washington Capital or his single campaign as a St. Louis Blue. Buying Brouwer out was not the only option the Flames had with Brouwer, but with no one willing to take on his contract, it turned out to be the best one.

All of this is to say, however, that Calgary’s buyout doesn’t necessarily mean Brouwer is devoid of talent. It doesn’t mean he’ll never again come close to returning to the form that saw him net 64 goals and 125 points in his three seasons prior to landing with the Flames. And even if the 33-year-old may be closer to the twilight of his career than he is to its prime, it doesn’t mean he can no longer be a contributing member of an NHL club. So, while there’s going to be some head-scratching surrounding his signing with the Florida Panthers, who inked Brouwer to a one-year, $850,000 deal Monday, there’s reason to believe it can actually be a fit.

When signed by Calgary, the idea was that Brouwer would be paid like a top-six forward — or an expensive top-nine forward, at worst. That’s exactly how Brouwer was played during his first season with the Flames, too, averaging upwards of 16 minutes per night with Kris Versteeg, Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan as his three most common linemates. But last season, when Brouwer’s game became much maligned by those occupying the ‘C of Red,’ he found himself as an expensive fourth-liner. His average ice time, a shade under 14 minutes, was the second-lowest of the 14 forwards to play 70 games for the Flames. Keeping him around at $4.5-million annually to skate those kind of minutes was nonsensical for Calgary.

But in Florida, Brouwer’s circumstances have changed completely. At the rate he’ll be paid this coming season, which is a couple-hundred thousand more than league minimum, Brouwer can essentially act as found money as a fourth-liner with no expectations placed upon him. He’s a low-risk asset that has potential to bring with it some decent-sized rewards, and as bizarre as it may seem to some, he can actually fill a need instead of being a burden on the salary cap.

Last season, the Panthers iced Derek MacKenzie and Micheal Haley in 75 games apiece. Both were fixtures of the fourth line who averaged less than a dozen minutes per night. MacKenzie was above average on the draw, but scored three goals and 14 points all season. Haley, who led the league with 212 penalty minutes, scored three goals and nine points. And, while MacKenzie, the Cats’ captain, and Haley are no doubt beloved players around Florida, the fact of the matter is that neither contributed all that much last season. In fact, comparatively, Brouwer offers a clear-cut upgrade on the fourth line: his six goals and 22 points nearly matches MacKenzie and Haley’s combined offensive output.

There’s reason to believe Brouwer can actually produce far more than he did last season, too, even if it is in a fourth-line role as, say, Haley’s replacement. Consider that last season, when he scored six goals, Brouwer posted the worst shooting percentage of his career — his 7.6 percent was a hair lower than his 7.9 rate from his rookie campaign. That success rate flew in the face of his career numbers, too, given he was a combined 14.3 percent shooter across the nine campaigns prior. If he had shot his career average last season, Brouwer would have nearly doubled his goal total.

Brouwer also brings with him an aspect of power play proficiency, even if it all but disappeared last season in Calgary. From 2013-14 to 2016-17, Brouwer scored 32 of his 77 goals with the man advantage, making him a top-20 goal scorer on the power play over that span. The Panthers may have to try to shoehorn him into one of the units — most likely with the second-stringers — but for a Florida team that had the 21st-ranked power play last season, one that operated at 18.4 percent, trotting Brouwer out as a net-front presence could have its benefits.

This isn’t at all to say there aren’t possible drawbacks in bringing Brouwer aboard, the most obvious being that his presence could create a roadblock for a younger player to fight for and win a spot out of training camp. It may be true that Brouwer could stand in the way of playing time for a Jayce Hawryluk or Dryden Hunt, but he’s unlikely to similarly stonewall a Maxim Mamin, Denis Malgin or Henrik Borgstrom from earning their minutes. And the benefit of paying Brouwer less than $1 million on this new deal is that if it comes to pass that Hawryluk or Hunt — or Vatrano or Ang or any other roster hopeful — should prove their usefulness and earn their way onto the club, there’s absolutely nothing stopping the Panthers from burying Brouwer in the AHL. His contract won’t count against the cap at that point. It will simply make him a well-paid minor leaguer.

So, does Brouwer appear to be a winger who is set to return to his former 20-odd-goal, 40-some-point form and prove the Flames foolish for buying out his $4-plus million deal? Not particularly. But can the veteran winger find a new fit in Florida and become a worthwhile bottom-six contributor for the Panthers? Absolutely, and that could give the Cats one more minor weapon in what is looking like an already significant arsenal.

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