When Troy Brouwer signed with the Calgary Flames in 2016, he was already 30 but came with size, experience and a Stanley Cup ring. Halfway through his four-year deal, the power forward has been placed on unconditional waivers by the franchise, with a buyout expected.
Many folks raised red flags when Calgary signed Brouwer to his deal in the first place, as his $4.5 million cap hit was substantial enough that it couldn’t be ignored, especially for four years. He was known as a playoff performer and was coming off a nice run with the St. Louis Blues - but it didn’t really matter because he ended up tallying just 25 points in the regular season and the Flames were swept in the first round of the playoffs due to some atrocious goaltending from Brian Elliott.
Brouwer’s second campaign with the Flames was ever worse, as he cratered to six goals and 22 points, with Calgary missing the playoffs altogether.
Now, I’m not here to pile on Brouwer, because he’s doing the best he can in a league that is a lot faster than when he came up. But the admission by Calgary to cut bait brings me to what I see as a glaring inefficiency in the cap world, which is the idea of paying veterans for what they’ve already done versus what can be expected from them during the actual new contract.
Was the big-bodied, battle-weary Brouwer supposed to get better as he got older? Countless deep dives into this subject tell us that NHLers peak even younger than we might expect and then there’s a steady decline. So why did Brouwer get $4.5 million from the Flames when his previous deal with the Washington Capitals came with an annual price tag of just $3.6 million? Heck, Chicago had Brouwer for two years at a smidge over $1 million from 2009-11 and he helped them win a Stanley Cup during that period.
Doesn’t it sound backwards when you lay it out like that? Yeah I get it: July 1 is a crazy day, something something the market, something something intangibles.
Given how fast an elite youngster can make a difference these days, I’d love to see the risk on a contract be shuffled to the entry-level deal instead. I know it’s all going to change this season with his new contract, but think about Connor McDavid having a lower cap hit than Milan Lucic on the Oilers.
McDavid’s new pact, of course, represents the most rational of perhaps any NHL contract right now. He’s the most dangerous player in the league and he could very well eclipse the 108 points that earned him the Art Ross Trophy this past season, so $12.5 million in each of the next eight years makes sense. Barring injury, he will be great for all eight of those seasons. He will have the highest cap hit in the NHL for 2018-19 and that’s how it should be.
I would say we’re moving in the right direction, but 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk will have a cap hit of $6.2 million this year thanks to his new pact with the Los Angeles Kings. Is he an exception, since upper-tier talents tend to age a little more gracefully? Place your bets now, folks.
In waiving Brouwer, the Flames open up both money and opportunity. Calgary will have to come up with a second contract for Matthew Tkachuk soon, as the agitating possession monster is heading into the final year of his rookie deal. If Tkachuk plays as well in the third year as he did in the first two, he’ll deserve a big payday. For some youngsters, that has meant a bridge deal. For others, it’s the big-time, eight-year pact. If the Flames really want to maximize their assets, they’ll spend their money on players like Tkachuk and maybe remember Brouwer the next time free agency madness descends in the summer.