Blackhawks Free Agency: The Case to Keep Troy Brouwer

The focus of most Blackhawks fans and observers heading into the coming summer is on Brent Seabrook’s restricted free agent status. I discussed that situation at length a few days ago, but there is another free agent that should be near the top of GM Stan Bowman’s “To Re-Sign” List.

Troy Brouwer is also a restricted free agent this summer, and he has earned a payday.

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Over the last season and a half, Brouwer has quietly established himself as one of the most efficient power forwards in the NHL.

Let me say that again. Brouwer has quietly established himself as one of the most efficient power forwards in the NHL. He is also one of the best bargains in the league.

When you define “efficient power forward,” the criteria are usually simple to identify: and a guy that hits people and scores without taking a lot of penalties.

Looking at the numbers, there aren’t many forwards that score and hit as well as Brouwer. Adding the minimal number of penalty minutes he has drawn in the last year and a half, the effectively physical play being displayed by Brouwer has been exceptional. Consider the following company that Brouwer has kept since the start of last year (age is at the end of the 2010-11 regular season):

  Troy Brouwer Ryan Callahan Mike Fisher Tomas Holmstrom Brendan Morrow
Age* 25 26 30 38 33
Hits 342 413 282 127 348
PIM 82 74 88 104 104
Goals 33 29 37 36 38
Assists 30 31 35 31 39
Points 63 60 72 67 77
 +/- +11 -14 -10 +6 -1
Cap # $1.025 $2.300 $4.200 $2.250 $4.100

Clearly Morrow and Holmstrom are more well known names around the league, but it’s striking to see the company that Brouwer has kept.

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In the 2009-10 regular season, Brouwer ranked 15th among forwards in hits. This year, he’s fourth in the entire NHL. Brouwer has become the primary physical force up front for the Blackhawks, and has improved his scoring each season as well.  While I’m not willing to put Brouwer in the the elite class of players like Dustin Brown (92 points, 454 hits) or David Backes (83 points, 384 hits), there aren’t many forwards that provide the same physical presence as Brouwer.

Consider that Dallas’ Steve Ott just signed a four-year extension with the Stars that carries a $2.95M cap numbers. Ott’s 284 hits are roughly one-third of a hit per game more than Brouwer, but his 261 penalty minutes are three times as many as Brouwer. Brouwer has also scored more than Ott (31 goals, 24 assists) and Ott’s minus-20 rating is well below Brouwer’s plus-minus.

Most Chicago fans take Brouwer for granted because he doesn’t make waves. Rarely is Brouwer quoted, and he isn’t a popular postgame interview. His sweater probably isn’t in the top 10 sellers on the roster.

But here’s hoping the organization doesn’t take him for granted next summer.

There isn’t a power forward in the organization that brings to the table what Brouwer has since last year started. Kyle Beach piles up penalty minutes like Charlie Sheen collects ex-wives, and he appears to be the next bigger, physical forward coming up. Both of the Hayes boys are still playing at Boston College, and the knock on Jimmy (the older Hayes) is that he doesn’t throw his weight around enough.

Last summer, the Blackhawks appeared to see the value provided by Brouwer when they traded restricted free agent Andrew Ladd and would-be defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. They both scored fewer goals and racked up more penalty minutes than Brouwer, and both were making more money as well.

Bryan Bickell is developing nicely in the NHL, and could score 20 goals this year. If Bickell and Brouwer both cross 200 hits and 20 goals this year, the Hawks would have one of the better one-two punches with big men in the league.

However, there is no guarantee that Brouwer will be back next year.

In my opinion, he should be back.

A two or three-year deal to keep Brouwer in Chicago would make sense when you look at how Bowman’s father employed big men in Detroit during the last decade. That would also buy the organization time to continue developing Jimmy and Kevin Hayes and figuring out if Beach is ready to make the next step.

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