The Toronto Maple Leaf’s up-and-down the lineup, versatile forward who scored 20 goals two seasons ago has seemingly dropped off a cliff. Has he played himself out of a future with the team?
Remember this? The Leafs are deadlocked with the Penguins at the then ACC 3-3 with just under two minutes remaining in the third. If the Leafs win they clinch the playoffs, lose and they have the win out against Columbus in the last game of their season.
Matt Hunwick shoots wide of the net and the puck finds its way back to the point where Jake Gardiner collects it and flings it towards the goal. Connor Brown jets out his stick high in the slot and the deflection sneaks past the goalie and the Leafs would go on to win the game 5-3 with Brown’s 20th and game winner.
It was Brown’s 20th goal of the season, and it sent the new-look Maple Leafs back to the playoffs after an impressively solid season. He was the homegrown talent that went on to play the hero in Toronto but, as No Mercy sang – “where do you go” Connor Brown?
Brown’s performance in the 2016/17 season had fan’s excited about his style of play. He brought intensity with his hard skating and willingness to get into the corners to grind out pucks regardless of where he was cast in the lineup.
Unfortunately, what we all hoped would be the floor of his skills now looks to be the ceiling. Brown regressed regressed in 2017/18, totaling 14 goals and 14 assists for 28 points. This was an 8 point drop from the season prior.
This production from a 3rd/4th line winger is completely acceptable, however the problem comes with his price tag.
At $2.1 million for one more season (after this), Brown is effectively costing the Leafs an extra:
– $1.175m in comparison to Trevor Moore (925k)
– $1.237m in comparison to Kasperi Kapanen (863k)
– $1.313m in comparison to Andreas Johnsson (788k)
The math doesn’t always show the whole picture when explaining contract value, especially with minor league and entry-level contracts. However, using sub-million dollar contracts on the bottom-6 will be the way forward through salary cap Hell for the Maple Leafs.
The sad reality of 2019/2020
It’s a hard truth, but moving forward Connor Brown doesn’t have a place on the Toronto Maple Leafs. His $2.1M cap hit can be invested in 1-2 depth wingers, freeing up cap space for the Leaf’s big-ticket earners next season.
That being said, Brown VERY MUCH has a job to do this season. Starting tonight, with the absence of concussed Nazem Kadri, Brown will play on a William Nylander centered line. Nylander has the je ne sais quoi to drive a line and Brown will need to be his grinder and net-front presence.
Best case scenario for the Leafs is that Brown helps them in the playoffs and propels himself into a better situation, via trade, in the offseason. And don’t get me wrong I like Brown and think he’s a good, effective player. It’s just a shame that he hasn’t taken the next step forward, but players like Brown are the unfortunate casualty of the top-heavy Maple Leafs in a cap-crunched NHL.