In a crowded unrestricted free agent forward market, Troy Brouwer helped distinguish himself with a spring that stood out.
"Troy played his best hockey of the season at the most important time of the year,’’ an Eastern Conference scout who played close attention to him said Wednesday. "That’s something that playoff teams are always going to look at. When you pay him the money or give him the term, you obviously look at the regular season as well. But when those guys can elevate their game in the postseason, that’s when they become that much more valuable to their team.’’
Brouwer’s eight goals and 13 points overall in 20 playoff games for the St. Louis Blues helped fortify an already-held perception of him as a clutch performer.
"I wanted to have a great year with the Blues and I kind of capped it off with a great playoffs and a good run by the team,’’ Brouwer said over the phone on Wednesday. "So it kind of set me up in a good position here to go into free agency.’’
No question about that.
But the 30-year-old winger is also cognizant of the market heading into Friday’s bidding frenzy. He paid attention last year when good UFA players scrambled for what was left after the first few big contracts were signed.
Brouwer understands that the flat cap will be a factor, and so he balances the interest and decisions he'll have to ultimately make once the free-agent market opens at noon ET on Friday.
"The big guys are always going to get their money, and then it’s kind of a trickle-down effect,” Brouwer said. "What’s left? And what teams are going to have money left to offer? You have to know before going [into] free agency that you might not get to go to your first choice because they don’t have cap room for you. Or you might be No. 2 or No. 3 on their list of guys they’re targeting.’’
The fact that Steven Stamkos has made his decision and stayed in Tampa Bay is great news for the next group of UFAs, led by Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd, Frans Nielsen, Mikkel Boedker and David Backes and yes, Brouwer.
Much depends on what a team needs -- but if it’s physicality, scoring and character, they would get it in Brouwer.
"You want to get a guy who has a physical element. You want a guy who scores goals in the right areas -- especially come playoff time,’’ said the same Eastern Conference scout. "[Brouwer is] a deceptive skater. Some people question the top end of his skating, but to me he just seems like a guy who, when he gets inside the top of circles, that’s where he plays his most effective game. That’s kind of where the game is headed.
"He’s a bigger, heavier body, so you want to play him with a guy who can transport the puck through the neutral zone. But when you get below the faceoff circles, that’s where Troy Brouwer becomes very effective.’’
The door is not closed on St. Louis, meanwhile, although the clock is ticking. Blues GM Doug Armstrong values Brouwer as a player and continues to talk to his camp.
"There are still talks with St. Louis, there’s still dialogue going on with them right now,” Brouwer said Wednesday. "Whether it works itself out, I guess that will be seen within the next couple of days. But I loved my time in St. Louis. I’d like to see something work with St. Louis. But if it doesn’t, it's on to the next adventure.’’
Look for more talks between the Blues and Brouwer on Thursday.
In the meantime, other teams have reached out to Brouwer this week.
"I’ve talked to a few teams. I’ve gotten phone calls to my agent from a handful more teams, so it seems like there’s a lot of good interest,” Brouwer said. "I’m encouraged, absolutely, by the phone calls I’ve gotten from the teams that have reached out, and the interest that they’ve displayed. It’s kind of a pins-and-needles situation where you’re just waiting. All you can do is speculate right now. The teams that have shown the most interest in me are teams that I would be excited to go be a part of.’’
The Vancouver native has plans to build a house in Calgary, which he wants to make his offseason and retirement home. That’s why he’s there this week meeting with builders. But it just so happens that a source says the Flames are among the teams with interest in the winger and that Brouwer -- since he was in Calgary anyway -- met with the Flames in person this week. But, again, there are other teams interested. So who knows?
His pal Backes, meanwhile, is in the same UFA situation, which makes it doubly interesting.
"I sat beside him in the dressing room last year in St. Louis. We do a lot of talking, our wives are really close friends, they’re still texting back and forth trying to figure out what’s going on right now,’’ Brouwer said with a chuckle.
By the end of Friday, both players will know exactly where they’re headed.
In the end, despite the immense interest from a dozen-plus teams, only four clubs got to personally make their pitches to Stamkos and Newport Sports this week: the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and a fourth unidentified team. But that fourth team was not the Detroit Red Wings, who never got the chance to woo Stamkos despite very much wanting to do so. I’m told Detroit was likely next in line to have its shot at an audience, but Stamkos started to reel in the process when he began to zero in on the emotion of wanting to re-sign with the Lightning.
The idea of a sign-and-trade was very much on the table during all the Stamkos discussions over the past week. Sources confirm that Newport and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman talked about the idea should Stamkos decide to leave and sign elsewhere because the eighth year in a deal matters, and only Tampa Bay could give it to him. Yzerman would have recouped an asset under this scenario in which he would have signed Stamkos and traded him. Having said all that, it appears that Stamkos never really came close to leaving, given the small number of teams he ended up having in-person meetings with.
Had the Habs somehow convinced Stamkos to sign in Montreal, my bet is that GM Marc Bergevin would have moved center Tomas Plekanec to make cap room. Plekanec has two years left on his deal, at $6 million per. Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, by the way, was part of Montreal’s contingent to Newport’s offices on Monday to make the Stamkos pitch.
Lost in the blockbuster P.K. Subban-Shea Weber deal is the reality that the Nashville Predators face severe cap recapture penalties if Weber decides to retire before the end of his contract. That’s because he was paid $14 million in actual salary during the first four year of his deal, including this past season while the cap hit was $7.857 million. His salary dips to $12 million the next two seasons, then $6 million for four years, $3 million for one, and just $1 million each of the last three years of the deal, when he'll be 38, 39 and 40 years old. According to generalfanager.com, if Weber retires before the end of his deal, the cap recapture penalties for the Predators would be north of $24 million. Yikes. Nashville GM David Poile acknowledged the cap-recapture penalty possibilities but said it would be almost as bad even if Weber had stayed. Either way, Poile hopes Weber doesn’t retire early. "Go, Shea,’’ Poile told me Wednesday night with a half-chuckle. It’s also worth pointing out this wasn’t Poile’s contract, but rather Philadelphia’s offer sheet that the Predators matched in 2012.
Filip Forsberg’s six-year, $36-million contract with Nashville certainly has an impact on where things will go on the Nikita Kucherov front in Tampa Bay. Both are restricted free agents coming out of entry-level deals and are similar in terms of offensive production and talent. The Preds, however, at six years bought one UFA year off from Forsberg, whereas a six-year deal -- if that comes to pass with Kucherov -- would take away two UFA years. I think Kucherov’s camp is certainly willing to do a six-year deal, but I suspect it’s going to cost a bit more than what Forsberg got. Talks are underway between the Lightning and Kucherov’s camp, but at this point nothing seems imminent. But there's no pressing element to this anyway, it can take all summer if it has to.