If ever there was an opportunity for T.J. Brennan of the Toronto Marlies to make the jump to the Maple Leafs, it is now.
While I understand that:
- The Leafs don’t truly want to ruin their Draft position with any foolish run at the end of the season and
- The Marlies want to keep their incredible 2015-16 season rolling towards the Calder Cup playoffs, it would seem to me that it’s time to reward Brennan for his incredible play this year in the AHL. And really since becoming a Marlie.
Drafted in 2007 by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round, the 26 year old Brennan has had a few cups of coffee in the NHL, but hasn’t managed to stick with a big team. With 46 games of experience in the ‘show’ (and three different teams, Florida, Buffalo,Toronto) he has never showed true defensive acumen and was consequently returned to the AHL. It is easy to write Brennan off as an AHLer. That is the simple thing to do, but as the NHL continues to evolve and the ability to use a defenseman as a rover/powerplay specialist, I believe Brennan can be effective in the NHL if given an extended opportunity.
Why? Many Reasons, and let us take a look at a few.
First of all, the Leafs powerplay is deplorable. Ranking 29th in the NHL, with a sparkling 15.4 conversion percentage, the team could clearly use some help in that regard. Heavy minutes were logged by former Leafs Captain, Dion Phaneuf before his trade and while it would be great to get Gardiner and Rielly more opportunities, support provided by Brennan would be welcomed and in my opinion, would significantly improve chances and in turn, scoring. True the Marlies powerplay isn’t tearing up the AHL being ranked 12th in the league, it is my belief that those stats were hindered when players like Nylander, Brown and Kapanen have been out with injuries or other commitments (ie World Juniors). Brennan moves the puck well, has solid vision and can skate the puck into the zone if all passing lanes are clogged at the blueline. Solid package of attributes that would prove to be beneficial to the Leafs powerplay unit as it stands currently.
Scoring. Look way up to the top of the AHL scoring leaders and it is there you will see T.J. Brennan. Currently second in scoring, no not just by defenseman but of all scorers, Brennan has 19 goals and 29 assists for 47 points thus far in the campaign. WIth a deceivingly explosive shot from the point, Brennan also gets a lot of pucks through to the net. Certain NHL/AHL defensemen have a knack for getting the puck passed the legs of guys attempting to block shots. There is nothing worse than watching a guy wind up for the biggest clapper of all time only to watch it bounce off shinpads and turn into an odd-man rush going the other way. Brennan not only gets pucks through but he also has the ability to recognize danger and move the puck in another direction if it is warranted, his assist totals and use as a quarterback on the powerplay are a testament to that skill set.
Sandpaper. Standing in at 6’1 and 213 pounds, Brennan isn’t scared to make contact with the opposition players. In fact during his best season, to date as a Marlies rearguard (also AHL Defenceman of the Year) Brennan had not only 72 points in 76 games but he also had 115 penalty minutes to go along with that scoring. I am not trying to suggest Brennan is a fighter, or a goon but the fact is, he is passionate and will stand up for teammates and himself.
Good people. Sure, many will scoff at the notion when Mike Babcock brings it up in a press conference or post game but if this is truly the case then look no further than T.J. Brennan. The first guy to sign autographs post game, or to talk with media at the Ricoh, it would seem that Brennan is a class act. Every time that I have brought up Brennan’s name to people around the team, they assure me that he is loved in the dressing room and it is not hard to see why. I will share three recent examples that epitomize the good person that I believe Brennan is. First is at the AHL All-Star game. Leafs TV personalities Todd Crocker and Bob McGill were doing a ‘media hit’ for the game. Standing on the ice and without the ability to use a tripod, T.J. Brennan volunteered to hold the camera (in his equipment mind you) and help tape the entire segment. How many guys would do that? Second of all was after the “SuperHero Game” at the Ricoh last month. After the game, the leading scorer in the AHL (at the time) emerged from the Marlies Dressing room wearing a Batman costume. Why? This was because his nephew who was in attendance was a huge Batman fan and T.J. thought it would be great to surprise the young man after the game with the costume. Finally, when the Marlies were in need of a player to be a Center, due to injuries and call-ups, who did they choose? T.J. Brennan. Awesome team guy and person. Of course I don’t believe these acts entitle a player to be in the NHL, but add them to all of the other points mentioned and we have a case for promotion in my opinion.
Some will say that Brennan lacks speed to keep up in the NHL or that his defensive awareness might not be sharp enough to play at that level. Sorry, but I have just watched the greater half of the Leafs season in which Martin Marincin is in the Top 6 for the Maple Leafs and I KNOW that T.J. Brennan can provide more support than that, no matter what the advanced stats say.
So there you have it. The simple case of an AHL veteran getting the opportunity and reward to play games in the NHL this season. While Brennan would have to clear waivers in order to return to the AHL after his stint with the big club, to me risking him being claimed is the risk you take in order to reward those ‘good people’ you have in your organization. It’s a sign that the organization will give you opportunities, if you commit yourself to helping the collective group. And that is how you build a team moving forward.
Good things, for good people.