T.J. Brodie has long been a man of few words.
Over the last two seasons he’s also been short on points, and confidence.
The Calgary Flames defenceman, who once shone on the top pairing alongside Mark Giordano, was the first to admit at the end of last year he’d lost his way.
The draft day trade that saw Dougie Hamilton go to Carolina also came with a healthy wager from GM Brad Treliving that Brodie’s fortunes can be turned around by reuniting him with the Flames captain.
How the re-adjustment back to the right side of the ice goes for the left-handed shooter will have a significant impact on a squad hell-bent on turning itself around following last year’s lost season.
The 28-year-old Brodie is that important.
“We have to make it work,” said Giordano, who skated several times this summer with Brodie despite summering two hours apart.
“We’ve got to find a way to get that chemistry we had when we used to play together because we both know we’re a big part of the success of our team. I think there’s a lot of excitement both ways.
“You’ll be hard-pressed to get a reaction out of Brodes, but we enjoyed playing together, we’re good buddies on and off the ice and have become pretty close, which goes a long way.”
Brodie’s reaction to the promotion, which he was informed of early this summer, was one of excitement – not just because he prefers playing on his off-side, but because he needed something to change after two years of what he admits was sub-par play.
“I’m not too worried about points – as long as the team is doing well and we’re winning I’m fine with getting less points,” said Brodie who posted more than 40 points the two years he played with Giordano before dipping to 32 last year.
“I just felt like what I was giving up against as far as goals and chances wasn’t where I wanted it to be at. That, compared to what we were producing, sort of dropped off. That’s the way I looked at it.
“It’s a domino effect. Here if one thing is happening it snowballs and before you know it you’re five steps back instead of moving forward.”
He explained his frustration weighed on him, prompting a change in his summer training approach he hopes will kick-start a rebirth of sorts this fall.
“I started training with a different guy this summer – more of a group atmosphere, which was good,” said the native of Chatham, Ont., whose family life also underwent a significant change since the spring when he became a dad.
“I think it’s a mindset. I think having a daughter this year really put it into perspective that hockey isn’t everything and there’s more. I think it sort of helped me relax and not worry so much.”
His minus-16 rating alongside Travis Hamonic was the worst amongst Flames defencemen last year as the duo struggled to find chemistry at either end. Hamonic was new in town and the smooth-skating Brodie plays a freewheeling game that can be hard to read off of.
“I think I’m more of an instinctual player than x’s and o’s,” admitted Brodie. “At the same time we’ll have new coaches and a new system so there are going to be adjustments.”
Theoretically there shouldn’t be many adjustments to playing with Giordano or moving back to the right side where he has long preferred playing.
“We just had that connection on the ice and I do prefer being on the right side, so being back there is nice,” said Brodie.
“I guess time will tell – we haven’t really played together since, so we’ll see. At the end of the day we still know how each other plays – when we’re going to jump in and when we’re not. That instinct is still there.”
In 2014-15 Brodie scored 11 times and had 41 points, finishing 24th amongst NHL defenders as part of a campaign that had Giordano emerging as a first-time Norris Trophy frontrunner before the veteran’s season ended with injury. A year later Brodie’s points jumped to 45.
They were that good together.
So, was Brodie’s regression simply a product of being bumped to the second pairing by Hamilton?
“Tough for me to say,” said Giordano, asked to assess his pal’s play.
“Sometimes the numbers don’t look as good but he was playing well a lot of the times. I think with him moving to the right side is going to go a long way for him. I think he’s a better player on the right side. I think he is more elusive and has spin moves and is one of the best backhand passers in the league. Just getting him on that right said makes him way more comfortable.
“The first thing is we’re just trying to get back to playing better defensively against good lines. I think he’s gifted offensively and I think I can create offence as well, and that will just come.”
Coach Bill Peters hasn’t wavered in his decree Brodie is returning to the right side, making the second pairing an obvious one with Noah Hanifan and Hamonic.
As a quartet, they will be counted on to form the bedrock of a team playing in front of a 36-year-old goalie.
Shots against need to be reduced, as do high-quality chances against.
“It’s definitely a big year,” said Brodie.
“Every year is new and you never know what to expect, but I’m definitely going to try to improve and be better than last year.”
No longer is there any of the talk we heard last pre-season suggesting the Flames may have had the best blue line in the NHL.
However, a return to form by Brodie would go a long way towards making the group formidable again.