Maple Leafs’ Connor Brown ‘happy’ to avoid trade at deadline

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Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Connor Brown (28) as Anaheim Ducks defenceman Korbinian Holzer (5) defends during second period action in Toronto on Monday, February 4, 2019. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – Connor Brown managed to sleep through Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, staying loyal to his game-day nap ritual, but he did make certain to adjust the ringer on his smartphone just in case.

"I had it on loud," Brown said Wednesday, the relief still palpable.

"I was just hoping I didn’t get waked up."

There is substance to the rumours that Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas considered dealing Brown, whose contract could be one of those squeezed out by salary-cap crunch coming this summer once Mitch Marner takes another generous slice of the pie.

Sportsnet’s Bob McCown asked Dubas directly about Brown after the player had awoken from his nap relived to learn he still had a game to play, not a plane to catch.

"I’m not going to get into specifics about any one of our players, because I don’t think it’s fair to the players or the teams that may or may not have called," Dubas said Monday evening on Prime Time Sports. "The other teams in the league also, they read what people are speculating about the team.

"Anybody else that’s sort of below that key, key core in place, we had calls on, and it won’t be surprising for me to see their names in the media in coming weeks."

Coming off 20-goal rookie campaign in the summer of 2017, after providing a stream of defensively responsible shifts for the team he grew up rooting for, Brown re-signed without much fight as an RFA for three seasons at a $2.1 million average annual value.

Running through 2019-20, it’s a team-friendly contract that would make Brown easy to move if/when necessary.

"You’re aware of it that you’re out there, but it’s been a long process for me in particular being here. This is somewhere I really want to be, so I was really happy to stay put," Brown said.

"A lot of guys have been here a long time and seen this grow into what we think is a contender. After 3 p.m. everyone wanted to be here, and I think the guys who are in the room we’re happy with."

Under a tight cap, it’s difficult to pay more than $2 million for a fourth-line winger, and that’s where Brown slots in with this group when everyone is healthy.

After two years of the Leafs adding proven free-agent forwards (Patrick Marleau, John Tavares) and graduating Marlies (Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson) who’ve passed Brown on the depth chart, the 25-year-old’s production fell to 14 goals and 28 points in 2017-18.

Categorized as a "worker bee" by coach Mike Babcock, Brown has five goals and 21 points to go with a plus-12 rating this season.

Could he play farther up the lineup on another team? Absolutely.

Could wing-hungry Edmonton be that team? It was a potential fit explored earlier this week as the Leafs kicked tires on power forwards and right-handed defencemen.

"He’s got real high-end hockey IQ," Babcock said. "He can play with anybody.

"We think he’s a really good penalty killer, he’s an important 5-on-5 player, he can play anywhere, he’s an important guy for us. He’s a Toronto kid, and he loves being a Leaf, and we love having him."

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Brown, of course, played alongside Connor McDavid in Erie and the two still spend some time training together in the summer. They skated on the same 3-on-3 shinny team at the city’s Power Edge Pro minicamp last August.

"Anybody would like to play with him," Brown said, diplomatically.

A couple hours before the Maple Leafs made their final, reserved decision Monday — Par Lindholm was the only roster player dealt away — Babcock spoke in general terms about the possibility of waving goodbye to a good Leaf.

"These guys are all great people that try real hard. You always want them to be successful," Babcock said.

"That’s the hard part about the business. I think there’s the player part, and there’s the person part. You really appreciate the people and how hard they work and what they’ve done for your franchise and, yet, sometimes their opportunity, their next one, is a better opportunity for them as well."

The coach certainly didn’t use Brown’s name, but you could feel it floating between the lines, unspoken.

More of a vibrate than a ring.

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