Maple Leafs' TJ Brodie returns to Calgary with new team, familiar role

Ryan Leslie and Eric Francis take a look at the Calgary Flames taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday and what it expect.

It’s not the sort of homecoming Calgary Flames fans have been ruminating over.

TJ Brodie’s first game back in Calgary as a Leaf on Sunday afternoon will move the needle about as much as one of his interviews.

The Flames will most certainly recognize his decade of service with a Jumbotron salute all eight media types in attendance will see, which is sure to be punctuated by stick taps from his former teammates.

They certainly liked the 30-year-old defenceman, who went about his business as quietly as anyone in Flames history.

Rarely interviewed -- he liked it that way -- the soft-spoken Brodie was a fourth-round draft pick the Flames brought along slowly to become a dependable, two-way defenceman whose skating ability made him a top-pairing candidate for the bulk of his last six years here.

To no one’s surprise, Brodie received very little credit for helping Mark Giordano win the Norris Trophy two years ago when he did well to limit the glaring defensive lapses that made him the fans’ top whipping boy for several seasons.

The debate over the summer, after Brodie signed a four-year, $20-million deal with the Leafs, was whether the man signed to replace him, Chris Tanev, will ultimately be an upgrade.

Three games in for the Flames, it’s impossible to quantify.

Four years down the road it may still be a fool’s errand to dissect, as the two play significantly different games and will be tasked with different roles.

Brodie’s elite skating makes him eligible to play in almost every situation, including the role he was brought to Toronto to play, as a steadying influence for budding superstar Morgan Rielly.

Tanev is in Calgary to focus more on defence and penalty killing, as a second-pairing mainstay alongside 23-year-old Noah Hanifin.

So far so good, in both cases.

Brodie has three assists in six games, which includes a helper on Toronto’s first power play goal Friday, when he made a solid play to keep the puck in the zone before offering up one of his deceptive point passes that ultimately led to Adam Brooks’ first NHL strike.

The 31-year-old Tanev has one helper in three outings, which came on opening night when he made an impressive pinch that led to an Elias Lindholm goal. It made good on Giordano’s suggestions through camp that Tanev will surprise many with his offensive upside.

Tanev’s eight blocked shots in Game 2 made a sizable early impression on fans who now come to expect the selfless 31-year-old to be a rock-solid penalty killer.

Again, the sample size is small given the Flames have only played half the games the Leafs have and have had nothing to do but practice and rest since their last game Monday.

A big part of the impact Brodie’s departure is having on the Flames is that it prompted the club to thrust 24-year-old Rasmus Andersson onto the top pair alongside Giordano, where he has acquitted himself well so far.

Andersson’s bigger impact is expected to come on the power play where he has one of his three points, while using his formidable shot, poise and smarts to quarterback the team’s top unit, which has opened the season at a red-hot 37.5 per cent clip.

Andersson tops all Flames defenders in ice time, Brodie sits second on the Leafs and Tanev has the Flames sitting fourth in penalty kill with a 91.7 per cent efficiency rate.

So far, both teams have every reason to be happy with their new situations.

“Totally different players but both really effective at what they do,” said Flames coach Geoff Ward when asked for his take on Tanev replacing Brodie.

“Both fit into our top four extremely well. When TJ was here he played a lot with Gio and they were a really good tandem. We really like what Chris brings to our lineup in terms of playing with younger players. Him and Hani are building nice chemistry. As Chris gets more comfortable I’m sure he’s going to expand his role. Toronto got better when they signed TJ. Even though he was quiet he was an important part of our leadership group. He was a big part of our team and if you watch Toronto now he’s a big part of what they do.”

With the Leafs' defensive depth lacking for many years, the Brodie signing made so much sense.

“He’s just been a really steady, consistent, low maintenance guy,” said Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe, echoing the words of every Calgary coach who has worked with Brodie.

“Like every player there’s an adjustment period, but he looks really comfortable. When I talk about our team not getting rattled or fazed by anything that might have occurred in any of our games, he epitomizes that. He makes a mistake, or the team makes a mistake, it doesn’t rattle him -- he just goes out and plays his next shift. That’s really valuable for a defenceman, in particular.”

Brodie said after Friday’s win he hadn’t spent any time thinking about his return to Calgary, nor had he been in touch with any teammates since this frantic season started.

“It will be good to face off with them,” said Brodie, who said he’s playing a similar role to the one he played in Calgary. “I didn’t really think about (returning) at all. My main focus was here and getting to know the guys and trying to know the systems and trying to create chemistry here.”

Mission accomplished so far.

NOTES: Dillon Dube missed the whole week of practice and is “day-to-day” with a lower body injury suffered in Monday’s game. His spot on the Flames' top line alongside Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm will likely be filled by Andrew Mangiapane… Auston Matthews’ status for Sunday is also up in the air as the Leafs star missed their game Friday with upper body soreness for “precautionary reasons.”

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