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If your team wanted Connor Brown, how would you assess him?

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What’s he like, and how is he doing this season? Do we want him on our team?

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s play a game. Let’s pretend we’re fans of the Tranquility Base Moonmen and we hear our team is trying to trade for Connor Brown. How can we find out what he’s all about? We don’t play in the Earth Conference, so we only see him twice a year. We know nothing about him. [Note: this was written before Saturday’s game.]

What’s he paid?

Connor Brown’s page on Cap Friendly tells us that. He’s in the middle of a deal that has a cap hit of $2,100,000 per year and it runs for one more year after this one. Oh, and I don’t even need to go to Elite Prospects for his basic stats and vital statistics, it’s all here.

Brown is 24, and turns 25 in January. He’s a right-shooting right wing. He’s alleged to be six feet tall and 183 pounds, which would make him Mitch Marner’s slightly heavier twin. We should take that with a grain of salt.

He seems to hover around 30 points a season in the NHL and double that in the AHL. He scored 20 goals, then 14 in his first two NHL seasons, but only has one goal so far this season in 13 games. Are the evil Leafs trying to trade us a guy who’s busted or something?

It seems that’s not the case. He’s played 82 games two years running and hasn’t missed a game so far this year, so he’s a regular roster player who is durable. Or maybe he isn’t very physical; we’ll need to find that out at some point.

One weird thing is that he had a lot more assists in the AHL than he does in the NHL. And if you go back to his junior career — good god! He had 83 assists in his last year in the OHL. To Elite Prospects after all to figure out what that’s about.

Connor Brown in his youth

Brown was the captain of his team for two years in the OHL. I’ve heard that about those Leafs — they like that sort of guy. Oh, well, mystery solved. Connor McDavid and some guy named Dane Fox scored like bandits while Brown just fed them the puck. Oh, and Andre Burakovsky was on that team too. (Who the hell is Dane Fox? ... Wow, he had 107 points in his last year in the OHL, and he’s with the Nürnberg Ice Tigers now. He just couldn’t cut in the AHL, it seems, although his ECHL numbers were good. I hope he’s happy in Germany. The line between the DEL and the NHL is sometimes mysteriously thin.)

So Brown is from Toronto. Why are they trading him? [they aren’t, you know] Four points in 13 games might just be a slump. Always assume it’s just variance until proven otherwise with a small chunk of games like this.

His NHL Career

Natural Stat Trick is the place for more detail on his NHL play over the years. EP says he’s in his third year, so we should look at all three years. Our boy played over 1,000 minutes in his first full season and 946 in his second. That works out to 12 minutes or less per game at five-on-five. That’s a third or fourth liner, generally.

He’s played 152 minutes this season which is just under 12 minutes. He gets a high proportion of first assists, and he’s got a shot rate (iCF/60) of 11 or so, which is third or fourth tier shooter. His shooting percentage on his career is around 10 — too lazy to calculate it, but it’s 12.5 one year and 9.8 another, and so far this year it’s zero!

Oh, are the Leafs so dumb they’ll trade a guy who’s just in a scoring slump? [they aren’t]

Brown draws more penalties than he takes. He’s good at takeaways, and he hits a lot — way, way more this year. Hmmm. When you see that you wonder if a guy is showing off his “plan B” when the scoring has dried up. He blocks shots, and we can say now his “no games off” thing is not because he isn’t physical.

Holy crap, his Corsi is good this year — 52% score adjusted. His offensive pace is really high, but I checked and these Leafs are just like that. His CA/60 is better this year than last and he’s way better than his team, I think, let’s have a look at relative numbers... Huh, he was below team average offensively last year while above it defensively, and this year he’s at team average offensively and through the roof good defensively.

We need to see if his teammates have changed. There’s a teammates log on NST, but HockeyViz is easier.

Teammates and Everything Else in HockeyViz Pictures

Starting with his first full season and running along the images on his season page, I see his shot locations are good, he played regular competition and with expected levels of teammates, and the shooting from the right side was good when he was on the ice, but some of the other areas were below the team’s norm. He played 101 minutes of PP time, and doesn’t seem to be very good. I’m guessing that’s the second unit he was on.

His shots against were not all that hot compared to his team, and he played 162 minutes of PK time, and seems to be very, very good at it.

For a shots against heatmap, blue is fewer shots allowed, so “good” and red is “bad”.
You really need to compare the player to the rest of the team to see how they do. The Leafs are not geniuses at limiting shots against.

A quick look at the Spider shows who he played with and how they did in terms of shots (Corsi or all shots) for and against. This one is weird. He played the same minutes with two centres: Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri. Matthews = good offence, and Kadri = good defence. But Leo Komarov meant no offence at all.

If we repeat all this for last season, we get similar personal shooting quality, much lower quality of forward teammates, okay shooting while he’s on the ice, but not team norm. He played the same low PP minutes and wasn’t very good. His defensive on-ice heat map looks better than the team average in some ways, but that looks like a lot of volume of shots. His PK is still good.

The Spider shows he didn’t play with Komarov, and that his good offence came with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, while his bad defence and lack of offence seems centred around all of the top four defenders. This is weird.

[It is weird, and if I really was a fan on the moon, I don’t know if I’d be able to figure out how Babcock was so very, very carefully using the Bozak line and why they and the sheltered defenders who often rode along played hockey on easy level. There are not enough minutes of Brown plus Matthews or Kadri for it to show up on the chart either, even though the left wingers indicate he played on those lines. Brown’s split season last year is really hard to sort out if you didn’t watch it happen.]

Going back to NST to check the teammate log over three years combined really does illustrate that Brown’s results are dependant on his linemates, and he’s not all that good with Auston Matthews or Leo Komarov, but his Bozak and van Riemsdyk time was unusually good.

A look at this year’s results on HockeyViz shows a few things. Brown’s teammates have dropped a little more in quality as has his on-ice shooting heat map. No one is ever shooting from in tight when Brown is on the ice. He’s got some not so great PP time again, and his defensive heat map is as good as the relative number from NST should have led us to expect. Much better than the rest of the team. His PK time looks good.

This year’s heatmaps have a “threat” rating on them which is a kind of quantified expected goals value relative to league average. So Brown’s on-ice shots against are 16% better than average.

His Spider is chaotic, like it will be after so few games, but the only troubling combination involves Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri. Although Brown is better with Par Lindholm than he is with Josh Leivo. There’s some incredibly good results with Travis Dermott and Igor Ozhiganov, and that’s odd, they’re the third pair. And I don’t know who this Nikita Zaitsev guy is, but he’s got some heavy pace when out with Kadri and Brown. What an exciting combination! [Aren’t small samples fun?]

Interim Conclusion

Brown has dropped down the lineup to a spot more reasonable given his cap hit as the team has gotten better, and he’s having better defensive results now that he never plays with Komarov or the top offensive line. I think a look at his on-ice percentages and his Expected Goals is necessary to see why that mostly good looking Spider belongs to a guy with no points to speak of.

Offside Review can give me that in one package, but the visuals on HockeyViz work for the on-ice stuff well.

The horizontal is on-ice shooting percentage. And Brown’s is bad. It’s not just him who isn’t scoring. His on-ice goaltending, the vertical, is dead on average. You can also find zone deployment in one easy package, and Brown is the most defensively used guy on the team. Huh. And his numbers are good with that usage remember.

Offside Review can show me all the forwards for the Leafs at five-on-five, score adjusted. Brown is just below 50% in Expected Goals percentage which is the fourth worst on the team, so his overall Corsi degrades when you adjust for shot quality. Let’s look at his Expected Goals against and see if that good shot rate we saw on NST and HockeyViz translates to good defensive execution or low xGA60. And it does. He is the fourth best, and the best among top-nine players. If we think back to his bad results in the past, and his good results now, we must be seeing a large teammate effect.

He has the highest Expected Fenwick Save Percentage on the team for top nine players, with Par Lindholm and Nazem Kadri right behind him. That means the goalie has it easy when those three are on the ice. If we flip back to Hockey Viz and the Spider, we see that line combo with really fantastic shot share as well.

Offside Review shows us that all three of these guys are shooting under their expected shooting percentage, so the whole line is below league average in converting shots into goals. Brown is the worst.

I’m not actually on the moon, so I’ll skip the level of investigation needed to reveal that Kadri is a good shooter and Lindholm is fairly unknown, so one will regress for sure, but the other is a mystery.

Actual Conclusion

Don’t trade Brown to the Moonmen. He’s really laying down the plan B like a champ. He’s forechecking, blocking shots, taking the puck away, and producing excellent results defensively, which the eye test says is what happens with Kadri not having to play the absolute toughest competition every game.

The points will come, either with Lindholm or Johnsson, and at his cap hit, he’s good value. I get frustrated because his offensive gifts are a little bit limited, but the grit stuff is the real stuff, the kind of physical play that is smart, not just hitting by rote.

If the Leafs develop such a deep roster they could bump him down to the fourth line — this won’t happen without Nylander and Matthews back and some improved play from other wingers — he’d be wasted there, and then a trade might make sense because whatever the other team would pay for him would outweigh his on-ice contributions in limited minutes. You trade your fourth liner when he’s good enough to be someone else’s third liner.

Right now, as a third liner, you’d want him to be someone else’s top-six guy before you moved him out, and you’d also really want someone ready to take his place who is genuinely as good or even better, not just currently luckier.

This summer is another story. With a coming cap crinkle, if not a crunch, the Leafs might need to ask if they can come close to Brown’s contributions with a cheaper player currently on an ELC. But while that might be the case, there are also two other depth wingers in Andreas Johnsson and Josh Leivo coming up for contract this summer. The Leafs will want the cheapest possible depth that is still effective, and however you slice that, Brown needs to be worth his cap hit in results and ice time to keep his place on a team that really wants to keep him.

Other Paths to the Same Conclusion

If I wasn’t pretending to look up a player on a team I didn’t know well, I’d likely go right to the line tool on NST. This way, I can find out who is driving the success on a line and who isn’t. Warning: taking small minutes of WOWY results as gospel is a recipe for a wrong conclusion. The temptation to assume “all else being equal” on the players’ time away from your subject can lead you deeply astray.

I often look at the team information on HockeyViz for an overall look at how players are used, who they play with, how they do, how they appear to do. I look at the team results page on Offside Review too for some global context on how teams are playing.

I hope you found this fun and useful for figuring out where to go and what to look up. If you like WAR stats — and I do and don’t — there are options out there for that. You might like visualizations more than numbers, or the reverse, so that’s going to influence what you look at. I usually stay right away from so-called micro stats unless I’m looking for very specific information about how a player plays. I don’t like player comparison graphs overloaded with stats because I’m not looking to decide who is better than whom and these graphs imply a flat level of importance between each thing depicted that isn’t valid at all. But for one-stop shopping, they are quicker than what I do.

Feel very free to list off in the comments what sites you like to look at, or to argue about trading Connor Brown, this is a dual purpose post.