The Toronto Marlies played a lacklustre low-event loss to the Belleville Senators where they failed to capitalize on a five minute major penalty and a double minor in the second period, a period where — somehow — they were outshot 12-8. The Senators scored twice in that time, once shorthanded, to make it a 3-1 game. They cruised to the win.
All of that happened without Jeremy Bracco in the lineup, which should be assumed to be part of the reason why the power play relied almost entirely on Timothy Liljegren to generate shots.
Just before the game the team announced that Bracco was out for “personal reasons” and after the game, coach Greg Moore would only say there was no timeline for his return.
Until last night, Bracco was the only player on the team to have played in every game for the Marlies. He was called up to the Leafs to sit in the pressbox for one day in December, in what the team seems to believe is a reward. One day in the NHL pays a player on an ELC somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000, so it’s not nothing, but it’s not playing.
Much like the situation with Kasperi Kapanen that the Leafs managed to turn dramatic just by following their own internal procedures, this situation will have people talking because of the timing and the fact that Bracco is the first name on everyone’s lips when trade scenarios get discussed. Bracco also turned up in a 31 Thoughts column late in December where it was stated that three Maple Leafs were looking for the proverbial change of scenery. Bracco, Ben Harpur and Dmytro Timashov were all named, and some of them subsequently disputed the claim later on that they’d asked for a trade.
So what’s going on now?
Your guess is as good as mine. Occam and his razor say that Bracco has some issue in his family or personal life that required his presence, and those things are rarely happy stories. If that’s the case, I wish him the best. I can’t imagine how tough it is to leave home as a young teenager and never really go back.
But there is a reason why Bracco is top of the Leafs Fan trade bait list, and it’s the confluence of his position — RW on a team where he seems blocked from advancing beyond the pressbox in the NHL no matter how good he is — and the fact that his play has dramatically tailed off.
He’s obviously a key part of the team, or he wouldn’t be playing every game, something only the top forwards do in the AHL, with its three-in-three weekends. And yet superficially, his points look like his rookie season when he was essentially benched in the playoffs as the team won the championship.
In 17-18, as he turned 20, he had six goals and 26 assists in 50 games. This year he has four goals and 30 assists in 44 games. No one would even know his name if he hadn’t produced 22 goals and 57 assists last season in 75 games. Production gets attention, and lack of it gets rumours.
Digging a little deeper, about as deep as you can get in the AHL, it becomes clear that Bracco’s fluctuating production is almost entirely his own goal-scoring, and he’s not very good at that.
Jeremy Bracco’s Marlies Career
To set your level of understanding, you must forget everything you think is normal about shooting % in the NHL. A secondary forward with a 6.9 would be seen to be in a bit of a slump in the NHL, but not horribly so. In the AHL, that’s not just a slump, that’s time for hard questions about talent and drive. That 17% that Bracco used to get the fabled point per game last season is a standard AHL top-line forward’s normal shooting level.
This season, for example, Seth Griffith (remember him?) has a shooting percentage of 26%, and he’s never been below 13% on a season. His career number is 17.3%. The Marlies grinder+ player, Tanner MacMaster is shooting 24%, and Kenny Agostino, the player closest to a point per game this year, is shooting 23%. Meanwhile, Bracco’s is lower than four of the defencemen.
But making matters worse for him, his shooting rate has dried up too, and he’s got fewer total shots than Adam Brooks has in only 25 games played. And Brooks is seen as a bit too pass-first. Timothy Liljegren shoots more than Bracco, and in fact Liljegren can essentially take over Bracco’s role on the power play, which is where he is most effective.
So if he shoots as often as a defenceman, as bad as a defenceman and makes his money off of setting up his linemates, you have to ask why you don’t just actually want a defenceman like Liljegren instead of Bracco. If you look at the way the Leafs play these days, you’d ask that twice.
With the days ticking down to the trade deadline, Bracco sure seems to be ready to be dealt, no matter why he’s absent right now. But his return value right now is some other AHLer under 25 who needs a “change of scenery”. No GM is out there saying get me that Leafs prospect they haven’t made anything out of, I’ll pay a draft pick for him. Last summer he might have got a fifth. Maybe. Which is exactly why prospects like him are rarely traded in any way other than as part of a package deal or the direct swap of like-for-like.
Is he worth whatever Carl Grundstrom or Sean Durzi brought to the Muzzin deal now that he’s about to turn 23? More the latter than the former, but even so, it’s hard to imagine there’s enough GMs convinced Bracco is actually going to amount to something more than Seth Griffith to make it likely he’s the sugar that sweetens the tea enough to get back something great.
We’d all be better off if he actually had blossomed under the new Marlies coach, but that seems hard to imagine now that they’ve been together for 17 games. The season isn’t over, however, and hockey isn’t predictable, so when Bracco rejoins the team, maybe this will all become a faded memory and he’ll be back to leading the team again.