Reason for veteran Leafs defenseman's struggles revealed

Dean Chaudhry
March 22, 2024  (9:08)

Brodie teeing up a slap-shot
Photo credit: Daily Faceoff

It seems to be a fairly common trend that players have career seasons - or as close to one as possible - when they are playing on an expiring contract. Look at Sam Reinhart for example, as he has 48 goals and 79 points in just 69 games this year. William Nylander and his tremendous start to the 2023-24 campaign is another example. T.J. Brodie, on the other hand, is playing in the final year of his 4-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and has struggled mightily all season and is on pace for one of his worst seasons to date.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe made a drastic change to the lineup on Wednesday, ahead of their contest against the Washington Capitals when he made Brodie a healthy scratch.
In 66 games, Brodie has tallied 18 assists, is a plus-14, and has amassed 139 blocked shots while skating 21:51 TOI per game. At face value, there does not appear to be any rhyme or reason as to why Brodie has fallen off so much this season. However, the deeper you dive into his analytical numbers, the more sense one can make of his 2023-24 struggles.
Brodie's 43.8 CF%, -11.2 CF% rel, 43.9 FF%, and -11.7 FF% rel are the lowest of his career and almost 6-8 points lower than his number in Calgary and even in his first year with the Leafs. One reason for that could be tied to the fact that he has started 61.9% of the time in the defensive zone and has played some of the most difficult defensive minutes in the entire NHL.
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider leads the way when it comes it expected defensive rating for players who have played in the most difficult minutes at -3.7. He is followed up by players like Colton Parayko, Erik Cernak, Noah Dobson, MacKenzie Weegar, Brandon Carlo, and Brodie (-2.0).
While his average ice-time has dropped by over 2 minutes from his time in Calgary, the biggest shift in Brodie's game since arriving in Toronto has been the strenuous task of the being the shutdown defenseman. The muck and grind of an 82-game season has caught up to Brodie as Keefe intimated after he publicly revealed his reason for scratching the veteran against the Capitals.
His offensive numbers have taken a hit in recent seasons, especially when you consider that he scored 219 points in 466 games between 2013-14 and 2018-19, all the while averaging 23:51 TOI and blocking a whopping 712 shots. His role has definitely changed with the Maple Leafs and it seems like it has finally caught up to him this season.
In addition, I'm sure that the loss of his father and the devastating multiple sclerosis diagnosis for his wife aren't helping his mental game any. More than anything else, you just feel for Brodie and want to see him bounce back when he gets back into the lineup.
He should make his way back into the lineup in short order, however, based on the difficulty of minutes that he plays on a given night and the fact that he is one of the top defensive options on the club - if not the best option - it's not a surprise that his game has taken a turn in recent weeks. Look for a bounce back effort from the veteran but also expect some bumps and bruises along the way.
22 MARS   |   410 ANSWERS
Reason for veteran Leafs defenseman's struggles revealed

Can you rely on another defenseman to eat up the difficult minutes that have plagued Brodie's season to date?

Yes, Jake McCabe has steadily improved this year17041.5 %
No, outside of McCabe there aren't many options358.5 %
Yes, the Leafs need to rely on Liljegren more7919.3 %
Spread some of the tougher minutes out12630.7 %
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