T.J. Brodie (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Calgary Flames blueliner T.J. Brodie is enjoying a breakout season, but he remains relatively obscure, overshadowed by partner Mark Giordano. That's just how Brodie likes it.
T.J. Brodie is nowhere to be found in the Flames' dressing room on a Tuesday afternoon at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, and it's a little surprising given what he's done this season.
Etch out his name and peruse only his stats on paper. What you see is a breakout star. Fourth in scoring among NHL defensemen. Racking up offense at a 60-point pace. On track to play in the All-Star Game and maybe even contend for the Norris Trophy. Regularly among the league leaders in Corsi relative to his teammates.
When a player producing like that arrives in the media hotbed that is Toronto for his team's only visit to the city all season, a swirl of microphones and cameras would make sense. But it's not to be.
"Is T.J. Brodie around?" I ask the Flames media staff.
"No one's asked for him. But he can be."
No one's asked for him? He's half of what's been the NHL's most dynamic pairing this season with Mark Giordano. Maybe it's because the Flames employ so many ex-Leafs making homecomings on this particular day, from Matt Stajan to Mason Raymond to Joe Colborne. But whatever the reason is, Brodie remains exactly where he's been so far in his NHL career: in the shadows.
Once he emerges, long after most of his teammates have left, it suddenly seems like that's exactly what he wants. Brodie, 24, is a shy young man. He speaks softly and economically. He doesn't mind the unexpected attention but doesn't relish it, either. He's not as used to it as you might think. His six goals are already a career high and he's 10 points away from a new personal best of 32, with 52 games to play, but he insists his profile around Calgary hasn't blown up.
"Obviously, every now and then you’ll get someone who comes up and asks," Brodie said. "But overall, nothing’s really changed.”
And that's fine by him. He says he doesn't pay any attention to his points. That's a classic hockey cliche, but you tend to believe Brodie in his case. If he doesn't know what his basic numbers are, analytics like Corsi and Fenwick are light years away from his consciousness. When told "the advanced stats geeks love you," he simply shrugs it off with a chuckle.
What he does know, however, is he's a different player than he was a couple years back. To him, the seeds of this year's surge were sown last season.
“Playing the same game and just getting the bounces is part of it, but last year at the end of the season I felt like I had a much better finish compared to the start," Brodie said. "And I just wanted to carry that over and play that way. Part of the reason is, being out of the playoffs last year gave us as a team a chance to relax and just play the way we know how to play. And we just learned how to play with each other. And coming into this year, we kept that same mindset, and it’s worked.”
Giordano has produced at an elite level since last season, and he's not remotely surprised at what he's seen from his partner. He claims Brodie's breakout was always coming, and that committing to shooting the puck more this year has made a difference. Turns out Giordano knows his numbers. Brodie registered 44 shots in 54 games in 2010-11, his first full NHL campaign. The next year: 44 in 47 games, still less than one shot per contest. He rose to 104 in 81 games last season. And in 2014-15: 54 pucks on net in 30 games, putting Brodie on pace for 148. Add in an unusually lucky shooting percentage of 11.1 – his career number is 5.7 – and you have the ingredients of a massive breakout. The offense may cool down when the shooting percentage regresses, but the increase in Brodie's volume will offset that.
And as long as Bob Hartley coaches the Flames, the volume should remain. He lets blueliners roam freely on the attack, and that's a big reason why the Flames have by far the most points from defensemen in the league this year.
"We try and read, and try to jump up as much as we can and create some offense for our team, but No. 1 is defense," Giordano said. "We’re both puck-moving guys who try and make some plays up to our forwards.”
How many more plays will the tandem have to make before Brodie gets noticed? If it's up to him, many more. He seems entirely content to let Giordano take the spotlight – even if you put him on the spot and make him choose a Norris winner between him and Giordano.
“Definitely him," Brodie said. "He’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s a guy who does everything. Blocks shots, hits, jumps up. He’s solid defensively and he’s just a perfect guy who leads a team. He’s definitely deserving of that.”
And if Giordano does take home his first Norris next summer, Brodie will watch proudly and comfortably from his safe place: the shadows.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin