On Monday morning, the Edmonton Oilers’ official Twitter feed announced that the club had acquired forward Mike Brown from Toronto in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2014.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) March 4, 2013
Brown has played in 12 games with the Maple Leafs this year, picking up a single assist, but his ice-time and importance to the team had diminished sharply with the ascension of fellow tough guys Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. After averaging more than 9:00 per game in 2011-12, he was down to 4:39 this season, and often spent time in the pressbox. So why are the Oilers interested in a player the Maple Leafs have identified as a spare part?
Brown is likely best known for his physical play – both fighting and hitting. He’s had 15 fights since the start of 2011-12 season and hits everything that moves. His size isn’t ideal to the role – Brown is listed at 5’11", 212 pounds – but he’s very willing and judging by his fight card has had some success against bigger players in the past.
But can he do more than fight?
Can He Play?
The answer to this question is a qualified yes.
The big caveat is that Brown will not score; he’s averaged roughly one point for every 10 games over his major-league career, and his career high in NHL points is eight. His career high in the AHL is 15 points, a total he achieved over 78 contests as a rookie professional.
On the other hand, Brown isn’t a total liability as a defensive forward. His diminished role this year means he hasn’t seen much time on the penalty kill, but NHL coaches in his recent past have used him there – he saw some time in 2011-12, and averaged a career-high 1:35 while shorthanded in 2010-11. It’s probably worth noting that the penalty kills he has spent a lot of time on have typically been pretty bad; in significant minutes in 2009-10 with Anaheim and 2010-11 in Toronto, neither club managed to crack the 80% mark in terms of success killing off power plays.
Brown also saw some success in 2011-12 on a checking line, playing mostly with Dave Steckel – despite a fairly heavy ratio of defensive zone starts, the line came close to holding its own in terms of shots for and against with Brown on the ice. Unfortunately, that’s as good as it gets for Brown – in previous years, his line has been lit up despite offensive zone shifts in Anaheim and in defensive zone work in Toronto.
Is it a good move?
There are positives. Brown is likely more capable of playing a regular shift on the fourth line than his predecessor, Darcy Hordichuk, and he will add an edge to whichever line he finds himself on. A fourth-round draft pick is a pretty small price to pay, particularly since it isn’t until 2014.
With a logjam of wingers already in the system, this will force the Oilers to move another player off the roster. Maybe that player is Lennart Petrell – a bigger forward who is better defensively and roughly equivalent offensively, but who doesn’t fight. Maybe that forward is Magnus Paajarvi or Teemu Hartikainen, in which case the Oilers are sacrificing ability in order to bring in a fighter. Certainly one hopes that head coach Ralph Krueger was on-board with the move, given that his unwillingness to play a part-time guy in Hordichuk ultimately resulted in the veteran getting consigned to the minors.
Ultimately, how Brown responds to the chance to play will determine whether this was a solid move for the Oilers or not. He will upgrade the team’s toughness on its bottom lines, but in terms of out-playing the opposition this looks like at best a ‘treading water’ move.
Update: Bob McKenzie reports that the draft pick is conditional – if the Oilers make the playoffs this season, it becomes a third-round pick in 2014.