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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Brodziak: End of the Line

If Kyle Brodziak’s NHL career is over, and that appears to be the case as he’s expected to be on IR and LTIR with the Edmonton Oilers for the entirety of this season because of ongoing back problems, he’ll leave the game with more of a career than almost anybody thought he’d have.

At 35, it appears Brodziak’s wonky back will put an end to an NHL career spanning 917 regular season and 57 playoff games – that’s 974 more games than many hockey people thought he’d play after the Oilers selected him in the seventh round, 214th overall, from the Moose Jaw Warriors in the 2003 Entry Draft.

Having spent 229 of those games with the Oilers in two stints – 2007-08 and 2008-09 before returning for last season on a two-year deal after six seasons with the Minnesota Wild and three with the St. Louis Blues – Brodziak goes out relatively quietly as a journeyman forward who didn’t have the kind of impact he would have liked in his encore.

That’s on his back, not his heart or his head or his determination to make it to The Show and then find a way to stay there. Brodziak is one of those players I’m a sucker for – a guy who willed himself past a queue of more talented players and carved out a niche as a reliable, two-way centre. More steak than sizzle was Brodziak, even as a youngster. The Oilers never should have traded him in the first place, as they did in June 2009, missing out on his best years.

WOULDN’T BE DENIED

I first got a look at Brodziak as a member of the AHL Edmonton Roadrunners during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Watching him play that season as a 20-year-old kid, I wasn’t sure how good an NHL player Brodziak would be – his numbers on a bad team were not overwhelming at 6-26-32 in 56 games – but I was damn sure he’d be one. Brodziak was too stubborn and too willing to put in the work not to be. That not only caught my eye, it put him in good standing with head coach Geoff Ward and assistants Joe Paterson and Kelly Buchberger.

I wrote about that season a year ago after Brodziak rejoined the Oilers as a free agent in July 2018, so I won’t go through all that again. You’re either willing to put in the work or you’re not. That’s especially important for a later-round draft pick like Brodziak, guys who don’t get as many chances as kids at the top of the draft do. That desire to beat the odds is what sticks with me.

Well, that and Brodziak’s bizarre sense of humor. One night in St. John’s, Newfoundland Brodziak showed up for a very early team bus with his head freshly shaved and his dome covered in red rash. On a whim, he’d grabbed one of those cheap-o disposable razors in his hotel room and shaved what had been a full head of hair right down to the wood. Just because, apparently. I’ve got the photo somewhere.

Another time, Brodziak showed up at the airport wearing one of those grandpa-type Seersucker suits, complete with white belt and matching white slip-on shoes. And he’d parted his hair just over his ear and into a comb-over that would give Rene Levesque a run. He did it all straight-faced. As I recall, Raffi Torres looked horrified. Good times.

HOME AGAIN

Feb 27, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Kyle Brodziak (28) looks on as he warms up before playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena. The Maple Leafs beat the Oilers 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

His best years behind him when he came back a year ago, Brodziak wasn’t going to be a key cog in the Oilers plans last season. He was simply coming home to be what he’d always been – a bottom six guy who could play a supporting role, kill penalties, be reliable defensively and maybe get 25-30 points. Along the way, he’d show what it takes to be a good pro.

I’d rather have had those nine seasons Brodziak spent away, and I’m sure the Oilers feel the same way because do-overs spanning that many years seldom work out like we hope they would, but here we are. So, 974 games later, it’s time to go and for Brodziak to get on with the rest of his life. Well done, kid. Well done.

Previously by Robin Brownlee