You don’t need me to tell you that Kyle Brodziak hasn’t been setting the world on fire lately–in fact, there was talk about him needing to have a “bounce back” year after last year’s 12 point campaign…and his 8 points in 29 games so far this year are not the bounce we had in mind. Understandably, many Wild fans are very frustrated with Brodziak’s lack of offensive production–and I am too, naturally. It’s no secret that Brodziak is one of my favorite players, and I’m not going to be able to make a case that he’s actually playing well, or that he’s about to break out. But I wanted to look at his underlying numbers, and while Brodzy has never been an elite offensive weapon (career high 22 goals in 2011-12 and that was when he was bumped up to the top-six due to a Mikko Koivu injury,) I think what people aren’t really realizing is just how his role has shifted and how difficult his assignments have been. Like I said, you don’t need advanced stats to tell you he has been lackluster, but here’s a chart showing his cumulative Corsi rating this year:
We can see that during the first dozen or so games when the Wild were putting up ungodly possession numbers, Brodziak was right there with them, but then as the team started to regress toward normal (but still above average) team numbers, KB’s individual numbers took a particularly tough hit. Over the last handful of games, his numbers have been moving up but he’s still definitely not driving possession. A main reason for this is that he is being relied on very heavily in the defensive zone, and is asked to handle the opponent’s top players. Check out his usage over the last three seasons:
What you’ll notice is that Brodziak is in the upper-left quadrant for each of the last three years, meaning he’s getting a ton of defensive zone starts and playing against tough, tough competition. From this perspective, perhaps it’s a wonder that he scored (22+22=44) two years ago. Another thing that Brodziak doesn’t get enough credit for, in my opinion, is the tremendous amount of time he spends on the penalty kill. This season, he is fifth in the league among forwards in terms of the percentage of the team’s PK time at 49.8%. Last year, he was 18th in the league at 40.8%, so we can see that he is shouldering a ton more shorthanded time even compared to last season.
My theory on Brodziak’s declining production is that because Mike Yeo is asking him to take on more of a defensive responsibility, at even-strength and particularly on the penalty kill, his mentality is more of a defensive, shut down game instead of an offensive…or even really two-way game. Surprisingly, Brodziak is a career 10.4% shooter, so given the opportunity he can put the biscuit in the basket. He also has good anticipation, and in the past one of my favorite parts of his game is watching him pick off passes in the neutral zone and turn them into scoring opportunities. (Cal Clutterbuck was and is also great at this, so splitting them up might have something to do with the dropoff.) But in thinking about his role this year, he’s probably not waiting around in the NZ to pick off passes–rather, he’s already getting into good defensive position and is backing off those interception opportunities. I wish I had some game film or examples, but right now it’s more of a hunch.
One last stat: Brodziak has just a 37.2% OZ start percentage, and last year it was 37.1% (excluding NZ faceoffs.) However, he is finishing an even 50% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and last year it was just over 44%. These numbers are hard to interpret, but what I’m trying to show is that while he is getting a massive defensive assignment, he is still getting the puck up ice. That said, his corsi numbers and his lousy goal production sort of overrule these last numbers.
I really think that with the additions of Parise and Pominville, plus the development of Coyle, Granlund, Niederreiter, etc., Brodziak is just being asked to play a much different role on the team than he has in previous seasons. If you look at his contract and his AAV hit compared to his goals, it’s not pretty. But I feel his value to the team is his PK specialty and his ability to handle tough assignments. What do you think? Post a comment and let me know whether you think his salary is justified. And, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, @Hashtag_Hockey