On Sunday afternoon, Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher came to terms with pending UFA Kyle Brodziak. The Wild reward Brodziak for three seasons of hockey with the organization, where he has developed steadily. Reports suggests that the deal is three years in length with capgeek.com listing the cap hit at $2.83 million per season.
Hockey Day in America turned out to be one of Minnesota’s best days since December. Not only is the day well celebrated in the area, but the Wild managed to snap a seven-game win-less streak beating the defending Stanley Cup champions Boston 2-0. In many ways the game fitted the formula that this team will have to follow if they want to enjoy success for the rest of the season. They got outstanding goaltending from Niklas Backstrom, who registered his fourth shutout by making an impressive 48 saves. Matt Cullen scored a power-play goal and gritty AHL call-up Chad Rau chipped in with a goal.
The Wild’s slide has been well documented, but the re-signing of a solid part of this organization will help fans have some hope for future seasons, as well as Sunday’s victory keeping optimism alive for 2011-12. The Wild reward Brodziak after he has shown significant improvement for a third straight year. The 27-year old has 15 goals and 29 points in 59 games so far this season putting him on pace for a career high 40 points. His 15 goals are just one behind his high of 16 last season.
Brodziak was the first player acquired by Chuck Fletcher as GM of the Wild via trade. Fletcher acquired the then 25-year old, who had managed 49 points in his first two full seasons with Edmonton. He played all 82 games in 2009-10 and set a new career high with 32 points and he would better that total again in 2010-11 with 37 points in 80 games.
However, the forward’s value is far more than just offensive numbers. In fact, there are a lot of reasons for the Wild to reward Brodziak and players like him. This is a team that is trying to re-forge an identity and it is Brodziak’s two-way game that has seen the most substantial improvement since his time with the Oilers.
Performance in the face-off circle has been one factor, and remains a strength of this team when they have a healthy line-up of centerman with Mikko Koivu-Cullen-Brodziak. Brodziak’s face-off percentage has progressed from winning 48.4% in 2009-10, 48.9% in 2010-11, and finally up to 51.2% so far this season. Time on ice per game might seem like a bit of a pointless statistic, and of course it is when not considered in context, but it can also say a lot. NHL coaches usually know quite a bit about the game, and if they are putting a player on the ice a lot then that is an indication of belief and trust, which is extremely valuable.
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo has shown that he is happy to ruffle a player’s feathers if his play isn’t up to standard with his scratching of blue-liner Marek Zidlicky. Brodziak’s average ice time is up drastically in 2011-12. In 2009-10, he averaged 15:19 minutes per game (MPG), in 2010-11 he averaged 15:46 MPG. This season he has jumped up to 18:46 MPG with the biggest increase coming at even strength where he is playing nearly two minutes extra per game.
Versatility is probably the biggest reason that the Wild reward Brodziak with this new contract. His willingness to work hard and learn the game, while being thrust into lots of different roles have made him a valuable piece of this team. If Guillame Latendresse, Pierre Marc-Bouchard and Koivu were in the line-up, then he would probably be playing on the team’s third line, but he has acquitted himself solidly as the team’s top line center as well. The $2.83 million cap hit signifies a good bit of business on Fletcher’s part as well.
In the long-term, this is a player who has a part to play as a solid part of this team’s core. In the short-term, his offensive form could be the key to this team staying in the playoff hunt with Koivu still sidelined and the captain’s return date uncertain. Brodziak has three goals and six points in a five-game stretch where Minnesota went 3-1-1 and seemed to strengthen their hold on eighth place. Since then he has been point-less in seven games, a span where his team has posted a 1-5-1 record. Brodziak has earned the faith that this franchise has shown him, hopefully he will reward them in the short and long term.