Brennan and MacIntyre: Two Dominoes That Sparked Marlies Collapse

The Toronto Maple struggles continue as they get ready for their second straight game at the Air Canada Centre since returning from a seven game road trip. Unfortunately their American Hockey League counterparts the Toronto Marlies aren’t fairing much better this season and the omission of two of the team’s top players from last season is a big reason for that.

The team is currently 14-15-6 this season and sit fourth in the North Division and 11th in the Western Conference which may very well be the consequence of getting rid of AHL defenceman of the year T.J. Brennan and goaltender Drew MacIntyre.

MacIntyre Was a Wall

Last season the Marlies lost a heartbreaker in the Western Conference final to the Texas Stars, who eventually went on to win the Calder Cup. This year the team sits in the basement of the Western Conference. During the 2014 post-season MacIntyre ranked second amongst all goalies with a .941 save percentage and fourth with a 2.08 goals against average.

During the Maple Leafs late season collapse last season, the 32-year-old netminder even saw the net a few times with the big club. He started one game and took over in relief in another. And despite going 0-1-0, the American Leaguer, held an impressive .922 SP and a 2.53 GAA in his first ever NHL action.

Drew MacIntyre (Ross Bonander / THW)
Drew MacIntyre held the second best save percentage and fourth best goals against average during the 2014 AHL playoffs. (Ross Bonander / THW)

After last season the relationship between, then-head coach Randy Carlyle and goaltender James Reimer, became rocky. This was sparked by the Manitoba native’s mediocre play down the stretch and a game in Detroit where Carlyle described Reimer’s play as “just ok”. With a break-up looking imminent, it seemed like MacIntyre could become the Leafs new backup tender.

Missed Opportunity With Maple Leafs

That never panned out as the team welcomed Reimer back and the conflict between all parties seemed to dissipate. The Maple Leafs then failed to sign the veteran AHL goalie during the off-season who was picked up by the Carolina Hurricanes. MacIntyre agreed to a one-year two-way contract with the Canes, where he has spent his time with their AHL affiliate the Charlotte Checkers.

This year Charlotte finds themselves 13th in the Western Conference. MacIntyre holds a 10-11-3 record, which though is nothing to be proud of; his .916 SP and 2.58 GAA prove that he has not been the problem. The tender’s numbers are only slightly worse than they were one season ago with the Marlies where he had a .917 SP and 2.53 GAA during the regular season.

TJ Brennan lead the Toronto Marlies last season with 72 points in 76 games.  (Ross Bonander/THW)
TJ Brennan lead the Toronto Marlies last season with 72 points in 76 games. (Ross Bonander/THW)

Brennan Given No Chances

Meanwhile Brennan seemed to be an anomaly with the Maple Leafs during his time with the club. The big club always seemed lost on the blueline and defence always seemed to be the team’s biggest issue. So, why wasn’t the AHL’s defenceman of the year given at least one game with the team?

The team traded Mark Fraser partway through the season, gave veteran Paul Ranger a shot with the team, and then traded John-Michael Liles to Carolina for Tim Gleason looking for someone to help bolster their back-end. Meanwhile with the Marlies Brennan lead the team in scoring 25 goals and 72 points in 76 games. As mentioned he won the Eddie Shore Award as the league’s most outstanding defenceman.

The blueliner also had 14 points in 14 games in the playoffs for the Marlies. His biggest knock against him in the past has been that he is an offensive minded defenceman and because of that might have explained why he never saw a game with the Maple Leafs. However, after being a minus-10 during the regular season last year, he was a plus- three in the post-season and this season is a plus-16 with the Rockford Icehogs. We will never know what he could have done with the big club.

Now with the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate, the 26-year-old has eight goals and 29 points in 37 games, the most on the team. The Icehogs sit first in the Midwest Division and third in the Western Conference with a 21-12-4 record. Brennan also sits tied for top spot again in the AHL in points by a defencemen.

The Marlies have finished first in the North Division, but as they sit 11th in the West it seems like that streak may very well come to an end. It is hard to put such an onus on two players, but when the two are amongst the AHL’s best it doesn’t seem to far-fetched to think the team would be doing much better if they hadn’t let these two players go elsewhere.