Maple Leafs Commentary: TJ Brodie, Great “Wrong Side” D-Man

Before Thomas James Brodie became a Toronto Maple Leafs’ player, we knew two things about him.

First, he was Mark Giordano’s defensive partner when Giordano, at the ripe old age of 35, surprised the hockey world by winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman after the 2018-19 season. We knew Giordano believed Brodie helped him win the Trophy.

Related: Maple Leafs’ T.J. Brodie Is So Good No One Seems to Notice Him

Second, Brodie was the target of a trade offer that would have brought him to Toronto from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Nazem Kadri. Kadri nixed the deal using his modified no-trade clause. 

Otherwise, our knowledge of Brodie as a player consisted of only two other pieces of information. First, he was a left-handed defenseman who played the right side. Second, he suffered a medical emergency in November 2019, when he collapsed and began to convulse at a Flames practice. Emergency medical workers worked on him and he was taken to the hospital. 

Tobias Rieder, Mark Jankowski, Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie
Calgary Flames’ Tobias Rieder, Mark Jankowski, Mark Giordano, and TJ Brodie celebrate a goal (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

At the time, the Flames released a statement saying: “TJ Brodie experienced an episode on-ice at practice today in Calgary. Following tests conducted at a local hospital, TJ has been discharged and is doing well in recovery at home with his family.” Fortunately, nothing since has turned up similar to that experience.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Playing on One’s Offside Defense

When looking at Brodie’s play, it was instructive to learn there were both advantages and disadvantages of playing defense on a different side than one’s handedness. That went against the typical belief that there were only advantages to playing defense on the left side if you were left-handed or on the right side if you were right-handed.

Related: Maple Leafs Sign T.J. Brodie to Four-Year Contract

Because Brodie plays on the right side when he’s left-handed, rather than use his stick to prevent zone clear-outs, he uses his hands and his body. He knocks the puck down and to his stick. He then can forehand the puck back down into the corner, or open up his body towards the middle of the ice.

He then uses his body to shield the puck, moving laterally left with the puck toward the middle of the ice. This move gives him many options. He also does it extremely well. 

TJ Brodie Toronto Maple Leafs
TJ Brodie, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Brodie does not do a lot offensively with the puck, he’s very smart with it and rarely (if ever) turns it over. If he does pinch, he does not do so in risky situations. He plays it safe, thinking defense first. 

When he plays alongside a skilled defenseman like Morgan Rielly, Brodie simply moves the puck to his partner and lets him do his thing. Brodie then watches Rielly’s back. 

Brodie’s Biggest Strength Is in the Defensive Zone

Brodie’s biggest strength lies in the defensive zone. He has the ability to break up rushes, be they odd man or otherwise. He has good hand-eye coordination and is excellent at preventing the puck from getting to where the opposing forwards want it to go. He has an uncanny ability to time his dives to prevent passes and shots as well as an ability to recover quickly and return to his skates. 

Related: T.J. Brodie: Robin to Mark Giordano’s Batman

Brodie is not physical. He rarely throws an impactful hit. What he’s good at is simply placing his body between a puck carrier along the boards. The fact that he’s left-handed playing the right side allows him to use his forehand to pass the puck to a teammate behind his net or ring it around the boards quickly and efficiently to a teammate.  

Brodie’s Biggest “Weakness” Is in Front of His Own Net

If Brodie has a weakness, and we’re unsure it’s as much of a weakness as just different, it’s how he plays in front of his own net. Rather than play the man, trying to box him out and keep the shooting lanes clear so the goalie can see the puck, Brodie usually ignores opposing players in front of the net. Instead, he plays the puck. 

Because he has great hand-eye coordination, Brodie does a great job of preventing the puck from getting to the net or to opposition players in front of the net. He’s also an excellent shot blocker.

But, if he misses the puck, and fails to block the pass or the shot, it usually means trouble for his goalie. Either the opposing player gets a great scoring chance or Brodie screens his own goalie. 

[Note: Because Stan played hockey as a defenseman who was trained “old school” to ignore the puck and play the man, Brodie’s “play the puck” mentality threw him at first. But, by watching him do it his way, he has come to appreciate that more. He thinks it could be a good alternative way to play defense for smaller or smallish defensemen.]

Brodie’s Bottom Line for the Maple Leafs

After watching Brodie play the past two seasons, we can see why he would have played a role in partner Giordano’s Norris Trophy. Brodie seems to make everyone he’s partnered with better. Because he’s capable of playing either side, he would be a great partner for every other Maple Leafs’ defenseman. We wish there were a way of cloning him.

Brodie’s 32 years old. The way he plays the game could help him remain effective well into his later 30s. He’ll be 34 when his contract expires. We could see him extending his stay with the Maple Leafs for a reasonable price beyond the 2023-24 season.

Related: Maple Leafs Need to Change Their Pattern and It Starts With Sandin

There’s one thing we’d like to see happen. If the Maple Leafs could re-sign Rasmus Sandin and have Brodie take him under his wing, Sandin could learn how to play the same style of game Brodie plays. That would give him the ability to switch back and forth from the left side to the right side with ease. 

We’re convinced that learning from Brodie could help Sandin become a better defenseman.  

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]