The Ottawa Senators have avoided arbitration with winger Connor Brown, signing him last night to a 3-year contract worth an average of $3.6 million per season. Brown will earn $2.8 million next season, $4 million in 2021-22 and $4 million in 2022-23 – a healthy raise from the $2.1 million he earned last season. The deal is being hailed by most observers as a good one for both sides.
We’re very happy to have Connor back under contract,” said Senators general manager Pierre Dorion in a news release. “He brings a veteran presence to our lineup and is a player who can play in different situations. He’s durable, has a strong work ethic with great practice habits and is regarded as a leader by his teammates. His ability to play up and down the lineup while producing offensively is especially valuable to us as we continue our transition towards being a consistent winner.”
Brown does, indeed, have an ability to play up and down the lineup – meaning he can play those bigger minutes as an offensive threat or bottom-six minutes as a shutdown forward. This versatility has led to some strong debate about where exactly Brown will fit in down the road as the club continues to inch toward contention.
Let’s first examine what Brown is right now. He was Ottawa’s second-leading scorer last season; led all forwards with over 20 minutes of average ice time per game; and was the first guy coach D.J. Smith would tap on the shoulder when he needed someone to kill a penalty or hang onto a lead in the final minute of a one-goal game.
Yet, the common opinion seems to be that, as the Senators become contenders, Brown will eventually emerge as merely a third-line player. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would put such a hard cap on his potential. Brown is only four years deep into his NHL career. During his three full seasons in Toronto, the Leafs had a heap of skill up front and Brown was never going to consistently get top minutes there.
Brown brings speed, character, and commitment to hard, effective work on both sides of the puck. He has pretty much every key asset a coach looks for except for the big, gaudy point production. But, in Ottawa, he finally got bigger NHL minutes for the first time and finished last season with a career-best 43 points. That’s not the production of a third liner. Just have a look at Tampa Bay, the 2020 Stanley Cup champions. Their 4th, 5th and 6th best forwards – their second liners – had point totals in the 40’s, just like Brown.
So there’s zero reason to pigeonhole Brown at this point in his career. If he stays on the track he’s on, this will be remembered as a good signing for both sides. With all of Brown’s virtues, that’s likely to be the worst-case scenario. But the potential is clearly there for much more. Maybe Brown needed a year to get comfortable with a bigger role and more responsibility. Perhaps he’ll further improve as the skilled kids around him improve.
If one keeps an open mind, they’ll realize this signing has a chance to be an absolute steal for Dorion and the Senators.