“Connor Brown is a depth player.”
“On a good team, Connor Brown is a third liner, not a top 6 guy.”
“Connor Brown is good, but easily replaced.”
This is how Senators’ winger Connor Brown is incessantly tagged by a good portion of Ottawa’s media and fan base.
But Connor Brown also has 117 points in his 191 games in Ottawa. Over 82 games, that’s a 50-point pace, which would easily rank him inside anyone’s top six. Seriously, how many NHL teams have a 50-point guy in their bottom six, where so many people think Brown should be slotted?
Take the two-time Cup champs, for example. Among Tampa forwards, Ondrej Palat and Anthony Cirelli finished 4th and 5th in scoring with 49 and 43 points respectively this season. They were also Tampa’s fourth and fifth highest paid forwards at $4.8 and $5.3 million this season behind top forwards like Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos. After those five, things thin out quickly.
Bottom-line, Brown actually compares very favourably to the offensive production of Tampa’s second line guys. And they’re in a Stanley Cup final for a third straight year.
But we still haven’t even discussed Brown’s other assets – high character, elite penalty killing, work ethic and two-way play. Leading by example still matters. Preventing goals will always be as important as scoring them.
While the hockey world continues to criminally underrate Brown, it looks like we’ll find out soon exactly how easy he is to replace. On Saturday, during Hockey Night in Canada’s intermission, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman announced that he thinks Brown may be planning to test free agency next summer.
“Last time Connor Brown was a free agent, he signed a deal one year before he became an unrestricted free agent,” said Friedman. “This time, the word is that he’s planning on just seeing if he wants to test the market – a feeling that he might test the market. That’s going to make a choice for Ottawa. And the choice is, do they let it play out or decide to make a move? I think that’s going to be in the Senators’ court because I think he’s going to want to see what the market is going to be.”
If that’s the case, Brown will be playing somewhere else in 2023-24. Even if the Senators wanted to keep Brown, they can’t/won’t compete with other NHL teams’ ability to win and spend. Brown wouldn’t mind regularly golfing during his winters either.
If the Sens could convince Brown right now to sign for Palat/Cirelli money, he’d be worth it. That would be a nice raise on the $4 million he made last season and will make again this season (AAV and cap hit was $3.6M). But if he’s hell-bent on free agency, as Friedman suggests, it’s a moot point. He’s as good as gone.
So now what? Do the Senators let him play out his final season and lose him next summer with zero compensation? Or do they try and get something for him by trading him? Maybe they do it next month at the draft, later this summer or at next year’s trade deadline.
There’s only one answer. You try and capture the best of all worlds by trading him at next year’s deadline.
The Senators’ young core continues to develop and part of that is learning to win, playing in meaningful games, dealing with pressure. To get to that point, everyone believes the Sens currently need to add a top 6 forward, not remove one. If the Sens dealt Brown this summer, that’s exactly what they’d be doing. They’d probably get a draft pick or a young player in return, neither of which will help the Sens take a step toward winning next season.
But if the Sens hold off until the deadline, they’ll have reaped the rewards of having Brown for most of another season, and they’ll probably be able to get just as much for him at the deadline, when playoff-bound general managers are salivating, desperately trying to find way to improve their Stanley Cup chances. Brown’s situation is similar to J.G. Pageau’s. JGP was traded to the Islanders at the 2020 deadline and the Sens got a first rounder and second rounder in return. The first rounder became Ridly Greig, and the second rounder was used in a trade to move up and select defenceman Tyler Kleven. If the Sens get assets like that for Brown, it gives them options. Even coming out of a rebuild, you need to be always be restocking the prospect cupboard. But they could also package up those assets to acquire another top 6 guy next summer.
Speaking of trades, the Senators deserve nothing but credit for the deal that originally brought Brown to Ottawa three years ago. On Canada Day 2019, Toronto sent Brown to the Sens with Nikita Zaitsev, basically for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur and a third rounder.
Looking ahead, if Brown truly wants his shot at free agency, there’s nothing the Sens can do. So, we can pause all debates about his true value to a team. That’s for Pierre Dorion to use in his upcoming trade negotiations.
By Steve Warne | Faces Magazine