Connor Brown had an extremely productive first season with the Ottawa Senators. After a career year with 44 points, Pierre Dorion and Senators management must decide if the Toronto native is part of the future in Ottawa, or if they wish to cash-in on him.The Senators don’t know where or when their next NHL game is going to be, and it’s looking increasingly likely they won’t hit the ice until 2021. This gives management plenty of time to evaluate the current roster and group of RFAs like Connor Brown, and seek out all options at hand.
It’s safe to say that nobody thought that Connor Brown would be the second-highest scoring player on the Senators this season. After moving over to the nation’s capital from Toronto last summer, Brown managed to blow past the relatively low expectations set for him.
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At 26-years-old, it’s challenging to get a read on Brown in some aspects. While he certainly looked better this year than his time in Toronto, it doesn’t guarantee the Senators can count on Brown to be one of the team’s top scorers down the road. Given his age and track record, Brown may never be more than what he is right now, which is a solid third-line option on a good team.
With an influx of prospects likely on their way to the NHL level next season, Brown may not even be afforded some of the same opportunities he was this year. While he certainly is a solid player with a decent two-way skillset, management has to be very careful with the term and cost an extension could bring, as his spot in the lineup is not guaranteed to be the same going forward.
Brown saw an increase of nearly 7 (!!!) minutes in his average ice-time this year, from 13:48 in 2018-19, to 20:07. D.J Smith has voiced his admiration for Brown several times, and it showed on the ice. This in itself goes a long way in explaining why the player was able to break out this season. More ice time usually results in the chance to record more points. This raises the question of whether or not Brown’s development is sustainable.
This year, Connor Brown had to compete with Brady Tkachuk, Anthony Duclair, and Tyler Ennis (until traded) for 5v5 time in the top-six, or power-play time. Next year, players like Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, Vitaly Abramov and a couple of possible first-round draft selections will be thrown into that mix, creating a lot more competition for Connor Brown.
He could easily lose his sport and wind up playing in the bottom half of the lineup, as was the case in Toronto. If that were to happen, Brown would likely regress back to being a 20-30 point player.
His shot metrics like Corsi (47.94%) and expected goals (49.17%) aren’t great, but solid considering his seriously unfavourable zone usage. This saw Brown start play in the defensive zone 218 times, which was the most on the team. Taking that into account, the shot metrics are slightly deceiving, and point towards how solid Brown actually was in his own zone to even have the numbers he did. It’s also worth noting that he was also able to eat up more shorthanded minutes than any other Ottawa forward this season as well.
While D.J Smith may love him, he certainly doesn’t do Brown any favours on the ice. Much credit goes to the player though, for playing through, and thriving in unbelievably difficult minutes. Perhaps with some better offensive usage, Brown could begin to benefit the numbers of those around him, as well as his own. He’s shown that he has the talent to do so.
It’s easy to see why all of this makes this negotiation and decision on the player a very difficult one for the Senator’s brass. On one hand, there’s a player who is making the most out of the great opportunity the Senators have given him. On the other, it’s tough to see where he could fit in with so many question marks surrounding the roster.
Brown will likely be looking for financial security, as the Senators would be buying up UFA years in a time where nobody knows what the future of the NHL market and salary cap will look like.
Something long-term, in the 4+ year range, doesn’t seem smart for the Senators, who should avoid committing term to role players. Anything in the 1-3 year range would be reasonable, so long as the cap hit makes sense.
This season, Brown made just over $2m, which the Senators would likely want to keep his pay around. He has made a case for a raise though, but given the multitude of question marks surrounding his position with the team, and deployment, anything above $3.25m wouldn’t make sense. Given the fact that his performance this season is likely to be his ceiling, that’s very fair salary for a third liner.
There’s no question that Connor Brown is a solid player, and would be a good person to have in the locker room and on the ice with a young team. He’s been part of a young core before, and if the money makes sense, Ottawa should give him the opportunity to be a part of this one.
All stats from NaturalStatTrick