Brennan Named AHL’s Top Defenceman


The American Hockey League announced today that TJ Brennan has won the 2014 Eddie Shore Award, as the AHL’s most outstanding defenceman. It’s their equivalent of the Norris Trophy, and for the first time, it’s been won by a member of the Toronto Marlies.

What has he done to deserve it? 

Brennan has been one the most dominant offensive defencemen in the league’s recent history. His 24 goals have him just outside of the top 20 in the statistic, and he’s sixth in assists with 45. Together, his efforts over 73 games put him in the top five in league scoring, despite playing on the point. The powerplay has been his bread and butter, scoring 42 of his 69 points on the man advantage.

A criticism that many have given him is his actual defensive play. It’s an understandable reason for concern, but he’s occasionally been caught out of position. But his play in that regard has come a long way throughout the year, and mistakes are becoming few and far between. Steve Spott also helps things by playing him with stay at home defencemen, like Stuart Percy and Kevin Marshall.

Brennan’s true expertise comes in keeping the puck away from the defensive zone entirely, producing a ridiculous amount of his team’s offence. At one point this year, he had 12.3% of the Marlies’ shots, which is a similar control of offensive play to what Phil Kessel has for the Leafs. For more on his team-relative dominance, check out this post I wrote in Feburary.

Next Year?

A lot of people were hoping that the Leafs would use his restricted free agent status to re-up him for next season, and give him the NHL shot he seems to deserve. However, it appears that the team won’t have that opportunity after all. According to CapGeek, Brennan required 34 NHL games played to keep his restricted status. Now, he’ll be a UFA under Group 6 rules (which don’t effect the signing process).

One of the worst defensive teams in modern history passed on calling up the top defenceman in the minor leagues, and will lose him before he plays a game for them. It’s both aggravating, but understandable. Understandable because they had an abundance of defence, but aggravating because they didn’t take the depth as a green late to trade quantity for quality. Understandable because he’ll be helpful to the Marlies in their playoff run, but aggravating because he could have helped the Leafs be a better possession team and maybe squeak in themselves. 

Whatever the case, he has a team to help now and at least a handful of games left to play in the organization, including tonight’s against the Binghamton Senators.

Photo courtesy of Christian Bonin /

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  • SouthernOntario2NorthernAlberta

    1. who would you have sat if you brought brennan up?

    2. defensively is he better then anyone on the leafs blueline?

    Brennan was a depth defender that would get called up if there were injuries which we avoided this year on the blue line. Last year we had this guy name Mottau for the same reason.

    And I prefer that we called up Granberg for the final game rather then Brennan.

    • STAN

      1. Uh, Gleason? Gunnarsson? Franson? Even Phaneuf? What harm would it have done? Missing the playoffs by a couple of fewer points?

      2. Puck possession IS defense. When you have the puck, it’s impossible for the other team to score. Physics.

      Finally we agree. Granberg AND Brennan would be a huge improvement. Sit Gleason and Franson.

      • TGT23

        1. Or many, many more? You have to remember that this team was as high as 2nd and if not for an incredible losing streak was a playoff team. Even mid-streak there was no reason to believe they wouldn’t turn it around until after they’d lost games 6-8. Making big changes or trying untested players isn’t something to do at that point. And next season there are better players than Brennan to bring up.

        2. Puck possession isn’t defense. I understand the point you’re making but really all you’re doing is adding a little puck possession in exchange for giving up more scoring chances… On a team that gives up too many scoring chances…

        TJ Brennan was -10… While having 72 points… on a playoff team… Bring him against NHL talent, his points go down, his +/- gets worse…

        Franson had a bad season, Gleason is dramatically overpaid and sort of a pylon, but the only AHL D worth bringing up was Granberg.

        You can debate which of Franson or Gleason to let go, but Brennan to the NHL is likely worse than either of those options.

        • TGT23

          1. Remembering they were as high as 2nd is the exact problem. If you look at the season as a long race with streaks both good and bad, the Leafs were due to not continue finishing shots at a double digit percentage. If you don’t make a change to a roster that has been hot all year and now has finally regressed to the mean (and by the way, that phrase does mean that as good as you were, you’ll be that bad too to get you back to middle). Making a switch of any component, especially one who the numbers would indicate excels at the PP seems to make Cody Franson the likely choice for a like-for-like switch in my opinion and would have carried some validity with deeper statistics. The fact that the narrative has been all year that the Leafs have been too close to the cap, so Carlyle hasn’t had room to tinker, but since he was the one who ran Grabbo outta town for the compliance buyout and subsequent signing of Clarkson, you reap what you sow.

          2. Puck possession isn’t defense that is definitely true, however would we all agree that the main point of defense is to keep the puck out of your own end? I’m not saying Brennan wouldn’t have had weaknesses that appear to the eye (much like Gardiner at moments), but it would’ve been interesting to see what a team with players who move possession toward the other team’s goalie when it has been painfully evident that this team was regressing toward worse puck possession. Your point about scoring chances seems to be valid until you think about when the last time we had 3 goals in a regulation game was. The problem is with shot volume on both ends of the ice. Thinking you can control a variable such as shot quality for both teams is a very large ask for a team like this. During the time when the Leafs did not shoot well above league average, I’d argue that I’d have preferred a guy like Brennan who seemed to drive possession away from his goalie.

          +/- is a flawed stat as he picked up the vast majority of his points on the powerplay, which is not factored into plus/minus. Is TJ Brennan a Top 4 NHL defenseman? No. Could he have perhaps spelled a guy like Franson, been given softer PP minutes and played 5-6 defenseman minutes against softer competition IMO.

          Franson had a horrible season, one in which his usage was poor at best. To me, Brennan is Cody Franson before going to Nashville, who used him properly (shielded minutes with PP time). I believe in a proper, non-collapsing system, Brennan could be a viable point producer who has to be shielded from top end minutes.

          To be honest, the biggest issue with Toronto’s defense is the tactic. Collapsing back to the net allowed too many shots and too many opportunities for rebounds. Carlyle can blame the skaters, the goalies but after three years, its the system. Only when guys like Rielly and Gardenier are given more free reign did it open up. I hear already the queue of “yeah but all the breakaways!”, go back, most were with slow footed defensemen on the ice in the second period. I’ll take smaller guys who show to move the puck toward the other end over paying guys and changing their roles when they get to our team.

  • TGT23

    Did they have one call up left?

    If so they should have sent down Orr, sat Franson, and given Brennan a look in the last few games.

    It might have given Brennan some incentive to re-sign

    If Franson isn’t here, Brennan could probably play for the Marlies, keep working on his defensive game and come up as the 7th defenceman/powerplay specialist, sometime next year.

    Without even a late season look in award winning season, what incentive does Brennan have to re-sign?