Greetings fellow hockeylings! In case you stumbled upon this page in a hockey withdrawal induced stupor, and didn't already know; we're on a quest... no, not that quest... This is a quest of utmost importance.... a quest with far reaching ramifications... It could be said that the very future of the Red Wings depends on what we decide here today. Ok, ok, I made those last parts up. The part about being on a quest, however, is true. We're on a quest to determine which free agents the Wings should re-sign, and which ones can vamoose... No, not that moose.
I have the pleasure of undertaking this segment of our quest, by presenting for your consideration, the curious case of Damien Brunner.
Damien Brunner, #24
27 Years old (March 9, 1986)
1 (lockout shortened) NHL season
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Brunner signed a $925,000 one year, entry level deal with the Wings for the 2012-2013 season. There were no less than 6 teams trying to court Brunner last summer, but he ultimately chose to sign with the Wings, play with his new friend Zetterberg, develop a ball busting bromance with Gustav Nyquist, and discover his new best friend, Justin Abdelkader.
Brunner started off the season on the top line playing with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. He started started the season at a pretty good pace, earning 16 points (10G, 6A) in his first 20 games. He then went the next 14 games without a goal and only managed 10 points (2G, 8A) in the remaining 24 games of the regular season. Mid way through the season Brunner ran out of gas. He wasn't used to the grind of a regular NHL season with the hectic travel schedule, and the added intensity of a condensed season added to his fatigue. To reduce the pressure on him a little, Babcock moved him down to the third line a little after the midpoint of the season. Brunner did find some chemistry there, playing with Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist. We really saw the chemistry produce results during the playoffs where Brunner had 9 points (5G, 4A) in 14 games.
Case for Brunner
1) In his rookie season, despite trying to adjust to the size, skill, and travel of the NHL, he still put up 26 points (12G, 14A) in the regular season, and 9 points (5G, 4A) in the postseason.
2) Babcock said all season, despite Brunner's weaknesses and struggles, that he's a player who can flat out score goals, and that's not something that can be taught. The Wings need a good goal scorer
3) In addition to his oft mentioned nose for the net, he also shoots the puck. He was third on the team with shots on goal with 154; only Zetterberg (231) and Franzen (156) had more.
4) He's a right handed shot on the power play. (obligatory R handed shot reference)
5) 27 may be a little older than the typical rookie, but he's still young and has a great attitude and work ethic.
Case against Brunner
1) While his offensive skill has been touted often, he needs to be much better defensively. We saw improvement as the season progressed, but he still has a bit of work to do in order to be a responsible two-way forward.
2) It seems like I've been saying this about a lot of players lately, but Brunner needs to get bigger and stronger in order to be an effective NHL player. At 5'10" 176lbs, he's not an imposing player, and having offensive skill and a scoring sense is great, but it's hard to score goals if you can't get and protect the puck.
3) Re-signing him is a gamble because he's still an unproven, largely unknown quantity in the NHL and while we have high hopes and expectations, there's very little data to indicate how good he'll really be. Will he be the goal scorer we hope for, or Filppula 2.0 who never quite lives up to expectations?
4) Being an unrestricted free agent, and considering there were quite a few teams vying for his services last summer, the price to re-sign Brunner may be inflated beyond his worth.
What he's saying
Everything Brunner has said so far has been nothing but complimentary about his teammates and the organization. Considering I'm not even sure he has the ability to say anything mean, rude, or discourteous, I'm not sure how much to make of that. When asked about it on locker clean out day, Brunner said "I can’t say anything bad about the Detroit Red Wings, I guess I have to think about it in the next couple of weeks and talk to my agent and Kenny, and then we’ll see what’s going on. It’s a first-class organization. It was a big honor to wear that sweater. I’m looking forward to the next weeks. It’s going to be decision time, but I think it’ll be a good time as well." He also said, when asked about his teammates, that Detroit was the best locker room he's ever been in. According to Helen St. James, Brunner loves it in Detroit and wants to stay more than 1 year, but his agent is, of course, talking to other teams as well.
Figuring out a reasonable, realistic salary for Brunner is a little difficult, because he's only played 58 games in the NHL. He started out hot, then slumped pretty hard, but came on much stronger in the playoffs, with a team leading 5 postseason goals. He made $925,000 last season and will definitely be looking for a nice raise. I think the Wings would be hesitant to pay him above 2.5M/year and would probably want no more than 3 years. I think a 2-3 year 2.5M/year deal could be enough to keep Brunner. I do expect however, that Brunner could make more onmarket if the contract itself is his main consideration.
Internal: Gustav Nyquist, like Damien Brunner, is a natural center who frequently plays wing and either he or Tomas Tatar could play wing in the top 6 immediately, and both can play on the power play as well. Nyquist also plays a similar finesse style to Brunner. I'm not confident that Teemu Pulkkinen will make the team out of training camp, but looking a little further out, he's a right handed winger and put up 54 pts (18G, 36A) last year playing with Jokerit of the SM-liiga league in Finland. Pulkkinen isn't quite as experienced as Brunner, and may need another year before he's ready for the NHL, but he could be an option in the near future. Tomas Jurco is another player skilled forward who wouldn't fill in immediately, but will be getting some consideration soon from the Wings. External: Looking at the upcoming UFA's, Nathan Horton could be an alternative, but he made 5.5M last year and will be looking for a raise.
What do you think?
Should the Wings sign Damien Brunner to another contract?