The Curious Case of Andrew Brunette

I was pretty late to the wagon on this one, but here's how the story went: my brother and I were discussing players we'd always liked, for whatever the reason, and he said Teemu Selanne because he's a Ducks homer and then he said, "Well, you're probably going to say Andrew Brunette, because that's what you always say when we talk about this."  He knows that, in our discussions, Andrew Brunette signifies some kind of weird pivot point with me where I begin to talk about the injustices of the hockey world.  I usually refer to him as "underrated" because he has miraculously managed to play for every mediocre team in the book (though he did catch the Wild when they went on that playoff run) and still put up respectable point totals.  He's one of those guys who, had he the fortune to be attached to someone who could have exploited his skill set, he might have caught more attention than he has.

At this point in my thinking, I vaguely remembered Gabe talking about Brunette and shooting talent...which led to a search on BTN for "Brunette"...which led to the realization that this guy is peppered all over the data on games played and goal-scoring around the net.

Can I just belabour the point that this guy is pretty unique?  One more time?

Notice I said "pretty unique", and only loosely suggested he might have a "skill."   Truth is, he lives, eats, and breathes in front of the net.  Seriously.  As Gabe has pointed out in the previously linked articles on shooting, there is something to be said for players that position themselves where they can produce higher percentage shots, and that something isn't necessarily that they are talented shooters.

But a goal is a goal, of course, and Andrew Brunette's career 17.9% shooting is an astonishing reminder that a.) we would have been helped by recording the amount of shots missed by Brunette (including deflections) as shots, and b.) even so, we can reasonably say that Brunette is a bit more effective around the net than celebrated front-of-the-net scorer Tomas Holmstrom, as under the same recording circumstances Brunette still has a 1% edge in shooting.  That gap is widened when you take shots missed (deflections included, thank you Gabe) into both players' even-strength shooting percentages, as Brunette has held the edge on Holmstrom 10.3% to 6.9% in 2007-08, 12.3% to 9.7% in 2008-09, and 11.7% to 9.7% in 2009-10.  Brunette's numbers with deflections thrown in were still good enough to place his ES shooting % as 34th among forwards with 40+ games in 2007-08, 12th in 2008-09, and 10th in 2009-10.

What makes Brunette a "curious case" is that there have been few players with as limiting a skill set (in terms of skating) that have still played as long and as effectively (on offense) as he has.  Johnny Bucyk is a famous example, and Phil Esposito was well-known for using a similar playing philosophy, though he was probably more athletic than Brunette.  He is a rare case where his reactive hockey skills (rebounding, positioning, passing) overcome some major limiting factors; just as importantly, he is purposely deployed by his coaches to exploit this fact.  In the last two years, he had some of the highest offensive zone start percentages among forwards in Minnesota, and his relatively low even-strength minutes and high number of PP minutes over his career suggest that coaches have been giving him favourable starting positions for years.  

The previous paragraph speaks to a number of reasons to believe that I was wrong in lauding Brunette's accomplishments to this point.  But I'd argue that there have been few illusions about Brunette's ability; he is a purely offensive, front-of-the-net forward, and a good one at that, and his role is cut from the same cloth as is a defensive forward.  If used properly (say, paired with a two-way center, such as Mikko Koivu), his negative impact as a slow back-checker can be reduced while you can be sure that he will contribute on the offensive end of the ice.  In fact, Holmstrom had been deployed similarly in Detroit; one wonders what the combination of Brunette's durability, a job alongside Zetterberg or Datsyuk, and being surrounded by a team like Detroit would've done for the story of Andrew Brunette's career.

But that didn't happen, and I won't bemoan it like I have Jeff Christian.  "Bruno" has a nice, cozy place in the hearts of Avalanche and Wild fans, and hopefully an article like this preserves his accomplishments a little more.  

For the comments section: I'd be curious to know if you have any similar types of players in your recollections with as low a number of shots.  I've had trouble finding any.  Guys like Esposito took a good number of shots...maybe Tim Kerr?  He took quite a few shots too, but he certainly seemed to use his size around the net often.  Anyone know who he's compared with in VUKOTA?

P.S.  Did I mention he was traded only once (for a 5th rounder) and let go either to an expansion draft or as a UFA four times?

P.P.S.  Did I also mention he has only cost $2.5 million per year over these last three years?  And he was at far less than $2 million per year before that?

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