Tom Timmermann posted a lengthy piece yesterday discussing the future of Kyle Brodziak. The 34 year old forward is a pending-UFA. He was also one of the consistent bright spots on the Blues this season.
The Blues seem to be manufactured of a majority of third and fourth liners, and this is a valid criticism of the team’s underproduction and disappointment this year. However, having a solid fourth line and versatile fourth-line players able to step up in less than ideal circumstances is not a bad thing. Calling Brodziak a solid fourth-liner isn’t a criticism, it’s praise. The center stepped up post-Stastny, playing on the upper lines when needed. He won 52.1% of his face offs. He finished the year with ten goals and 22 assists, good for seventh on the team in scoring and eighth in goals.
As Timmermann noted, and as Brodziak recognized, age is working against him. At 34, he’s considered an older player, which makes long-term deals difficult. At $950K a season, he’s affordable and a raise and a short-term signing is doable for the Blues. The question is if the Blues are willing to do that. Timmermann mentions that there may be a youth movement coming to the team, which is exciting - but a youth movement on the fourth line probably isn’t what the team needs. There were two consistent lines on the team this year: Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko and Upshall-Brodziak-Thorburn et al. In terms of shutting other teams down, the fourth line serves a vital role that really doesn’t leave room for a learning curve when they’re tasked with facing off against other teams’ top lines.
Brodziak also proved more adept at scoring than did a majority of the Blues’ younger players this year.
If the team wants to contend again next year, they need a solid defense, and the fourth line is part of that. The problems on this team don’t lie with the bottom and top lines, they lie with the players in-between those. A learning opportunity shouldn’t exist on a line that has been one of the Blues’ most effective for the past few seasons - and even with switching personnel, there has been one constant there, and that is Brodziak. When he’s been called up a line or two, the fourth line wasn’t as functional.
A successful hockey club requires skill and balance across all four lines. The Blues don’t need to take a step back this off-season on one of those lines; they need to fix what lies between.