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Year in Review: Josh Brown

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The hulking defenceman didn’t live up to expectations.

NHL: APR 26 Canucks at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back to the fourth instalment of our Year in Review series in which we look back at year that was for each of the key members of last year’s team that we expect to be with the club next season. Last week nkb dug into Connor Brown’s campaign, and we’re sticking with the Browns again this week for our feature on Josh Brown.

By the Numbers:

When he was acquired from the Florida Panthers on October 5th, 2020, Brown was not advertised as a statistical darling and this past season yielded more of the same in that respect. The London, Ontario native notched just one assist in 26 games, and it’s the latter part of that sentence that may be most indicative of Brown’s season in Ottawa, but more on that later. He was also a frequent visitor to the penalty box, tallying 30 PIM for the season.

Upon his arrival, Brown was lauded as a big, physical defender that would thrive in DJ Smith’s system, wherein boxing out the net front is an integral component. While there were times that Brown was a fit in that regard, it was somewhat hit-or-miss. Thanks to HockeyViz.com, we have a great look at Brown’s isolated impact on both ends of the ice.

Brown surrendered a fair amount of chances from the right side, which is a tad concerning given that’s the side he usually plays. Still, it wasn’t all bad, and Brown was effective in locking down the netfront at least half of the time. He also finished fifth on the team in blocked shots with 49, while playing only 26 games, so despite being something of an offensive black hole, Brown does bring something to the table defensively.

Brown’s advanced metrics are a bit tougher to read, given the disparity between his offensive and defensive performances; the Sens had a hard time generating offence when he was on the ice but they were sturdier defensively. His style probably goes some way in explaining why his Corsi share sat at a relatively meagre 42.14% (his xGF share was a slightly better 46.29%) given that Brown is the epitome of a low-event player. He doesn’t generate chances offensively, but also doesn’t get caved in while defending his own net.

Story of the Season:

We‘ve already alluded to the fact that Brown’s games played total was a disappointment as compared to years past. Despite playing 56 games with the Panthers in 2019-2020, Brown failed to consistently crack an Ottawa blue line that was starved for depth — particularly on the right side. He did get an extended look near the end of the season, after the trade of Erik Gudbranson to the Nashville Predators, but that was perhaps more a product of Smith’s apparent unwillingness to dress rookie Jacob Bernard-Docker for full-time NHL duty. Hardly a ringing endorsement from the coach.

It might have come as a surprise to many a Sens fan, and it certainly did to this writer, that Brown didn’t find himself a constant fixture on the Ottawa blue line. Having played for Smith in junior, and being a big body that the Senators have shown an affinity for in their current system, it seemed a safe bet that he’d dress for at least the majority of the season and might even get some time next to Thomas Chabot (though it is worth noting he slotted in next to Chabot for a few games at the end of the year).

For a player that came with the billing of bringing relief to the Senators’ bare cupboard on the right side of the blue line, it was indisputably a disappointing year for Brown.

Future Outlook:

The 2021-2022 campaign looks to be something of a crossroads for Brown: the simple fact is that while he likely should have been playing ahead of Gudbranson last season, he was outperformed by Nikita Zaitsev and Artem Zub, both of whom figure to combine for Ottawa’s top two right-handers again next season. This leaves one open space on the Senators blue line, and it’s a spot that both Brown and Bernard-Docker will be gunning for.

Who earns it is anyone’s guess. Brown may very well have an advantage over the rookie, given his experience and years of playing for Smith. That said, the Senators are looking to take a step forward next season and if Bernard-Docker can make good on his highly-touted two-way potential, he may bump Brown back into the press box for another year.

It’s also a contract year for Brown, who will be a UFA at season’s end, and he’ll need to impress to firm up his future with the organization. Even aside from Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson is also on the way, to say nothing of the Senators’ wealth of college defence prospects, and any others that they may pick up in this years draft.

Brown’s first year in Ottawa would probably be considered by most to have been something of a failure. There’s a decent chance that he’ll get the opportunity to prove himself once again; the pressure will be on to deliver.