Tim Brent's two-year stint as a Carolina Hurricane went in a much different path than many expected. Signed as a free agent in the summer of 2011, it was thought that Brent would help the team's penalty kill and provide some much-needed help in the faceoff circle. He ended up doing neither, spending minimal time on the PK and having the worst faceoff percentage on the team among regular draw-takers. Brent did provide plenty of value last year despite this, though. He gave the Hurricanes plenty of secondary scoring with 12 goals and ended up being a key part of their power play for the second half of the season. It was a nice surprise because getting that kind of offensive output for a fourth liner on a very cheap contract is huge if you're a budget team. This along with Brent's strong hockey sense made him a favorite to some fans, but last year was kind of an aberration for him.
While Brent's versatility was nice to have, his play at even strength was very poor, as the Hurricanes were getting sledgehammered whenever he was on the ice. His strong goal-production was the result of him scoring on 16.9% of the shots he took, which was unlikely to carry over to the next season. Brent not scoring on every 11-12 shots he took wasn't going to be the worst thing in the word since he is a fourth liner, but his play at even strength was going to have to improve drastically for him to be a useful player on Carolina. As a fourth line center, he doesn't have that difficult of a role and his main responsibility is to not get lit up defensively. Since Brent has produced good results on the power play and is a pretty smart player in general, one would think that he should be able to be a decent even strength player in a protected role with decent linemates.
This year, Brent went through a revolving door of wingers on the fourth line and wasn't given that important of a role at even strength, but his performance this year was much stronger than it was in previous seasons. Brent went from being one of the worst territorial players on the team last year to one of the best this season and made the Hurricanes slightly less of a liability at even strength. The only problem was that his offensive production completely dried up, as he scored only one point in 30 games and had no goals on the season. I'm sure many were expecting Brent's numbers to regress this year since his scored at an unsustainable rate last season, but a decline like this wasn't expected.
Brent's season was odd in a lot of ways because while his game improved dramatically in a lot of areas, he did not score at all and one would think that he should have better results next year. At the same time, his underlying numbers went from terrible to fantastic in the span of the year and it will be interesting to see how those hold up in a full season. With Brent being an unrestricted free agent, the Hurricanes are going to have to make a decision on him very soon. Is he good enough to center the fourth line next year or are there better options out there to replace him with? Since Brent's performance with the Hurricanes has been a mixed bag overall, it might be tough to comitt more years to him when they have players from within the organization who can play his role without much of a drop off.
Some team will probably want Brent's services next year, though. After the jump, we will look at what he did in his second year as a Hurricane and how he contributed in ways that didn't show up in the boxscore.
At even strength, Brent's usage was that of your typical fourth liner. He rarely played over 10 minutes a game, was used against other team's fourth lines and was mainly used in sheltered situations. There was one game where he got 15 minutes of even strength ice-time and I'm not sure what the reason for that was, but I'm assuming an injury occurred that game.
Brent was more strategically deployed during special teams play. He played the point on the second power play unit and spent an ample amount of time on the second penalty kill unit, as well. Brent's usage on the PK was kind of scattered because he isn't a very good penalty killer, but the Hurricanes seemed to use him there quite a bit during the early part of the season. They soon switched over to using Eric Staal and Alexander Semin on the PK more often and that brought better results. Brent's a good defensive player, but he has never been a good penalty killer for whatever reason, at least during his tenure with the Canes. This made Brent more of a "power play specialist" than anything else.
5v5 Fenwick Diff/20
5v5 Chance Diff/20
Defensively, there were few better forwards on the Hurricanes than Brent and this is part of the reason why he was such a better territorial player compared to past seasons. That and he was slightly better offensively in terms of creating shots and scoring chances. Unfortunately, this did not result in Brent producing any goals so his improved underlying numbers meant little at the end of the day. Brent's solid defensive play really helped the Canes fourth line be somewhat of a respectable unit this year, but the team also needed secondary scoring and he did little to nothing to contribute in that category. Some of it wasn't his fault because the Canes scored on less than 4% of the shots they took with him on the ice at even strength, but having only three points in 30 games is pretty bad even for a fourth liner.
5v5 Zone Entries
Like the rest of the fourth line (and the bottom-six to an extent), Brent mainly just dumped the puck in whenever he had an opportunity to enter the offensive zone. This partially explains his weak offensive output, but he didn't play much or have that big of a burden in the neutral zone so this didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. There is room for improvement, though.
Season Grade: C
If I was grading based on goals and points alone then Brent would probably get a D or lower, but a player's contributions go beyond that and Brent was solid in almost every other area this year. He was terrific defensively and a very good player at controlling puck possession. Being able to get that from the fourth line is very important and does a lot for the team's depth. Had he scored a little more often, then he would have had a great season but unfortunately things didn't end that way.
The Final Word
While I do like Brent, what he does is very replaceable and the Hurricanes can probably turn to someone like Jeremy Welsh or Riley Nash to replace him without much of a drop off. His numbers likely won't be as bad as they were this year, but it's also doubtful that he'll have another 10+ goal season like he did last year. Brent's territorial performance is also a bit suspect because it's the complete opposite of his career numbers and that could make it tough for the Hurricanes to re-sign him, especially when they have other guys in the system who can do what he does for a lower cost.