Brind'Amour still on top
There have been a ton of surprises this season so far — whether it's how the Ottawa Senators have struggled, or the strong play of Alexander Semin (or Chris Clark, for that matter). The one thing that amazes me more than anything, however, is that Rod Brind'Amour sits second among forwards in ice time per game.
He's 36 years old, coming off the shortest off-season of his career and his first-ever Stanley Cup win. And despite the fact he had a renaissance of sorts last season with 31 goals and 70 points, at this point he's a second-line centre, a defensive guru who wins faceoffs and kills penalties.
Or at least that's what he should be.
In the six year period before 2005-06, Brind'Amour didn't once score 25 goals or 60 points and had, apparently, settled into a supporting role on a not very good Hurricanes team. There were trade rumours and personal turmoil in those non-playoff years, a 12-goal season and an abbreviated trip to Switzerland during the lockout.
I suppose what I mean to say is that, if you had told me two or three years ago that, in November of 2006, Rod Brind'Amour would be sitting third in NHL scoring with 19 points in 15 games, I wouldn't have believed you.
And I almost don't believe it now.
The thing is, Brind'Amour was always one of those secondary players, as even in his "peak," 97-point form he was playing behind a then-dominant Eric Lindros. The move to Carolina, a trade for Keith Primeau in January of 2000, again saw him slip in quietly — this time behind Ron Francis — and post unremarkable totals.
It really wasn't until last fall, with Francis retired and the Carolina team essentially rebuilt around him, that Brind'Amour took on the team's captaincy and had a team that was his.
Which has worked out pretty well, I'd say.
Brind'Amour's averaged 23:19 minutes per game so far this year, territory that's pretty much reserved for younger, multi-purpose players like Brad Richards, Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen. There is but one other forward with a 1970-or-earlier birthdate — Brendan Shanahan — playing 20-plus minutes this season, which is no surprise in a new, faster, power-play based NHL.
Brind'Amour's career numbers put him into decent territory — 66th in all-time games played, 86th in goals, 66th in assists and 71st in points — and at the rate he's still producing he'll catch many of the old-timers in front of him the next few years (I'm looking at you Joe Nieuwendyk and Jeremy Roenick). Given his phenomenal fitness and dedication, it's not hard to imagine him staying in the game another six or seven years and being a sort of Chris Chelios like figure.
Still, despite all his accomplishments, he doesn't have a Joe Sakic/Steve Yzerman aura about him, and his Ray Bourque style Stanley Cup win really didn't tug the hockey world's heart strings the way it probably should have. (Then again, he's got a ways to go before calling it a career.)
I guess the thing I'm wondering is why no one's talking about Brind'Amour this season. As it stands now, he's an early candidate for the Hart Trophy.