Saying it’s been a long road for T.J. Brennan is a bit of an understatement. The Moorestown, New Jersey native packed his bags in 2006 to play for the now defunct St. John’s Fog Devils of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Drafted in 2007 by the Buffalo Sabres, Brennan took his lumps in the AHL for the better part of two seasons with the Portland Pirates before he was being called up on and off to the NHL ranks.
A trade to the Florida Panthers would help get more call-ups for the defenseman. And, he was able to make quite the impression on the back end with nine points in 19 games for the Cats. And still, Brennan would ultimately be traded to the Nashville Predators. The Preds never signed him to a contract, letting him walk as a free agent on July 1, 2013.
Brennan would go on to spend the following season with the Toronto Marlies where he had his best AHL season to date. He was named to the AHL All-Star game (again). And, won the Eddie Shore Award—an award celebrating the best defenseman in the AHL.
After signing a one-year deal with the New York Islanders, Brennan was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. He still never got the chance to play for the big club. Instead, Brennan was relegated to the Rockford IceHogs for most of the season before, yet again, being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite the poor showing by the Maple Leafs in 2014-15 and 2015-16, Brennan still didn’t receive the call.
This offseason, he signed a two-year contract with his hometown Philadelphia Flyers. But, Ron Hextall and company felt it would be best for the puck-moving defenseman to start in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Phantoms is where Brennan has spent the entire 2016-17 campaign, and currently has 25 goals along with 68 points on the year. He was named to the AHL All-Star game again—his fourth consecutive appearance—and watched as the Flyers went on a 10-game winning streak at the beginning of the year.
Be that as it may, the Flyers have been anything but what their early-season success indicated. They boast the league’s worst record since the All-Star break. While goaltending and offensive production have been questioned throughout the campaign, their defense has also been suspect.
Last year’s top rookie defenseman, Shayne Gostisbehere, was in a bit of a slump this year. Thus, scratched for a handful of games. Ivan Provorov has shown promise on the back end, but has had his struggles on a nightly basis acclimating to the NHL. On most nights, Andrew MacDonald hasn’t been anything close to what he’s getting paid to be. And on any given night, Flyers fans aren’t exactly sure which defense they will be getting. More often than not it’s the one that rarely shows up.
It begs the question: why hasn’t a steady, point-producing AHL All-Star defenseman like TJ Brennan been called up yet? With the Flyers all but mathematically out of playoff contention, some of the young guns from the Phantoms may be called up for the last few games of the season. This, of course, despite the Phantoms being on a tear. Despite challenging for a top spot in the AHL.
Maybe history will repeat itself. Maybe T.J. Brennan will stick the season out in the minors and potentially win a Calder Cup with Lehigh Valley. Perhaps he gets a chance for a few games with the Flyers. In all honesty, Brennan’s best bet for a call-up will be because of a few things:
- Strong showing at training camp.
- Las Vegas selects a few Flyers blue-liners in the expansion draft.
- Injuries to the mainstays on the back end throughout next season.
In my heart of hearts, I think it’s time T.J. Brennan is given a serious look. He deserves a shot at the NHL for a prolonged period of time.