T.J. Brennan, Rockford’s leading scorer, dealt to Toronto
Jan 16, 2015 photo courtesy of Rockford IceHogs
By Chris Block
Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Blackhawks traded away defenseman, and Rockford IceHogs’ current leading scorer, T.J. Brennan to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for minor league right winger, Spencer Abbott.
Abbott, 26, is 5’9” right-shooting winger in his third pro season now. He spent four years at the University of Maine (2008-2012) where he posted 54 goals and 146 points in 152 career NCAA games with the Black Bears.
Brennan was a member of Toronto’s organization last season. He and Abbott ranked 1-2 in Toronto Marlies scoring during the 2013-14 regular season.
Last year with Toronto, Abbott set career marks in goals (17), assists (52) and points (69) with the Marlies, the Maple Leafs in-town American Hockey League affiliate. This season, Abbott has 7 goals and 17 assists in 46 games. His shooting percentage has dropped to 7.6% from 12.0% last regular season.
There are two keys to this move from a Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs’ dual perspective.
First, Abbott is a quality forward who performed well for the Marlies last year in their playoff run. Abbott posted 4 goals and 11 points in 11 AHL playoff games last spring. The IceHogs have struggled to score all season long and Abbott should give them a boost somewhat.
Secondly, in the next week or so, Rockford will have more defensemen than they’ll be able to play in any given game. Brennan’s exit clears a spot for that.
Keep in mind, the plan is for Vermont senior defenseman Michael Paliotta to turn pro and sign with the Blackhawks when his collegiate season ends. Paliotta will then sign an amateur try-out contract with Rockford for the remainder of this season and playoffs. The Blackhawks will want him playing as much as possible, so they have that in mind when making today’s trade.
Also, this deal would seem to signal the Blackhawks are priming to add a player to their Chicago blue line via trade ahead of Monday’s trade deadline.
If they do, and it’s likely even should they not, expect Tim Erixon to be exposed to the waiver process for the purpose of sending him to Rockford should none of the other 29 teams bite.
Kyle Cumiskey is also another defenseman who could wind up back in Rockford soon depending on how the trade market shakes out.
Trevor van Riemsdyk was sent to Rockford on Tuesday night for a conditioning assignment that’s undetermined in length at this point. If all goes well he should end up back in Chicago with either, or both, Erixon and Cumiskey winding up in Rockford.
The Blackhawks never had any plans for Brennan, despite the soon to be 26-year old leading their AHL affiliate in scoring from the blue line.
Brennan left the Toronto organization after last season and signed a one-way $600,000 contract with the New York Islanders, meaning Brennan would be paid that full amount no matter if he played in the NHL or the minors.
Just before the season began, when the Isles took advantage of the Blackhawks’ cap situation and brokered a deal to acquire Nick Leddy, Islanders’ GM Garth Snow had no spot for Brennan on his NHL roster. In finalizing the deal, Snow got Stan Bowman to take Brennan off the Isles’ hands since he’d be a $600,000 player on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers roster. For the Blackhawks, the key to that deal was Ville Pokka, a defenseman who has acquitted himself quite well so far as a rookie in Rockford. Bowman also acquired goaltender Anders Nilsson, who is playing for Kazan in the KHL this year and reportedly will return to the Swedish Hockey League next season.
Brennan had an outstanding start to this season but his game had tailed off in recent months.
In his last 17 games as an IceHog, Brennan posted 1 goal and 6 assists. That lone goal was a power play tally in Rockford’s last game, a 3-2 win at Lake Erie on Saturday.
Of late Brennan’s presence in 5-on-5 situations had been de-emphasized as well. After Stephen Johns’ return, the IceHogs were primarily skating Klas Dahlbeck and Johns as its top pair. Brennan was still used on the top power play but he was slotted with a rotating six defenseman as he’d played mostly with Zach Miskovic and Kirill Gotovets of late.
Still, Brennan’s loss will sting Rockford at least temporarily.
Brennan played in all 54 games for Rockford to this point. He’d been on the ice for 47.42 percent off all IceHogs’ even strength (non empty-net situations) goals scored for, and 39.3% of the even strength goals Rockford has surrendered.
Abbott will report directly to the IceHogs and could be in the lineup tomorrow when Rockford faces off with the Texas Stars.
TRADE RUMOR OUT OF SWEDEN
There was a rumor floated via a reporter in Sweden earlier today.
Uffe Bodin reported that both Klas Dahlbeck and Dennis Rasmussen were held out of Rockford IceHogs practice “today” and speculated that it was done because one or both could potentially be involved in an impending trade.
Here’s what I can add to that.
First, the IceHogs did not practice on Thursday. They traveled early to O’Hare airport to catch a flight to Austin, Texas where the team is set to play a back-to-back tomorrow and Saturday against the Texas Stars in Cedar Park, Texas. The was no on-ice activity planned for the IceHogs today.
Several players were held out of Wednesday’s IceHogs practice, per a team source. I wasn’t able to get a list, as I’m not based in Rockford nor do I attend practices normally.
However, I was told that several players were given “maintenance days” and it was more than two players. We were able to confirm Dahlbeck and Rasmussen traveled with the IceHogs to Texas today.
If we’re speculating, it would make some sense that Dahlbeck’s name is turning up in trade discussions. He’s the longest-tenured current Rockford IceHog and he’s an impending RFA. Dahlbeck would be waiver-eligible next year so the Blackhawks might feel they have to make a decision on him now. Or they already have and are trying to use Dahlbeck as an asset to acquire an NHL talent before Monday.
Rasmussen signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks last summer and will also be a restricted free agent this summer.