Fabian Brunnstrom got what he wanted today, agreeing with the Dallas Stars on a one-year, one-way deal worth $675,000 just before the two sides were scheduled for a salary arbitration hearing in Toronto.
Sure, Brunnstrom will make less than his base salary of $787,500 of last season. He’ll make less than the $826,875 that the Stars put on the table with a qualifying offer. But those were both two-way deals that paid him substantially less at the AHL level. Today’s contract is one-way, which pays him the same whether he’s in the NHL or AHL. This was about a one-way deal for Brunnstrom, and he got that. As for the Stars, they got him at a very reasonable cost.
The two sides reaching a deal just before this morning’s hearing is a positive as well. Arbitration hearings can be a nasty business and leave some hard feelings.
But that’s all behind them and now it’s time for both sides to move forward. The Stars can start working on their other restricted free agents – James Neal, Nicklas Grossman and Matt Niskanen. And Brunnstrom can start looking forward to next season.
Looking back, it’s funny how the perception of Brunnstrom has changed in the past couple years. He was all the rage when the Stars won the race for his services in the spring of 2008. He had some ups and downs in his rookie season, but he did pot 17 goals in 55 games and seemed ready to take a step forward. He didn't and the luster is gone. That’s the way things go when players struggle. It doesn’t help when a team misses the playoffs two straight years.
Brunnstrom’s a talented player with some very good offensive skills. He's shown flashes that he can play and produce at the NHL level, but doing it consistently has been another matter. It can take time. Whether time will help Brunnstrom get there is in the to be determined category.
Opportunity is another factor. Part of Brunnstrom’s problem last season was finding a spot where he could be a productive player. He’s not going to do that toiling away on a lower line with limited minutes. He’s a guy who is going to be better off in a top six position. It’s about opportunity. He had a few chances to seize an an opportunity last year, and didn’t. Others, Jamie Benn for example, did.
Brunnstrom struggled to adjust to coach Marc Crawford’s push the pace approach. There were injuries issues as well. It all added up to a dismal season, and the opportunity to follow up on a promising rookie campaign was lost.
A guy who did seize an opportunity and is worth noting is Ville Leino. He’s the Finnish player the Red Wings signed after they lost out on Brunnstrom sweepstakes back in the spring of 2008. He eventually got shipped to Philadelphia, and got a big opportunity in last season’s playoffs when a couple of the Flyers’ big forwards went out with injuries. Leino played well and produced. But that was just a short stretch in the playoffs and this coming season will tell more about Leino. Still, he got an opportunity, made the most of it and gave himself a more prominent spot on the radar.
As for Brunnstrom, his prominence on the radar has diminished. Look at the Stars’ group of forwards and it’s still hard to see where he might fit. When the Stars put out a release on Brunnstrom’s deal today, GM Joe Nieuwendyk had this to say: “We’re pleased that we were able to come to an agreement with Fabian. We are looking forward to having him come to training camp in September and battle for a spot on our roster.”
Depending what happens the rest of the summer, a roster spot isn’t a lock for Brunnstrom. Friday’s settlement gives the Stars 13 forwards under contract. Neal would be 14 and there’s still the possibility that Jere Lehtinen could return. You do the math. There’s not room for all of them. But there’s still a long way to go between now and opening night in early October. A lot can change. And opportunity could knock again for Brunnstrom.
Late last month, Nieuwendyk indicated there could be one for Brunnstrom with some of the changes that have already been made this season.
"With Mike (Modano) not being there now, Fabian could be an important part going forward,” Nieuwendyk said. “He is a guy that at the end of the day has skill and size. I know he didn't show it last year, but I suspect - and he said it to me - 'I'm going to come in here and show people.' He said in the meeting I had with him at the end of the year, 'Joe, I learned a lot this year.' I thought that was quite amazing from a guy who had a tough year. To have his skill around with Mike going out is not a bad thing."
Time will tell if Brunnstrom can turn something that’s “not a bad thing” into a good thing for the Stars and himself.