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2020-21 Player Review: Justin Braun was out of necessity

A surprise retirement forced Braun to return and be the old guy on the blue line.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The moment Matt Niskanen retired, the stop-gap solution was quickly taken, gobbled up like a last piece of ham and stuffed down your hole, and that ham was Justin Braun. The elder veteran of the blue line that was acquired for a couple draft picks from the San Jose Sharks the summer prior, was on an expiring deal and while it might have made sense just to let him walk, with another established right-handed shot parting ways with the NHL, then it kind of fit that they just brought back this dude that they’re already familiar with.

Signing a two-year deal, Braun was given a little bit of a longer commitment than normal for a 34-year-old blueliner, but they must have just liked his whole thing and vibes, I guess.

But that kind of shrug of a contract suits the type of player Braun is. In the most literal way possible, he an inoffensive, not that mobile, just there type of defenseman that wasn’t really relied on to do anything significant except to be present on the ice and try to not let the other team score as much as possible.

And that much is proven by just how blegh you feel look at what Braun was able to produce and contribute while out there, attempting to not be the worse member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

By The Numbers

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM SOG Sh%
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM SOG Sh%
53 1 5 6 18 59 1.7

This whole season was certainly an uncomfortable position. Let alone an entire pandemic going around and not playing in front of any fans for the first little bit, the make-up of the Flyers lineup was kind of a wishy-washy jumble of players and that was most evident on their blue line. And even if Braun isn’t known for his offensive ability — scraping by under a point every four games during his entire NHL career — it’s still a little disheartening to see him earn a single-digit point total for the first time since his 2012-13 season.

He’s not even getting penalty minutes or shots off, he’s really just there, hanging out. Honestly, that sounds great.

5v5 On-Ice Stats

CF% CF% Rel. GF% xGF% PDO
CF% CF% Rel. GF% xGF% PDO
51.33 -1.21 47.76 50.01 99.6

Again, Braun is just trying to turn out to be a neutral player while on the ice. Nudging the line in the Flyers’ advantage, the elderly blueliner is able to keep the chance his team’s way, but was just unable to keep the puck out of the net completely. It’s not like there were crazy percentages working their mystical magic either — keeping a solid 99.6 PDO, not letting save percentages or shooting percentages inflict their influence on the goals share at even-strength.

Considering that his main partner was Ivan Provorov and he was gifted the top-six forward group to share the ice with, he might have overall been a lot worse if he had to deal with worse teammates. We’ll never really know, but if he just broke even on the majority of underlying numbers with that group, then maybe he’s just the anchor (in a bad way).

5v5 Individual Stats

Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shots/60 ixG/60
Points/60 Primary Points/60 Shots/60 ixG/60
0.43 0.14 3.89 0.12

I might be getting too repetitive here, but do you really expect any level of detail when it comes to reviewing Justin Brauns 2020-21 season? The man was just a big non-factor really. A presence that was seldom noticed and seldom complained about. A guy.

Anyways, he didn’t do much by himself either.

Three Questions

Did they live up to our expectations?

Did anyone have expectations for Braun? He was thrust into a bigger role than expected once Niskanen left, forcing him to play more minutes than anyone truly would have accounted for before the season began. He was seen as a bottom-pairing guy that might not have even been on this team to begin with.

In that sense, that the Flyers were still somewhat competitive early on while giving Braun an upgrade in usage, then it certainly is impressive contextually.

What do we/can we expect next season?

With the extensive overhaul of the Flyers’ blue line, he might just finally get those bottom-pairing minutes that we all kind of want to see. If someone that doesn’t get shelled but doesn’t give anything offensively — the hockey black hole — is your sixth defenseman, then you’re cooking.

Ristolainen and Ellis are destined to be ahead of him on the right side, and maybe even some rookies like York and Zamula will get some more ice-time over his aging body. If he just isn’t completely garbage, that should be alright with me.

How would you grade their 2020-21 season?

It’s incredibly difficult. On one hand it’s not his fault for being given that much of a role on a team that the bottom just fell completely out on. And on the other, he also didn’t help in any way from preventing that, really. Just a big wash of a season that just makes you shrug and kind of forget that he was even in Philadelphia in a few years.

I’ll give him a C+.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Capfriendly.