HiR:tb Toots (@warwalker)

Who the F%#% is Tim Brent?

Questions Will Become Answers: Tim Brent Edition

Questions Will Become Answers: Tim Brent Edition ('shop lifted from a comment by loserdomi on PPP)

Who the fuck is Tim Brent?  It’s a question that has circulated in the Barilkosphere – sometimes semi-seriously, mostly in jest – since some time after he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization as a free agent on July 6, 2009.

Now, there’s “Ilya Kovalchuk free agency”, and then there’s “Tim Brent free agency.”  This past summer’s production of Waiting for Kovalchuk, for example, featured (in the pre-circumvention ruling days, anyway) daily updates from multiple media sources about the complete absence of any development relating to Kovalchuk’s status.  To give you an idea of the level of media interest in Burke’s signing of Tim Brent, a Google News archive search shows that the Toronto Star has exactly one reference to Brent’s career with the Maple Leafs in 2009;  it’s an almost parenthetical reference to the fact that Brent had signed a one-year deal with the Leafs, wedged into the body of an article that is 100% about something else – the signing of Francois Beauchemin.

The Barilkosphere’s own beloved meeting place, Pension Plan Puppets, had (on the front page*) but an offhand reference to the acquisition of Tim Brent:  again, an almost throwaway mention of Brent’s contract in a larger piece devoted to the signing of Rickard Wallin, for goodness sake.   Keep in mind that PPP is a site frequented almost exclusively by highly motivated Leaf fans;  the kind of place that generated weeks of discussion and heated debate over the signing of Brett Lebda this summer.  On the day AFTER Lebda signed, PPP Princess Karina was moved to put up a post reassuring PPP users that the apocalypse had not occurred and seeking to heal rifts of geologic size that seemed to be developing among the faithful on this most contentious issue.  It generated 310 comments.

There is a reason for the differential level of interest of course;  Ilya Kovalchuk had 338 goals in 621 NHL games when his marriage with the Devils was finally given the Blessing of Gary this past September.  Tim Brent, by contrast, had exactly one goal in 18 games (over 3 separate seasons) with Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Chicago.

Brent played with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL last season – when he was playing.  He tore a pectoral muscle taking a faceoff in the preseason, missed four months (though he was scheduled to miss six) then notched 13 goals and 15 assists in the 33 games he played.  As a reward for his dedicated efforts with the Leafs’ minor league affiliate, Brent was called up to the bigs for the final game of the 2010 NHL season, played against the Canadiens in Montreal.  He logged a little more than 13 minutes of ice time for the Leafs that night, was even on the plus/minus side, and counted three shots on goal.

By that point – April 2010 – the meme was well established among Barilkosphere regulars:  “Who the fuck is Tim Brent?” had become the stock comedic response whenever his name was mentioned.  As far as I can tell, it all began with the Puck Prospectus preseason forecast about the 2009-2010 Leafs’ likely finishing position.  The article projected the Leafs to finish 29th.  Still evidently in complete denial as to the abject crapitude that was Vesa Toskala, many of us – myself included – mocked the forecast (which, it must be acknowledged, turned out to be correct) and derided the methods used to reach the conclusion.  Chemmy pointed out – fairly, I might add – that the author of that forecast seemed to assume that Tim Brent would be playing for the Leafs last season**.  Anyone who had been following the Leafs through the preseason last year knew that this wasn’t going to be the case, and thus, in relation to the Puck Prospectus projection, the question was rightly asked: “Who the fuck is Tim Brent?”  The question was also answered:

I’ll answer that question for you since I’m a Leafs blogger: Tim Brent is not someone who will be playing for Toronto on opening night and never was.  (Chemmy)

A meme was born.  Who the fuck is Tim Brent?

Much to the amusement of the PPP faithful, for example, there was a game in early March against the Flyers where John Mitchell and Fredrik Sjostrom had been injured, leading to the call-up of Brent and Jay Rosehill from the Marlies.  At last, it appeared that the question would be answered.  In the end,  though, John Mitchell was healthy enough to play, leaving only one spot for the Marlies call-ups.  The spot in the lineup went to Rosehill.  There is very little reference on the web to this turn of events, which must have been a monumental disappointment for Brent;  all I could find after a few minutes’ digging was PPP user LeafBoy’s comment that “Brent didn’t get called up after all.”  The mystery lived on.  Who the fuck is Tim Brent?

By the time this past summer rolled around, Brent’s 13 minutes of ice time in Montreal looked for all the world like they would be the sum total of his Leafs career.  When he re-signed with the Leafs on July 5,  2010, his hometown newspaper noticed.  Elsewhere, the news spread considerably less rapidly; aside from a mention by PPP Princess SkinnyFish in the comments to another post, with a link to the Capgeek.com tweet about the contract, both of which came two days later, Brent’s re-up with the Leafs seems to have gone almost entirely unnoticed.   After all, who the fuck is Tim Brent?

When September rolled around, as camp progressed, the narrative from the MSM was all about Nazem Kadri.  Anxious to sell newspapers or generate pagehits, many MSM columnists were only too happy to generate a controversy about whether Kadri – at 19 years of age, with one regular season game and a few days of his second NHL training camp under his belt – should be seen as a complete bust as a prospect.  When the dust cleared, and the opening night lineups were announced, Tim Brent – who the fuck is Tim Brent? – was the starting 3rd line centre for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Well, on opening night against the Montreal Canadiens, Tim Brent scored the first goal of the Toronto Maple Leafs 2010-2011 season.  This past Saturday night, he scored again, this time unassisted, in the course of a 5-1 romp over the Senators.    Two goals in two games, and a whole new set of jokes are of course de rigeur for Leafs fans:  “Tim Brent is on pace for an 82 goal season/will win the Rocket Richard trophy in a walk, etc.”  Along the way, the meme has – as is the way of these things on the Interwebs – gone meta and is now a joke that refers to itself.  Continuing the fiction, the Memefather himself – Chemmy – wrote:

I had never heard of Tim Brent before Thursday but I think in time I could come to remember his name. Tim Brent is a legend. Tim Brent is handsome. Tim Brent is a Toronto Maple Leaf.

Commenters on the post picked up on this, and have been referring to Brent as The Legend ever since.  It’s all been in good fun, and it’s stuff  like this that keeps me coming back to the PPP community;  a creative group of folks who are as passionate as I am about my team.  Before anyone gets their tongue clucking at Leafs fans planning a parade (damn, that one NEVER gets old) or anointing Brent as the NHL superstar of the next decade on the basis of the past two games, let’s have a bit of a reality check.  The feigned complete ignorance of Tim Brent really was feigned;  similarly, no one truly believes that Tim Brent will be challenging Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin for the NHL limelight.

But if any of you doubt the reality of Tim Brent’s prodigious powers, consider the evidence of the following miracle that Tim Brent has performed:  Tim Brent caused a former Habs fan to face up to the enormity of his prior crimes against humanity, and to become one of us.

Here is how I know that this happened.  One of my fishing buddies knows Tim Brent.  My friend – let’s call him “Dewey” (not his real name) – has some peripheral involvement in the professional hockey world because of the industry in which he works.  Dewey is from Preston, a small community that has been subsumed in the larger city of Cambridge.  Dewey has known Tim Brent for about twenty years.  Dewey used to be a Habs fan.

“Used to be a Habs fan”;  bit of an understatement, that.  Again, because of the industry he works in, Dewey runs across a lot of sports memorabilia and collectibles.  His basement was full of the stuff, much of it Habs-themed.  I have a very distinct memory of a particular hat that he wore quite a bit when we were fishing, with the accursed CH logo.  We traded jibes back and forth, in the way that fans do.   Then, a few years ago, something happened to make Dewey reject the Habs.  I can’t remember what the exact incident was; maybe he just stopped drinking and sobered up.

Last summer (July 16th, 2009, to be precise) I got an email from him that read as follows:

I’ve known Tim and his family since he was a little kid…He is a great kid, character guy.  He isn’t tiny but has never been able to bulk up, so injuries have been a problem.  I think he could easily catch on as 3rd or 4th line center somewhere, but he hasn’t been in the right place at the right time yet.  He told me last summer that he wanted to try and fulfill his NHL dream for one more season but the $$ he was being offered from Russia would lead him there this season if that NHL thing didn’t work out.  I was suprised to hear he has signed with the Leafs and his dad will be thrilled.  It will make cheering for the Leafs easy if he can make the team.

It’s the second last sentence that catches my attention when I re-read this email now.  I think what it says – what it means – is that Tim Brent was being offered a lot more money to play in Russia in the summer of 2009, but that he chose to pursue his NHL dream for one more year.  It means that in April of 2010, after enduring a season either on the shelf with an injury or once again toiling away in the minors for (relatively) little money, when Tim Brent got that thirteen minutes of big league ice time, it left enough of a taste in his mouth to continue to want to succeed in the world’s most important pro league.  It left him wanting to succeed as a Maple Leaf.

Dewey wrote me again October 1st of this year.  Stories were rampant in the press that the Leafs would be starting the year with the the 26-year old Brent as their 3rd line centre.  Dewey said he was not ready yet to commit to it 100%, but that he was “on the verge of becoming a Leafs fan.”

I wrote back with some words of encouragement for him – some tips on how to be a Leafs fan:

  1. Try not to mention the Stanley Cup.  Ever.  It makes people pouty around here;
  2. Try not to mention Kerry Fraser, or Game 6 of the Western Conference finals in 1993.  Ever.  It makes people pouty around here;
  3. If you find yourself crying for days on end, that probably means it’s April.  Don’t worry, the playoffs will be over soon.  So long as your definition of “soon” includes “two months”;
  4. Dare to hope.  Hope to dare.  Never speak aloud of good things that you believe possibly maybe someday in a vague dinosaurish way  might happen, lest you irreversibly jinx them; and

I also sent Dewey a copy of The Maple Leafs Song.  He wrote back and chastised me for not finding a rhyme for “Tim Brent.” In due time, Tim Brent made the team.

After opening night, Dewey wrote me again, indicating that his record as a “Leaf fan” was now 1-0;  he asked me what mine was.  I drank heavily and wrote a mostly tersely worded response, inquiring whether the transformation was official.  Dewey wrote me back:

Although I have yet to sign anything, I am prepared to.  I wasn’t sure until last night because I grew up as a Canadiens fan, but I had absolutely no mixed feelings about cheering for the Leafs for the first time against my “old” team.  I missed the first period because of a family birthday thing.  My phone began to ring right after Tim scored. First [name omitted] then [name omitted]. Weird…Leaf fans calling me.  Once I tuned in I found myself analyzing the game with comments to [name of significant other omitted] (who couldn’t give a flying #$%@*) such as, “I know it’s only the first game of the season but they look so much more confident in front of Giggy than they ever did in front of Testicular” (SP?).

Also watching someone who I have known for 20 years opening the season playing with HIS team, his DADS team and both of his GRANDAD”S team was pretty special.  He will never be a star, but I hope he is finally in the right spot at the right time.  This is a good kid who is well grounded, well mannered and has a good work ethic.  I see plenty of AAA primadonna hockey players whose parents are living through their future superstar and Tim and his family were none of that.  He is definitely the kinda person you want to see suceed.  The first time I saw him this summer I asked him how it felt to play the last game of the year with the Leafs and he talked more about how much it meant to his dad.  He was kind of in contract limbo at that point and was so happy the next time he stopped in because it was going to be announced the next day that he had resigned.

AND…….. he loves to fish!!

You can guess which portions of that email caught my attention:  first, that being a Leafs fan seems to very much run in Tim Brent’s family, and second that when he was asked about that first game – the 13 minutes of ice time in one game at the end of a difficult season – “he talked more about how much it meant to his dad.”

Is it a little dusty in the room where you’re reading this?  ‘Cause it is in the room where I’m writing it, I can tell you that.

So that’s who the fuck Tim Brent really is.  A guy whose determination to succeed turned a Habs fan into a Son of Smythe.

We talk a lot at Pension Plan Puppets about advanced statistics.  We talk about things that we can measure, things that we can prove with evidence.  Any conversation about the relative merits of this player over that one that drifts toward a discussion of “intangibles”, things like “character”, or “leadership in the dressing room” and so on, is likely to provoke a bit of a heated response from someone because we the fans have few facts upon which to judge our heroes in this regard.  No doubt some players are simply more committed to being a professional and winning hockey games than others, but it is generally impossible for us as outsiders to express an informed opinion on such things, and information about the relationships between the players and their real personalities is tightly controlled and unlikely to emerge in the carefully scripted and cliched sound bites that we get from them during intermission interviews on Hockey Night in Canada.

Sometimes though, in the process of trying to ensure we aren’t justifying our opinions by reference to “intangibles”, we forget that character matters.   Brian Burke has mentioned many times – most recently in his discussions with Paul Hunter of the Star – that he looks for players with good character.  Dave Poulin has also observed that this is a big part of Burke’s process (see Vinay Menon’s September 21 article in the Star for Poulin’s quote).    Talent is important.  As Leafs fans, we know all too well that bad players give you bad teams.  But character does matter;  anyone who has played hockey will tell you that when a team comes together, when the players on the bench are prepared to skate through a wall for one another, that’s when the magic happens;  that’s when a team performs above its talent level;  in a league where there’s any kind of competitive parity, that’s where a team wins championships.  The character of the individual players is the single most important factor in that bonding process.

In Kevin McGran’s article in The Star the other day, he quoted a retired scout by the name of Jack Ferguson:

He’s probably got more character than ability,” Ferguson says. “In this day and age, character is almost as important as playing ability.”

Ferguson happens to be the guy who urged the St. Mike’s Majors to draft Brent some years ago.  Reading McGran’s article, it’s clear that Ferguson thinks Brent has something by way of determination or desire that many other players do not.

None of the above is meant to suggest that Tim Brent is an untalented clod who was able to tip the puck in net past Carey Price because he respects his family, loves the Maple Leafs and is an all-around-good-guy who would very much like to score a goal.   Clearly, it takes talent to play in the NHL.  Tim Brent is proficient at playing hockey.

Nevertheless, in order to score goals in the NHL, you have to make it on to the ice, and it would seem that the answer to the question, “Who the fuck is Tim Brent?” goes a long way to explaining how Tim Brent found himself being given the opportunity to do so this past Thursday evening while wearing #37 for the Blue and White.


*There was also a fanshot linking users to an article announcing the signing.

**To be fair to the Iain Fyffe, the author of the article, there is also a passage in the forecast that doubts Brent’s inclusion on the team, based on Burke’s proclivity for players exhibiting pugnacity, belligerence, testosterone and truculence.

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