Regina, Sask. – On July 13, the NHL’s opening of free agency, Regina Pats alumnus Adam Brooks inked a two-year, two-way contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, with an average annual NHL salary of $762,000, while also paying him an AHL salary of $450,000, where he will become the highest-paid AHL player if he can not break camp with the Flyers.
The deal comes following an interesting 2021-22 season where the 26-year-old centre went on waivers four different times, playing in just 25 NHL games split between the Montreal Canadiens, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets, scoring two goals and one assist.
“I think it was really important,” Brooks said. “Last year being put on waivers four times, it was just a whole lot of uncertainty. When you’re jumping around that often you’re excited about the opportunities at hand, but you’re meeting a lot of new people, playing in a lot of different systems and living in a lot of different cities. It’s hard to get comfortable in those situations and hard to deal with that stuff sometimes. I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to go to Philadelphia, have a full training camp there and hopefully go down a little early and get comfortable with everybody and see how the year goes. Once you’re in one organization, you get very comfortable and start to learn people’s names, and how systems work. I couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity and getting down there, and getting my feet wet.”
For timeline, Brooks attended training camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs before being placed on waivers by Toronto in mid-October and later claimed by Montreal. The move came as the result of a numbers game for the Leafs, who then lost their 2016 fourth-round pick to the Canadiens. After just four contests with Montreal, Brooks was placed back on waivers in mid-November where he was claimed by Vegas, where he scored two goals with the Golden Knights and played for their AHL affiliate, the Henderson Silver Knights. In mid-February, the Golden Knights placed Brooks on waivers where he was re-claimed by the Leafs. Toronto tried to send down the 5-foot-10, 179 lb. forward from Winnipeg, Man. only to be claimed again on waivers, this time by his hometown Winnipeg Jets where he went on to play 14 games to finish the season.
When it came down to hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career, Brooks prioritized stability after a hectic 2021-22 season. He is still eligible to go on waivers again, but the stability comes with his $450,000 American Hockey League salary.
“I couldn’t be happier with the deal that I got,” Brooks said. “My agent Jason Davidson did a great job. He had his feet on the ground early and was checking in with teams. By the time the decision was ready to be made, three teams had shown a lot of interest. Just the opportunity in Philly, the history of the Flyers and just wanting to go to a city like that and just the deal itself, it all made sense for me to go there. It happened pretty quickly. You’re on the phone most of the day just waiting to hear what’s going to happen. I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”
Although things happened quickly for Brooks on July 13, he made it a priority to call Regina Pats General Manager and Head Coach John Paddock to ask for his thoughts on the deal, as Paddock and Brooks developed a very close relationship from 2014-2017 with the Pats. Paddock, who worked in the Flyers organization from 2008-2014, felt it was a great opportunity for his former star centre.
“He called me just before he was going to sign, or when the negotiations were about done,” Paddock said. “I knew what was coming down the pipe for him, and I was very happy for him. He’s going to a good organization with a lot of good people in it. I think he will get good opportunities in the show — there’s always injuries. It’ll be nice to have some stability, and that doesn’t mean he couldn’t get picked up on waivers again. I think it’s a good fit. I know he’s happy and I think at the end of the day the Flyers will be happy. He’s spent most of his career playing in Canadian cities, so I think he’ll enjoy the Philadelphia organization. I think this will give him a real shot in the arm when he hits the ice in September.”
While Brooks had several different offers on the table, he trusted John’s opinion to take the deal as he said he wasn’t already leaning towards that direction.
“When it came down to making that decision, I knew he knew a lot about that organization and I just wanted to see what his opinion was. He’s someone who means a lot to me in my life and my hockey career and there was no better person to ask. We had a pretty good dialogue about it. I wasn’t already leaning towards that direction. He thought it was a good idea, and I thought it was a good idea as well.”
The relationship between Brooks and Paddock first started during training camp of the 2014-15 season, when the former NHL bench boss took over as the Pats GM and Head Coach, along with new Assistant Coach Dave Struch. Brooks was entering his third season with the Pats, and into a very important 18-year-old year, and had yet to see point production, as well as ice-time. The former Pats 2011 second-round pick was coming off an 11-point (4G-7A) 17-year-old season in 2013-14 and a 12-point (4G-8A) 16-year-old season with the Pats.
He then broke out with 62 points (30G-32A) over 64 games in 2014-15 during Paddock’s first season at the helm.
“Anybody that kinda knows my story and my path through hockey and in junior knows how important John Paddock has been to me,” Brooks explained. “Not only in hockey but in life. I was in a spot that was probably not very good in my life and wasn’t feeling very confident, and didn’t know if I wanted to continue playing the game. John came in and the first day that I met him, he asked me what had gone on because I was a highly touted player, a goal scorer who hadn’t seen the production in junior. He just told me to go do that and from that point on, things changed for me. He believed in me, and led me in the right direction.”
Paddock had reports of Brooks from the newly hired Struch, who had seen Brooks while coaching the Saskatoon Blades before joining the Pats, but also from several of his scouts. Although he said everyone had a fresh page coming into the 2014-15 season, he could see Brooks had some skill and moved around the ice pretty well.
“He was a young player who went very high in the draft [WHL prospects draft], going 25th overall,” Paddock added. “He had lots of talent from what our scouts said. He needed more of an opportunity in a role that he was suited for. It’s a tough league to play in at 16, so when he came in as a 16-year-old, whatever unfolded for him, that’s just the way it unfolded. It’s not easy to play as a 16-year-old, but the next year, and I’m just surmising, but I don’t think he was given the opportunity that he needed with the skill set that he had. Maybe there were reasons for that, but I don’t know. He clearly didn’t have the season he wanted, or didn’t enjoy it. Dave and I came in and we were a fresh start for him and he was a really good player. I’m not a big believer in the word confidence, but he needed some confidence and he needed to know that we trusted him and believed he was a good player, and he started to shine.”
The move for Brooks was career-changing, as he turned his 62-point season in 2014-15 to 120 points (38G-82A) in 2015-16, leading the WHL in assists and points, while being named to the Eastern Division All-Star Team before being selected by the Leafs in the fourth-round in 2016.
“I think it was huge,” Brooks said. “If you look back further than that, you look at the ownership group that came in at that time, and realized that changes needed to be made to have success in that program. Bringing in John and bringing in Dave because they knew they would lead the team in the right direction. Look what those guys did for not only me, but for everyone else. Guys flourished under them. The trades they ended up making to bring in some good solid young guys, and unfortunately moving out some really good 19-year-olds. They were moves that were made to help guys blossom and build for the future. That was something I didn’t see in my first couple years but it was a breath of fresh air for a lot of guys in that organization and for me personally. It changed my life, as I don’t think I’d be playing hockey if it wasn’t for them. I wouldn’t be able to live out my dream of playing in the NHL. I owe not only John and Dave, but that ownership group for everything that they did.”
“John is everything to me, just a great human,” he added. “Overall, hockey aside, he’s just a really good person. When you have a guy like that who cares about his players and has a legit open door policy. You can go in there and talk about anything. He’s someone who actually cares about what you’re doing in school, how your family is, and little things like mental health. It’s very easy to go out and play for him. It was very easy to come to the rink for me starting in year three through year five. When you’re relaxed and playing for a guy like that, you’re able to just go play hockey. That led to a lot of success for me.”
He then topped his impressive 2015-16 season with 130 points (43G-87A) in 2016-17 as a 20-year-old in 66 games as the Pats captain. In the record books, Brooks is third all-time in Pats history in games played (317), sixth in assists (216), and 11th in points (335), while being one of seven players to record consecutive 120+ point seasons in franchise history.
“It means a lot,” Brooks said. “When I was a part of that organization, I really took in the city, as it was a city that I loved. I was fortunate to live with two families there, and I still talk to both of them. Just all the friendships and people I met in the community that I still keep in contact with. To wear that jersey was something I always thought was special. After my first two years, I never thought I’d be close to being in any type of record book. Just to have that and to be able to walk in that rink and be proud knowing that I gave the five years the best effort I could. Things paid off for me. The organization has been around for a long time for a reason and I think since that ownership group came in, it’s one of the best places to play in the league. The program is only going to keep getting better and I hope big things for the future.”
“He wanted to be a hockey player and he basically did everything he could to do that,” Paddock added. “He was always a respectful young man. It was just time for him to blossom and he did. Would it have happened somewhere else, I’m not sure, but I think he would have taken off with another team. We had to put him in spots to be successful in but you don’t have to be a great hockey man to do that. You just have to recognize his talent and his will.”
It wasn’t just an incredible season for Brooks in 2016-17, but for the Pats franchise, as they set the team record for wins (52) while reaching the league final before losing in six games to the Seattle Thunderbirds on home ice. Despite the loss, there was still a lot to be proud of as three players were drafted to NHL clubs (Jake Leschyshyn, Nick Henry and Jordan Hollett), Sam Steel won the WHL Player of the Year, and Paddock was named both the WHL Coach of the Year and WHL Executive of the Year.
“That was probably my favourite year of hockey,” Brooks recalled. “It was just such a special group and from camp you could just see we had a lot of really good pieces in there. You could see how well we got along and the guys we brought in that year really fit into the group and fit into the direction we were trying to go. Sammy [Steel] took a huge step that season. He was a player who came in with a lot of hype and was good as soon as he stepped on the ice. That year, he really came out of his shell and showed the player everyone knew he was going to be. Bringing in Dawson Leedahl was big that year as well, playing with Sammy and Nick Henry.”
“The disappointing part of that season for us was that we felt we had the deepest team in the league and especially at centre-ice with me, Sam and Jake [Leschyshyn],” Brooks said on the Pats 2016-17 playoffs. “Jake goes down with a torn ACL and I tore my MCL and got a concussion in game one of the finals. I think that really hurt us and I’m sure it’s something that everyone around from that year still thinks about and talks about because we felt we had the team to win. It’s hard to live with but that’s part of the game, right. Things don’t always go your way.”
Brooks remembered that one of the more exciting parts of the 2016-17 regular season was the scoring race between himself and teammate Sam Steel who finished with 131 points to Brooks 130.
“It was fun when me and Sam had the scoring race going, it I guess provided some internal competitiveness which was exciting,” he said. “I always laugh, I don’t really know what happened in the final game, but I think at one point, I had brought it to within one point and there was like 10 minutes left in the game and I wanted to get out there. But there were bigger things on the line and I think both me and Sammy got shutdown just so there was no injuries going into playoffs. I wanted to keep pushing [for the scoring race] but if I was going to lose it to anyone, I’d want it to be Sam Steel. He’s just an amazing player, an amazing person and he went on to win Player of the Year, too.”
His incredible play and video game-like numbers with the Pats caught the attention of Leafs fans and media across the nation, as Brooks received the nickname “Prairie Jesus” while with the Pats.
“I don’t know, Leafs fans are pretty intense and they have a lot of love for their hockey team and they keep tabs on everything going on, so after I led the league in scoring and was drafted there, there was a lot of reports,” Brooks said while holding back laughter. “The guys name was Jeff Veillette and he started calling me that. I guess it caught wind a little bit and some of my buddies will still call me that as a joke. It was funny the first time I opened Twitter and saw a bunch in my mentions. I really didn’t know where it came from, and I did some digging and thought it was pretty good.”
He then transitioned his career to the Leafs organization for the 2017-18 season, where he played for their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, winning the Calder Cup in his rookie season. Brooks made his NHL debut on December 28, 2019 against the New York Rangers on home ice. It wasn’t until January 22, 2021 that Brooks scored his first goal in a game against the Edmonton Oilers, with the goal assisted by his mentor Jason Spezza on the power play.
“To have him assist that first goal, being a guy who I looked up to growing up and Joe Thornton is pretty cool,” Brooks said. “Being able to play with those guys and learn from both of them and now being able to call those guys my friends is insane to me considering the age difference and how much I idolized them as a kid. I was very lucky the first time I got called up I got to play with Spezza. In my second year, when I scored my first goal I was playing between Spezza and Jumbo [Joe Thornton]. I got to play on the power play that game. Somebody was hurt and that’s why I got put into that spot.”
Paddock added that he could see the relationship between Spezza and Brooks when he went to watch Brooks play live in Winnipeg.
“Having had a good relationship with Spezza, from what I heard, he treated a lot of players who got called up from the minors with a lot of respect,” Paddock said. “Phil [Andrews] and I had gone to Winnipeg to see Adam play there with the Leafs against the Jets. I talked to him [Brooks] after the game and I talked to Spezza for a minute after the game so I knew there was a connection there. I sorta experienced their relationship already without that goal from him. When I look back, I knew they were playing on the same line, and it was definitely a cool moment for a couple of my favourite players.”
“Spezza is a very special person and a special player, ” Brooks added. “Him and I related a lot kinda being sports and hockey nerds. We clicked right away talking about John and our friendship has grown from there. We keep in contact pretty regularly and he’s just an amazing guy.”
Now the former Pats great looks to cement himself in the NHL with a new deal with the Flyers in which will have him under contract until he is 28-years-old.