Do the Flames Need Grit?

Kent Wilson
July 09 2012 09:35AM

 

 

The title has become a common refrain in some corners of Flames fandom recently. I can see where the perception is coming from - many of the new additions up front aren't of the bump and grind variety (Cervenka, Hudler, Baertschi). Flames don't have a true heavyweight on the 4th line either (though Jackman is game) and the blueline features maybe one guy you would expect to hit the opposition with extreme prejudice - and Sarich may not even play for every game.

So glancing at the roster, it's obvious why so many folks are agitating for some sandpaper. Unfortunately, I doubt this is truly an issue of importance for the club as they are currently constructed, if only because they have far more pressing concerns.

The Quest for Truculence

When Brian Burke took over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he famously growled at reporters that the club needed more "truculence", ie; bigger, tougher players so the team would be "harder to play against". Burke has since added (and, in some cases, deleted) guys like Colton Orr, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, David Steckel, Mike Brown, Colby Armstrong and Luke Schenn.

The focus on toughness didn't make the Leafs any harder to play against when the pertinent measure is winning and losing games - last year they finished13th in the East (despite a red hot start from their big shooters) and were 26th in the league in terms shooting/possession metrics. They're as far from competing as ever and many of the guys the team acquired to beef up the roster are now considered obvious errors to varying degrees (Orr, Komisarek, Armstrong, Schenn).

I wrote about this issue previously in the Asking the Right Questions series. To wit:

One area I think where the focus on player qualities over player outcomes can muddle things is in team building, specifically when it comes to player categorization, ie; "roles" on a club. For example, NHL teams primarily employ bigger, tougher players in their bottom six forward rotation, especially when it comes to the the 4th unit. This is often an area where folks stop asking pertinent questions (can this guy outplay his opponents? Does he drive goal differential?) are instead start focusing on particular qualities (is he big? Is he mean? Can he fight?)...
Again, this is not to say being big and tough is bad or that tough guys can't be useful - instead, the issue is that being tough also doesn't necessarily mean a player has any value. Being tough is merely a potential asset, a tool that has utility only insofar as it helps drive play, goals etc. If a guy is big and can hit but bleeds shots and goals against because he's completely miserable at everything else, then he is a liability.

Meaning, the Flames should avoid looking for toughness as a stand-in for a player's overall ability. Or, from another angle, adding toughness for the sake of toughness would either be useless or counter-productive for the Calgary Flames. 

The Real Needs

The club's primary issue is its ability to drive play against other team's big guns. Calgary's top-6 has been increasingly snowed under by other top-6 opposition over the last few years. Only excellent-to-elite additions up front are going to move the needle in a meaningful way for the Flames. There are guys who could do that who also count grit as one of their primary assets (David Backes, for instance) but the relevant factor is that the puck moves the right direction when they're on the ice.

The Flames roster isn't particularly blessed with overt toughness. Feaster and company need to avoid the conventional temptation to fill that apparent need in Burkian fashion, however, since toughness in and of itself is neither sufficient nor necessary to improve the club.

Like the Leafs in 2008, Calgary's challenge now is to get better players - whether they are tougher or not is a matter of style more than content.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current FN contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#51 C-fan in Vic
July 09 2012, 07:43PM
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xis10ce wrote:

@internuncial

Yelle's nickname was "Sandbox"

Pretty sure that was Lankow's nickname... No?

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#52 Baalzamon
July 09 2012, 08:06PM
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C-fan in Vic wrote:

Pretty sure that was Lankow's nickname... No?

no, that was definitely Yelle. Langkow was just "Lanks" I believe.

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#53 zachg
July 09 2012, 09:07PM
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first of all,i would like to comment on all the years of cgy not having skill. we'll we have added skill guys and now we ask do we need grit? like cmon, if its not one its the other we have glencross,iginla,comeau and jackman, a guy per line. If u want to rack the stats vs iggy go ahead, i would like to find a player that says iggy is soft or easy to play against... i cant see it. Second, new coaching staff, Nobody really knows or remembers how Hartly coaches, has he changed who knows. To me hartly and feaster have communication, i doubt they would be targeting these guys if they wont fit in the new coaches system, so im guessing offence then defence. IM not thrilled with the line up, but we also have a lot of unknowns which is awsome. cervenka, hudler backlund, baertchi, wideman,cammy and coaching. So tell you the truth feaster keep up the work make a trade to drop dead weight and lets GO FLAMESSSSSS

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#54 Rain Dogs
July 09 2012, 09:22PM
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@RexLibris

Sure, I agree with you, but having that goal as an organization will dictate who you choose in the draft, who you trade for and who you deal. If you want skilled, competitive and gritty players then you draft, trade for and sign those players.

Forwards on the Flames who are NOT skilled AND Gritty:

Mikael Backlund Alex Tanguay Matt Stajan Jiri Hudler

Defenseman with no skill: Cory Sarich

Three of those names are new contracts this year. Wisebroad sounds like a guy who is doing this with "hate to lose" subjectiveness. Whatever that is. Our draft pick was said to be so soft that scouts think he'll never make the NHL, and we traded down for him.

The Boston Bruins are a team that is built top to bottom with Skill and Grit. Difficult? sure.

But we're talking about skill VS grit aren't we? This OR That. The story of Calgary. Now it's all skill. With Darryl ... all grit. That's how it can often be presented without a good vision/definition/metrics. This or that. Sell short, can't have both.

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#55 Baalzamon
July 09 2012, 09:38PM
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@Rain Dogs

by a lot of people's definition of "gritty" I think Backlund actually fits the category. In his last game of the season, his shoulder got dislocated on a hit from Alex Edler. He went to the bench, had it popped back in, and went back out on the ice. I believe he missed exactly 1 shift. Later, when Alberts decapitated Comeau, Backlund stood up for him.. and for his trouble, Alberts lost his mind, tossed his gloves, and started pounding him. Backlund's shoulder popped out of it's socket for the second time in about 30 minutes, and he missed the rest of the season. None of that says soft to me. Injury prone maybe. But soft isn't in it.

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#56 borisnikov
July 10 2012, 10:45AM
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@zachg

"IM not thrilled with the line up, but we also have a lot of unknowns which is awesome."

This is an incredibly foolhardy statement and sums up why the flames are headed for the basement in the quickly approaching future. Unknowns are definitely not what a team needs; have a look up the QE2 and you'll see what unknowns get you. I typically don't like to wallow in others' misfortune but watching some of you donkey flame fans fool yourselves into thinking Feaster is doing a bang up job just tickles me orange and blue. Good luck!!! You're going to need it!

Edit: Looking up here and seeing what has happened doesn't refer to the world class talent the Oil have acquired but the years of suckage fans have endured up to this point. The Oil will, in short order, be passing you in the standings;)

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