August 19 2014 01:30PM
An anxiety appears to have been building in Calgary regarding the Flames' new management
team and their seemingly undying thirst for size and toughness. The debate
seems to ignite itself on the majority of message board and article comment
section, regardless the topic of the original post.
Brian Burke, the proud father of 'truculence', and Brad Treliving, a man who appears to be an apostle of the Truculence & Belligerence™ manuscript, have already gained themselves a whole barn of haters and picketers, lurking on the world wide web, eager to spread the word of how stupid "BB" and "BT" (their new designations, apparently) are.
As mentioned, the root of all this anger lies in the cry for size and toughness by Brian Burke, and echoed by Brad Treliving and his staff. Something about Burkie calling the third shortest and lightest team in the NHL last season "soft," irked the fan base. How dare he want to beef up a roster with an average weight under 200 (as of opening night last season). Fact is, that's just not good enough in today's NHL. I understand the value of speed and skill, but completely disregarding size in favour of those two attributes alone only make a successful hockey team in NHL 14. Puck battles are often like an arm wrestling match, you can only do so much with skill and technique until raw strength overcomes, and if you're losing puck battles, you're not getting the puck.
And without the puck, all your speed and skill goes to waste like a shiny new super car with nowhere to roam. As our own Byron Baderdisplayed here, being big and heavy does make a difference. Heck, the defending Stanley Cup champs, who won with an almost identical roster in 2012 too, were one of the tallest teams in the NHL, and the standalone heaviest. Did that mean they were slow and dried up of any skill? Absolutely not. You could argue the impact, or lack thereof, of being big in the regular season, but in a seven game playoff series, the argument practically wins itself. With the amount of parity in today's game, the ability to wear down an opponent is a priceless advantage.
So then, why do so many fear the idea of adding size and getting bigger? Why is the population of Antiburke's (the official, super cool, name of the Burke hater clan) and Sizeaphobes ever growing?
The answer I've arrived at: PTSD. Post Traumatic Sutter Disorder.
PTSD is psychological ailment some Flames fans, specifically the Anti-Burke population, still struggle with in their day-to-day, Flame fan lives. The random idiocy Flames fans were subjected to under Sutter still lingers in their everyday sports fan lives. Like a puppy rescued from an abusive situation, they cower and are deathly frightened by things, in this situation terms, they associate with their past; things that caused them pain. During the Sutter regime (I'm making it sound like some sort of brutal, oppressive dictatorship), that "thing" that cause Flames fans pain, was the blind mandate for size. Size, size, size. That's all we heard about and all the team did. They drafted big, they signed big and they traded big. Any other hockey skills and/or ability didn't seem to matter as long as the person(s) in question were blessed with stature and scale breaking ability. Being really old and out of your prime was a big bonus too.
After Sutter, Jay Feaster gobbled up this directive and instilled his own - centered around hockey IQ, speed and skill. Obviously, the fans loved it. Sven Baertschi, the first Feaster pick, was (unfairly) crowned the "second coming" and the solution to all of the Flames' problems. After almost a decade of drafting big, Alberta boys, you can't blame everyone for getting excited over the diminutive, hyper skilled European.
The problem was however, Feaster zoomed all the way to the other side of the spectrum, now seemingly ignoring - albeit not completely - size and building team only with players that had good hockey IQ, speed and skill. For a while that was fine, as it evened the scales - so to speak - in the organization and gave it a good blend of players over, and under, six foot.
However, when Brian Burke filled his new role as President of Hockey Operations, the organization found itself shifted to an uncharted territory of the spectrum. They had plenty of players with a lot of skill, both on the roster and in the system, but not a lot of it could reach the cookie jar on the top shelf. They were getting pushed around and admit it, was pissing off the fans just as much as it pissed off management. Brian Burke and Brad Treliving have gone about changing this reality. Obviously, the game plan is centered around acquiring big bodied presences, but not those who aren't worth a damn in any other aspect of the game. No more "coke machines", so to speak.
You may read this, glance at the Flames' summer acquisitions and scoff, but from what I've been able to gather, Brandon Bollig is a fourth liner who can actually play, and Deryk Engellend is... well ... ah forget it. I have no idea what to say to that one. Although, maybe we'll find out he can actually play the ice hockey rather proficiently come October? Or maybe not. David Wolf by all accounts is a skilled fridge, which is always fun. Kind of reminds me of Dwight King in LA, who's a player most would like on their teams.
Even the draft showed us that although size is the new mandate, "Sutter" style size is a thing of the past. Hunter Smith showed pretty well in Dev Camp, at the very least showing he can play. He'll likely be on Oshawa's 1st line this coming season which will satisfy our thirst for those superficial goal and point totals. Brandon Hickey can flat out fly at 6'2 and Adam Ollas Mattsson is an up and coming rock on Sweden's National Junior blueline.
Sure, Burke and Treliving have reeled in a plethora of players with size, but they aren't just big players, they're big hockey players. It's a difference Sutter just couldn't comprehend, or care about, during his time here. "BB" and "BT" are building a winning team with a blueprint constructed around today's NHL and the way the game is played in 2014. Yeah you need speed and skill, but without size to complete the threesome, success will be harder to come by; see: Colorado Avalanche.
The men running this organization are extremely smart hockey individuals and if presented with an opportunity to make this team better, they will take it. Whether that opportunity stands 5'10 or 6'10. When the 2015 NHL Draft and it's glut of talent rolls around, I trust the Calgary Flames will select the Best Players Available, not the Tallest Players Available or Heaviest Players Available.
While it may be hard to see sometimes with PTSD screwing with your head, this team is headed in the right direction and the influx of size isn't necessarily a sign of things to come, rather a balancing of the scale in the organization. After all, greatness is achieved in equilibrium.