But floob, it’s just a minor trade. How can you hate this trade?
You’re right, in the end, yesterday’s trade is just Greg Nemisz, a forward who was clearly never going to be in the Flames’ plans (rightfully so, Nemo is a bust) for Kevin Westgarth, a career 4th line/minor league facepuncher. Why am I so upset about it? Why does this move (very hyperbolicly, for the record) have me searching the league to find a new team to be a fan of (what’s up, Darryl Sutter?)
And you’re right, I’m very upset about it, possibly more than I should be, but I am, and with good reason. The trade is a trade, sure, but what the trade MEANS is something very different. And it’s a much bigger, far more ominous thing. My fear is this trade is one of just many facets of what Flames hockey is to become, Citizens, and it makes me want to go into hibernation.
Kevin Westgarth is not just Kevin Westgarth
Flames pick up McGrattan on waivers, trade Jackman for a pick, trade a pick for MacDermid and trade an AHLer for Westgarth…
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) December 31, 2013
…what is the point of all of this?
— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) December 31, 2013
Solid questions without a logical answer.
Let’s get this straight. This is not about Greg Nemisz. This is not about Kevin Westgarth. Let’s be abundantly clear about this.
Look, obviously the 86ing of Greg Nemisz is a nice coup for the Flames. They only ever retained him in the first place last season because the Abbotsford Heat had a shortage of warm bodies, and at least Nemisz was able to provide that. Obviously that was all he was ever able to provide, and with the Heat having an excess of talent on their team this year, Nemisz is very much dead weight and there’s no problem letting him make a go of this pro hockey thing somewhere else. Good for him if it pans out. Personally, I expect to see him playing in the Spengler Cup next season.
Kevin Westgarth as a return is the meh-iest return in the history of trade returns. As you read in Pike’s coverage of the trade, Westgarth has 9 points in 130 career NHL games. And his possession numbers are not exactly Backlundesque, like I’m sure you expected them to be. Westgarth is here because he is 6’4", 230 pounds, has 202 career PIMs, and according to his hockeydb page, the potential for some sick flow, braj.
He’s most likely going to play in Abbotsford with Lane McDermid (unless McGrattan gets suspended), and that’s fine. He probably fills in on some 4th line duty with the Flames at some point too, maybe immediately, because hockey does not like me very much. That’s less fine, but I think we’re all aware and begrudgingly accepting of the fact that the Flaming C will not roll a lineup without one brawler this season, so so be it. (This will NOT be happening) The Flames are a bad team and they are not going to compete this year, so while tanking is disgusting, if the Flames are legitimately this bad, and they are, they have a good shot at a Top-5 draft pick. And they do.
As Kent points out, however, what is the point? To be frank, Westgarth, McGrattan, McDermid, and Jackman are all the same player (with midly varying degrees of facepunching ability). What’s the purpose of a carousel of thugs? Why do we need Plan B goons? (And Plan C, evidently) Is this all just arbitrary roster moves for the sake of roster moves?
Here’s why this is troubling. These sort of moves are part of The Plan.
If you watch the video I posted at the top of this piece, you’ll have noticed it happens to be the press conference Brian Burke gave the media after giving the boot to Jay Feaster.
You don’t have to watch it if you don’t want to re-live it (Lanny knows I don’t), but let’s go over the Coles’ notes, shall we?
Burke said he doesn’t like the way the Flames play and wants a GM who shares his philosophy. Wants truculence and hostility.
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) December 12, 2013
Burke: "There’s room for the small player in our game, but you better surround him with some beef."
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) December 12, 2013
It’s all coming back, isn’t it?
This trade is one more piece of the puzzle that is a Brian Burke hockey team. His philosophy is taking shape and it will continue to do so over the next few seasons until we decide the rebuild needs a successor. (Or you know, the rebuild is complete. Whichever comes first)
I, like a lot of people, cringed when Burke went on Sportsnet and identified to Roger Millions and the world that the successful teams of the world are big teams and as such the Flames will follow in that mold. On it’s own, there’s nothing wrong with that. Size is a good thing. The one thing Burke omitted from the list of characteristics players for the Flames should possess is skill. While some people thought that the idea of skill in these big players was just implied, I myself remained skeptical, and with trades like this, it’s only adding fuel to to grittiest fire I’ve ever seen.
There have been plenty of articles written on this site about how being tough and gritty is fine, so long as the player in question provides other value to a team that is more conducive to winning. Kent has written several and they’ve all been on point in that regard. (As an example here’s one very well written and rational piece exploring the whole damn thing. Trust me, they’re all like this, they’re just usually about a different facepuncher)
The point being that toughness, size, grit, it’s all well and good, but if it comes at the expense of skill, possession, driving play, etc, etc, there’s a real problem here, and your team is hard pressed to move forward with success.
If the plan is to tank (and let’s face it, if Brian Burke doesn’t intend to tank, it’s not going to happen) then this is a practical if not ethically void tactic to do so. Nothing gets you closer to Connor McDavid than punching your way to the bottom. If it’s a short term plan, this is, I suppose, more acceptable, mostly because it is hopefully that: short term.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that to be the case. A Brian Burke team is a big, nose punchy team, and if you need an example of that, look no further than his last disaster in Toronto. Yes, Burke did favour smaller skilled players like Phil Kessel and Mikhail Grabovski, and he’s got a good eye for talent in that regard.
The problem is, he’s true to his word. He, as he so eloquently puts it, surrounded the skilled players on the Leafs with beef. And that beef was rotten. Colton Orr and Mike Brown were brought in to protect the skilled players, and if you think that was a smart move, why don’t you ask the plugged-in Leafs fans what they think about those players. Orr and FML are liabilities, and decent players have struggled stuck on lines with them, because they provide ZERO offense (and, let’s face it, no real defense either).
If that’s a vision for the future of the Flames, it’s morbidly interesting because we get to watch Toronto explode in that model before it happens to our guys, and that’s just super.
Offense is hard to come by without solid offensive players, and the Flames are very much a shining example of that. Putting in enforcers as a move to "create space" is flawed, because that’s not a thing that actually happens. An influx if grit-only players creates a vaccum of offense, and we all know it.
We’ve beaten that point to death on FlamesNation, but the reason we do so is it looks to be a coming trend as this team continues to rebuild, and it’s a theory that just flies in the face of what a good rebuild is. There is just no way to develop your young players when you saddle them with dancing bears that provide limited hockey ability. If you want an object lesson in what adding size and grit sans ability does, take a gander up north: the Edmonton Oilers have run through a carousel of of lumbering beefcake at the bottom end the last few years (Gazdic, Brown, MacIntyre, Stortini, Eager, Hordichuk) and it’s never really made them "harder to play against". Quite the opposite most often.
And please, PLEASE, abandon the outdated and frankly archaic notion that these guys are here as a means of "protecting" the developing young core. It’s simply not true. Deterrance through self policing is not a thing that exists.
Goons play roughly 5 minutes a game. (Brian McGrattan has averaged 5:27 per game this season. Westgarth is at 4:52) That usually equates to about 10-15 shifts a game, and probably one fight. And after that, the facepuncher’s night is over. The idea that they sit there on the bench for 55 minutes as a reminder to the opposition what awaits them if they take any undue liberties with a young star is ridiculous. Brian McGrattan’s presence did nothing to prevent David Backes from trying to alter Matt Stajan’s ability to walk. Nor should it have. If you have an limited player like McGrattan on the ice in overtime against the top players for a top team like the St. Louis Blues, you are doing it wrong. Even Bob Hartley knows that.
What actually happens is what we’ve seen this year, where a promising young player like Mikael Backlund sees his talent squandered on the 4th line and gets beaten up by the opposition trying to get the puck out his own end for his entire shift. It’s a waste of a strong possession player and a roster spot.
It’s perfectly fine to have a gritty 4th line provided they have actual value from a hockey standpoint. The Montreal Canadiens roll a 4th line of Ryan White, Brandon Prust, and Travis Moen, and on a lot of nights they’re the best looking line on the ice. All three players are guys who like to drop the mitts, play a physical game, grind in the corners (which again, are useful, tangible hockey skills to have), but they also are able to drive possession a little bit and even pop a few goals. They provide value to their team beyond being tough. And as a result, they all tend to earn roughly 10-11 minutes a night, because they aren’t a liability to their team.
The Kevin Westgarths of the world do not provide this kind of value; they are a detriment. A roster spot in 2014 and beyond is just far too valuable to be awarding them to such an inoperatively one dimensional player.
It’s a concern. I’m not totally jaded yet, I do believe Brian Burke does intend to stock the cupboards with bigger players who have both an emphasis on size AND skill, but it is so so so discouraging to see moves like the one made today when you realize it’s all part of a larger philosophy that the team intends to employ.
And yes, on it’s own, it’s just a minor trade for two non important players. That’s fine. Am I overexaggerating the negative implications of what this is? Am I being too hyperbolic? Quite possibly. It’s one of my go to moves. But I think it’s naive to ignore the plausibility of all this. The bigger picture is what I’m seeing here and it’s why I think this is a bad move.
It seems so contradictory in the end. Brian Burke has stated he is not a patient man, and we all know more than enough about Burke at this point that when he says that, we believe him. He wants this rebuild to be complete in 2-3 years, not 5-6, which is how he saw it panning out under Jay Feaster’s vision. And that’s a noble thing to do, and I think he’s right when he says it can be done faster.
The problem is, if this is his vision for fast forwarding through the rebuild, it’s going to make for some really hard hockey to watch. A rebuild is something you can sell your fanbase on if you can show them that success is coming. I just don’t see the Burke model, which is about as progressive and modern as the Cretaceous Period, as something you can sell the fans as a model that is going to yield results. The game has evolved just too much. It’s why this game plan failed for Darryl Sutter upon the dawn of the "New NHL" post lockout. Those were the days where the Wild West reigned in Cowtown, and from my point of view we’re on the dawn or a return to that era.
It stings. Please wake me when it’s over.