PTSD: Post Traumatic Sutter Disorder

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.

  • Stack Pad Save

    I can totally see it 4 years from now. Post Traumatic Burke Disorder or PTBD (kinda sounds like an STI). Just like in Toronto as before fans are going to be looking around and see a top line with at least 2 grinders on it and shake their heads. They will see a a 2nd line with 3 players who have loads and loads of truculence. But all Burke will talk about is how much Size and Grit his 3rd and 4th lines have.

    Good luck Flames fans. As an Oilers fan, I was so happy that Burke was hired to replace Feaster. Enough said.

  • everton fc

    How much influence has Darryl had on the roster moves in L.A.? He’s won two Cups there. And we’ve been really poor since he left.

    I’m not the most anti-Darryl fan on the board here. Some panic-attacks and bad moves near the end, some poor drafting…

    Wonder what would have happened if Keenan were given one more year. And I never liked Keenan.

    • Parallex

      We were really poor when he left not since he left. A bunch of toxic contracts, well past their “best before date” core, mediocre coaching. Feaster basically spent the entire tenure he was here painfully cleaning up Sutter’s mess.

      In regards to what would have happened if Keenan were given one more year… hard to say. If we assume Sutter makes the same offseason moves we have better blueliners but worse forwards… Keenan played a fairly offensive style so maybe that combined with Kipper having one of his Good Kipper years balances things out and we score more goals. We’re still a bubble team that year probably missing out but I think the Phaneaf/Jokinen trades for the motly collection of former 20 goal scorers don’t happen and it’s impossible to project what happens after that.

  • Parallex

    “people shouldn’t be threatened by the terms “Size” and “Truculence”, they are ingredients to a winning team just as much as “Speed” and “Skill” are”

    Sure but to use your ingredient metaphor Speed and Skill are like a steak while the other stuff is like seasoning… I can eat a steak without any seasoning but I can’t eat seasoning without any steak and I don’t trust Burke not to ruin the cut with too much salt.

  • everton fc

    I think the PTSD has more to do with trading away picks and prospects for older established players.. Patching up the holes in the roster in the hopes that the “Core” would lead us to the promised land. Sutter was blindly convinced those kind of changes would eventually bring us back to the top again, but that had just as much to do with Management as it was Sutter. They were dealing with PTYGD (Post Traumatic Young Guns Disorder).

    The truth is Sutter and Burke both know the game very well and what it takes to win. Doesn’t mean they haven’t made some bad trades, but people shouldn’t be threatened by the terms “Size” and “Truculence”, they are ingredients to a winning team just as much as “Speed” and “Skill” are.

    A good player is a good player. I don’t think anyone here has to worry the BT will trade Gaudreau for John Scott anytime soon..

  • Greg

    It’s not the fixation with size that concerns me. You need some of that.

    It’s the apparent disregard of advanced analytics that makes me concerned. That’s what makes me fear a return to the Sutter “I know better than all of you” era.

    Hopefully it’s just a public ruse to cover up how much of it they actually do behind closed doors… Although that Engelland signing would indicate otherwise.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    In fairness to Feaster, while he drafted diminutive players his hit-rate had been very good and in 3 short years he did a great job in stocking the cupboards with bonafide prospects. Drafting for speed, skill and above all hockey IQ seems to have provided good results. Maybe it’s a result born of other GM’s looking for size, while Feaster was looking for value. Also, I never heard Feaster say he preferred small players over big ones, he just didn’t shy away from small players. I’m not sure it’s really fair criticizing Feasters results, or for drafting too many small players. At the end of the day, many of his draft choices have or will become assets.

    All things being equal who wouldn’t draft a bigger player, over a smaller one (too bad all things are rarely ever equal). Maybe Christian is right and some of BT’s draft choices will be great acquisitions for the Flames. On the other hand, maybe it’s back to the the (Sutter) future and the Flames will have nothing to show for drafting ‘big’.
    Obviously, I want everyone of the Flames Draft Class of 2014 to make the show, I’m just a bit suspicious that outside Bennett, every other player is very big.

    PS. I can’t believe I just came to Feaster defence.

    • The Last Big Bear

      …outside Bennett, every other player is very big.

      Well most of them, but Brandon Hickey is only about TJ Brodie’s size, isn’t he? He’s generally listed at either 6’1″ or 6’2″, and ~175 pounds.

      Mediocre results aside, I think it’s safe to say Hickey wasn’t drafted because of his size. Probably his skating more than anything else.

    • The Last Big Bear

      Name all his draft choices currently contributing. I hope and think a few will but let’s not get too excited too soon. Monahan doesn’t count. lol

  • Rockmorton65

    Lets not forget too, that Treliving also tried to acquire BOTH the 7th and 12th overall picks in this past draft. You don’t move assets for draft picks if you’re “accelerating the rebuild”. If they were looking to compete now, BT & co would be doing the opposite, I think.

  • mattyc

    I’m kinda late to the party here, but it’s not size per se, it’s weighting size over being good at hockey. I see warning flags when we sign essentially non-functional or replacement level players (like Derek Engelland), instead of a skilled hockey player. It just doesn’t make sense to put someone like Kevin Westgarth in your line up because it makes you ‘bigger’.

    For instance, no ones arguing that size isn’t one of the things that made Zdeno Chara, or Lucic, or Bertuzzi in his day, or whoever, great. But those players were also just very skilled players as well.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Iginla – Olympian, All Star, etc

    Langkow – under 6 ft

    Huselius – LOL

    Kobasew – 20 goal banger

    Lombardi – not so much

    Amonte – over the hill, but under 6ft

    Tanguay – not a brawn over skill guy

    Conroy – same

    Primeau – WE HAVE #2!! Although its arguable whether he was ever really intended for a top-6 role, I suspect he was.

    Lundmark – 6ft finesse player

    Nolan – Over the hill, has size, maybe a candidate

    Bertuzzi – Over the hill, has size, but was a skill player

    Bourque – was had for a pick, and scored tons

    Cammalleri – 5-foot-9

    Jokinen – 91 point NHL captain

    Glencross – good balance of brawn and skill

    Dawes – midget

    Stajan – under 6ft

    Hagman – not small, but definitely a finesse player

    Kotalik – maybe a size over skill player, but probably not intended that way

    OVERALL: Well, I’ll let you decide whether or not the blind pursuit of size and stature at the expense of everything else was something that actually happened, or whether it is a revisionist narrative that has been blown out of proportion with no basis in reality.

    • Parallex

      Don’t see Darren McCarty on your list.

      I think the argument isn’t about where the players ranked on the weight scales or how tall they were. My biggest beef with DS was he never moved assets to move up & get a higher talented young kid for the system, he always traded down. He rarely gave the young guys openings on the big team, kind of a “earn your stripes mentality” & buried them in the minors. Phaneuf was the first rookie that was literally allowed to crack the lineup in his draft year that I could remember & that was because his brother was so high on him. He always opted for paying old past prime players big bucks or he traded for themefore playing a rookie. There was no semblance of development & cultivating the farm system. A few of his draft picks turned out because, well heck, I could have drafted as well. Feaster changed that but he was skewing in a direction that would have been a big organizational weakness. Fortunately Feaster was here long enough & thanks to 3 1st rounders last in 2013, we are looking light years better.

      • The Last Big Bear

        Darren McCarty was a 4th line grinder. There was never any pretense of him being an impact or top-6 player.

        Otherwise your points are pretty much valid.

        (Although to be fair to McCarty on the “Grit vs Skill” debate, McCarty led the OHL in scoring, and once potted a playoff hat trick against Patrick Roy. He wasn’t your typical goon).

  • The Last Big Bear

    Here’s a list of every player that was on a Sutter Flames roster post-lockout with the intention of being either a top-4 defender or top-6 forward.

    Count the number of guys who were there for size at the expense of skill… (I count 2):

    Defencemen:

    Phaneuf – Had 20 goals as a rookie, is an NHL captain

    Hamrlik – former 1st overall pick

    Regehr – Big, but also a Canadian Olympian, hard to say he had no skill

    Ference – is an NHL captain

    Giordano – is an NHL captain

    Stuart – was awesome

    Sarich – Our first contestant!!!

    Bouwmeester – All-star, etc

    White – not a superstar, but certainly not a bone crushed

    OVERALL- Man, Sutter could build a ****ing DEFENCE.

  • smith

    The desire for size does not concern me, but what does is the love affair with bad players because they are big. McGratton, Westgarth, Engelland are the current examples. For past ones please look at the Toronto Maple leaf’s. If I saw some sort of recognition that the flames management were interested in good players rather than big tough ones I would be much more impressed.

    • Parallex

      The point is, to tank without appearing to be doing it intentionally. It would be too easy to stock up on mediocre FA players and squeak into the playoffs, only to be bounced early, year after year. But that doesn’t win cups. Drafting well is easier if you finish well behind the pack for a season or three. Developing a top 5 pick (or ideally a few) is almost always better than trading and overpaying for FAs.

  • Christian Roatis

    Interesting read. I’d say Sutter didn’t draft for size as much as “leadership and heart” that preferably was from the prairies (and were consistently poor skaters for some reason). I’m also less convinced that the current brain trust will draft best player available next year given their post round one picks this year. In terms of immediate GM impact, BT has had a far less impressive start than Benning and Nill but who knows how much interference BB is running. Time will tell.

    • Christian Roatis

      What’s so impressive about Benning so far? For all we know Virtanen and McCann will bust and all his trades will flop. I think Treliving and Benning are in the same boat so far.

  • Jeremy

    I appreciate the direction the Flames are going. Size does matter . If the Flames were picking 8th this year does anyone not think that Treveling wouldn’t have picked Nick Ritchie over Nylander or Ehlers,
    And for that matter do you think he’d be wrong to overlook the talented but small guys?

  • Burke is the guy who sold the farm for Phil Kessel, who isn’t exactly big and mean. He also made a number of moves to grab the Sedins back in the day. Of course, he’s also the guy who moved up in the draft to grab Tyler Biggs because “he’s big and arrives in ill-temper”, so the truth, as always, is somewhere in between.

    • Koolmoedee

      My worry isn’t that the team will stock the roster with large kitchen appliances, but that the team will become Maple Leafs West.

      Burke’s stated impatience with the rebuild process has me concerned that the Flames will go from being an old, mediocre team to a young, mediocre team. The top priority right now should be drafting and developing young players. Any shortcuts taken to add a few more Ws short-term could be counterproductive in the long run. The Kessel trade, and the poor development of Luke Schenn are good examples.

      Having another top-four pick this year would not be a bad thing either.

      • Purple Hazze

        I’ll admit that this was my biggest fear with these 2 running the show, that we would see some attempt at an acceleration of the rebuild. So far after their first off-season all signs point to them being patient and not rushing the rebuild.

        • piscera.infada

          My thoughts exactly. I was in the same boat when Burke first came on board. Since Treliving was hired, I’ve heard nothing out of his mouth except “development takes time” and “making the team better if the opportunity presents itself”.

          Most of the “big players” that Burke is “fixated” with are nothing more than place holders. Sure, if this team’s competitive, we may see a face puncher still on the roster, but that’s hardly tantamount to stocking the team with players who can’t play a shift. I see signings such as Wolf, Van Brabant, and Bollig as an attempt to find the elusive “functional toughness”, but until those players are ready to work full-time in the big-league, it’s not entirely surprising that some (expensive – cap floor, and all) placeholders for that role, are being kept around. Remember, none of them (except Engelland) are signed through 2016.

          This is what good, competitive teams do. They drive competition for all roles, both in the NHL and on the farm. We can have the argument about size, truculence, belligerence, etc. ad nauseum, but we’re really not coming out any further ahead. No matter how you feel about it, this organization believes toughness is an important role on a professional hockey team. However, if we can develop some of that ever elusive “good” toughness, or toughness with skill, we’ll be laughing.

          I’ve yet to see a move that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this organization has forsaken skill for anything.

  • beloch

    It’s interesting to note that Burke/Treliving’s biggest UFA signing this summer (Mason Raymond) is a wispy 185 lbs. They’re clearly trying to bring in both size and skill. It’s just not always easy to get both in the same package.

    • Christian Roatis

      In all seriousness, I may have exaggerated when saying he ONLY acquired tonka trucks, but fact is the majority of his moves were made to increase or maintain the size and toughness of his side.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Mike Cammalleri, Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius, Alex Tanguay, Matthew Lombardi, Mikael Backlund, and I’m sure others, would all like to say “Hi”.

    • piscera.infada

      Interesting that the first few were FA signings. Lombardi I’d call a borderline skill player (great speed, bad hands). Backlund was definitely a sea change for Sutter’s drafting philosophy.

      And of course there’s TJ Brodie. 😛

      • The Last Big Bear

        Sutter was bad at drafting, period.

        But there’s nothing about his roster decisions that suggested he was obsessed with size. Yeah, he drafted big guys, but he also drafted Dustin Boyd, and he is the one who got the roster spot.

        The centrepiece return of his most infamous trade was Matt Stajan.

        The staple centremen of Sutter’s teams were Conroy, Langkow, and Lombardi. The biggest move at centre was when he brought in a four time 30-goal-scorer who was one year removed from a 91 point season. It’s pure delusion to say any of these guys was on the team solely for “stature and scale breaking ability”.

        Yes, he briefly had guys like Nolan and Bertuzzi on the team. Both were on cheap contracts, and both were let go to be replaced by players listed at 5’9″ (Cammalleri and Dawes).

        Bouwmeester was his biggest UFA signing. Stature and scale-breaking ability, with no regard for skill?

        I’d say we’ve covered most of his biggest trades and biggest signings, and not one of them fits the narrative of acquiring size at the expense of skill.