There Are No Decisions To Be Made

We’re talking about Brian McGrattan today.

You may have read a piece in the Calgary Sun yesterday about the future of Flames tough guy Brian McGrattan, prompted by the impending return of center Mikael Backlund and a corresponding lack of breathing room on the roster. That piece – and the resulting discussion surrounding it – touched on more global themes that have entrenched themselves in the discussion on such matters, and tries to hit on a higher level. This is not what we’re talking about today.

We’re not jumping into a broader discussion on the purpose of fighting in hockey, or the role of enforcers in the game on a much more capacious level. There is a little bit of that to touch on just to generally frame the position of this piece, but that’s it.

It’s not even about the media’s tawdry desire to establish McGrattan as a bigger cog in the Flames machine (which, come on).

Nope. All we’re going to consider today is Brian McGrattan (BIG ERN!), and his role on the Calgary Flames. And that’s it.

You are not going to like it. Here we go!

So What Do You Do With Him?

To be blunt, nothing. You do nothing with Brian McGrattan.

This next little bit is going to sound harsh, and maybe it is, but that’s not what’s important here. Backlund’s return facilitates the need to make some changes, and the easiest and most practical solution with McGrattan is to do nothing.

Markus Granlund is going to be the one who gets sent down when Mickis is ready to go, and that’s the right call. Backlund is the top possession center on this team and his return dictates a center be sent down (as an aside, depth is nice. I’m not used to this) Granlund has been better than we maybe expected he would be going into training camp this year, but when you boil it down, he’s in over his head. Kent went into this yesterday, but the simple fact is when he’s not on a line with Hudler and Gaudreau, he is not NHL ready. Maybe he would benefit from a switch to the wing, but even still, he’s one of two forwards who are waiver exempt right now, and the Flames are not about to send down Josh Jooris. It’s a near certainty that if you sent McGrattan down to the minors over Granlund that he’s clear waivers, as the league is very clearly not in the business of employing facepunchers these days, but that accomplishes very little from a practical standpoint: would you rather have Ern in Adirondack “mentoring the team” (whatever that means…seriously, someone give me a reasonable definition of what that means, because I’ve never heard one) while Granlund continues to slide down the wall he’s hit and earn frequently diminishing ice time?

Call me crazy, but I want Good Granlund getting the chance to light up the AHL on the top line.

Healthy scratching McGrattan for the rest of the season doesn’t hurt the team in any real capacity, and it certainly doesn’t handicap them like it would by inserting him into the lineup with any regularity. No matter where you land on McGrattan’s level of efficacy, the hard truth is no matter what you expect out of him, he is by far Bob Hartley’s worst forward option (a reality he seems to have discovered this season, given that he’s regularly healthy’d this season). Bollig is a close one, but we all know he shouldn’t be in the lineup either.

These sort of numbers look kinda profound, but practically, realistically, meaningless. Calgary has more cap space remaining this season than they could ever even KNOW how to spend, and McGrattan is on the final year of his deal and very obviously not donning a Flames jersey anytime after the final whistle this year. There are no financial considerations to bare when it comes to McGrattan, and that’s a really nice problem to have. It gives Hartley more flexibility to find what forwards fit with who and where on the roster, while giving him the ability to spot start some of the ids in Glen Falls when needed. And McGrattan will always be an okay option for an emergency start in the case of injury too close to game time to recall anyone.

And What’s Wrong With That?

I know Brian McGrattan is a proud guy, and is definitely itching to be in the lineup, but to me he also seems smart enough to know that at this stage he’s going to see – and this is being generous – limited action. I’m sure he’s aware the writing is on the wall as far as his career goes, and knowing that the end is around the corner, man, I can’t imagine what a helpless feeling that can be.

But it’s not the end of the world. We all know Brian McGrattan’s history. He’s overcome a lot of demons in his personal life, and when you strip it all down, he’s now being rewarded by being paid $750,000 a year to essentially do nothing. We should all be so lucky. He gets prime seats to every Flames game, gets access to the finest training equipment and personnel, does radio ads for car dealerships, and so on. He is universally loved and respected in the dressing room, and a popular guy in the community. None of that changes because he’s in the press box and not on the ice. There is zero pressure on him to up his game. That was, for a long time, the beauty in his role. He was the best fighter in the league, he didn’t need to get better.

Brian McGrattan worked very hard to overcome a pretty heavy personal hell, and hockey rewarded him for that with a 10 year career. The game has been good to him, and it will continue to be good to him from here on in. Maybe he gets employed by the Flames in some sort of ambassador role. Maybe he’s afforded the opportunity to be a motivational speaker in his next career. I don’t know, but the point is, his playing days are virtually finished, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end for him. 

Happy Trails

If you’re a regular reader of this site or follow me on twitter, or have the ability to read my thoughts (I’m sorry for all those other things I think about, but that’s what you get for snooping), you’ll know I’ve never had a lot of good things to say about Brian McGrattan being in the lineup. I am still, as ever, actively opposed to the idea. A roster spot, any roster spot, in 2015 is far too valuable to waste on a guy as decidedly one dimensional as he is, and there are other players who deserve those spots based on their skill sets, and that’s the way it should be. People obviously have differing viewpoints on the merits of icing your facepunchers, but it’s been generally proven to be a colossal waste of time.

But this has never been a criticism of McGrattan as a person. He does seem like a really solid dude, and I genuinely sympathize with him in what certainly looks like the end for him. He’s been a consummate professional throughout all of this, and he deserves to be the fan favourite that he is.

But unfortunately, the return of Mikael Backlund is more important. The continued development of Markus Granlund et al is more important. The continued improvement of this team revolves around these players taking the strides they have to. McGrattan has taken all of his.

And the Flames are in a position where they can just stay the course with McGrattan and not have it hinder their bottom line, so that’s what they absolutely have to do. Their are no decisions that have to be considered. They’ve already been made

  • RickT

    I agree wholeheartedly with the premise of the article. I just feel so bad for Grats. He seems like such a genuinely nice guy, who had some really bad circumstances, and succeeded in spite of them.

    And he changed his roles to fit to do what he loves to do.

    I also think he’s a positive member of the community and I think Calgary as a city would suffer a loss if he were to choose to move away.

    I wonder if he could go on the radio a la Warrener and become a good contributor – it allows him to stay in Calgary in the public’s eye, work a few hours and continue to do philanthropic fundraising.

  • Ramskull

    “Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.” Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring

    Kids don’t just learn how to eat properly, maximize their workouts, how to protect themselves on the ice, how to conduct themselves as professionals, how to deal with a demanding coach, how to understand the coaches expectations and so on. You think Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, Nurses, and hundreds of others just walk out of school and become strong professionals without others to guide them? Your article itself points out a whole slew of reasons why he’s well suited as the flames mentor.

    It’s almost shocking how little some of the FN writers understand about working as a professional in a professional environment.

    If you have no idea how effective a strong mentoring program is then you should research Johns Hopkins Hospital.

    • mattyc

      I think you’re misunderstanding. No one is arguing that. Mentorship in the flames (or really any team), comes from Brian Burke and Murray Edwards to Hartley and the coaches, to other players on the team. Having Grats move on from the team in the future isn’t going to suddenly make Monahan a worse player.

          • prendrefeu

            I think Ern has conquered a lot and has developed a lot of life skills that he can teach to the younger players. He may not be able to teach them about hockey, but the younger players need to learn how to become men and tackle their problems, and Big Ern knows a lot about that.

          • Ramskull

            Are you saying that after a decade in pro hockey that he isn’t capable of teaching others what it takes to be a pro hockey player? A lack of skill is not the same as a lack of understanding. He’s never going to teach Johnny Hockey how to stick handle but he’s more than capable of helping him understand what’s expected of him. As I’m sure you know, there’s more to being a pro than game day.

          • Ramskull

            Yeah it does seem informal. I think it extends from the fact that he no longer has a defined role with the team. They’re paying him almost a million to sit in the press box so you might as well have him contribute in other ways and allow your other vets to just focus on hockey. But without being in the room everyday its hard to say.

            Anyways, another good article, wasn’t trying to bust your chops, I just work in a job where mentorship plays a huge role in our success.

          • Greg

            Just to chime in on this part of the discussion, I’m sure it is informal, but to further Ramskull’s original comment, kids also don’t just learn how to suddenly deal with a crapload of money effectively, and more than 1 has gotten themselves into trouble partying pretty hard with that. I could see how having McGrattan around and telling his precautionary tales about alcohol to young guys in that situation, would qualify as mentoring.

            I can also see how an org that had theoren fleury might see some real value in that.

            Great article though, I fully agree with it!

  • mk

    Wow – I usually enjoy your articles because they’re funny and ridiculous. This hit the nail right on the head: McGrattan is a great guy to have around, but is probably done with the Flames given his narrow skillset.

    But boy, was that one skill fun to see! I’ll never forget his crazy-eyes after a fight, especially when he was rocking that mohawk. He also gets mad points for his part in the brawl against the Canucks & holding Clint Malarchuk back from Tortorella.

  • Colin.S

    Once Backlund is healthy we have 5 active centers(among others who can and have played center), Backlund, Monohan, Jooris, Stajan and Granlund. Granlund is the weakest out of those 5 five, seems the decision is pretty simple.

    You can either waive McGratton or send down Granlund and the choice is obvious. At this point waiving and demoting McGratton and having Granlund ride the healthy scratch express isn’t going to change the teams fortunes, neither will granlund playing 7 or 8 minutes as a 4th line winger.

    But having a guy like McGratton in the room who seems to be taking his role with the team really well, it might be more valuable to the team than we know. By all accounts all the guys like him, media loves him, charities love him and a lot of fans love him. If you waive him just to let Granlund be a healthy scratch maybe you upset the room. Especially since Granlund stats pretty well speak for themselves, he could use an AHL stint to get him better ready for another round in the NHL.

    McGratton probably shouldn’t be an NHL regular at this point in his career but if you’ve kept him for 40 games already, a majority of them a healthy scratch, waiving him now makes little sense.

  • Kybb79

    Big Ern knows his role on the team. I’m sure it’s eating him not being able to contribute on the ice.. but anyone on the team would tell you he’s a great dressing room guy.

    I would love to see him on staff next year.. maybe replace scorch as Adirondack’s new mascot!

  • prendrefeu

    I could see BB and BT keeping him in the press box in case someone runs one of our younger guys. They next time we play that team Big Ern will be on the ice. Also, if he is good for the dressing room, it gives them more reason to keep him around the team for the remainder of the season.

  • prendrefeu

    There was an interview with McGrattan on the Fan960 a while back and I was very impressed with his attitude.

    He basically said that he tries to provide leadership by working as hard as possible in practices, regardless of whether he was in the line up, basically showing the young’uns what it meant to be a professional.

    My whole opinion on Grats changed after that interview.

  • beloch

    “…while Granlund continues to slide down the wall he’s hit and earn frequently diminishing ice time?”

    Granlund’s average TOI this season is 14:52. His average over his last 5 games is 14:03. He was still getting adequate minutes up until last game. The question is, will he continue to get them after Backlund returns? He’s sitting tonight, so that answer’s that!

    With Bennett knocking on the door, it’s clear the Flames need to trade a centre. That’s probably going to be Matt Stajan. He’s past his peak and, to be frank, his performance on the fourth line is not crucial to the team’s success. I’d like to see him slotted into the Hudreau line to pump his stats up so he will fetch a nice return. It would probably be wise to give Jooris some fourth line minutes to see what he can do without Hudreau effect.

      • beloch

        He’s going to get his cup of coffee this season. That means sitting Stajan (most likely) or switching him to the wing for an extended chunk of the season. Also, Bennett looked more NHL ready at the start of the season than Monahan did at the start of last season, and that’s in spite of the fact that Bennett played most of last season injured. Finally, perhaps the biggest part of transitioning to the NHL is mental. Bennett has had months off, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t watching video and learning the Flames’ system during that time.

        Monahan surprised everyone by sticking in the NHL as early as he did. Bennett might not stick this season, but it would be a smaller surprise if he did.

        • ChinookArchYYC

          Eventually Stajan will be a likely candidate for trade, but I do not see that happening next year. We’ve spent 1/2 a season mocking and laughing at the Oilers for promoting an 18 year to centre, and I t’s just not likely to work for Bennett either. He may well end up getting a starting on a wing in Oder to ease him into centre, as he learns the NHL game.

          • beloch

            The Oilers made two huge assumptions that turned out to be dead wrong:

            1. A man sized body equals a man sized game.
            2. Draisaitl could be ready, therefore he must be ready.

            As I said above, transitioning to the NHL game is, in huge part, a mental process. Even though his body is ready, Draisaitl clearly needs more time to figure the NHL out. Where the Oilers went especially wrong is in penciling him into their lineup without any kind of fall back plan. When it turned out he wasn’t ready, they didn’t have anyone to take his place. Dumb, dumb move.

            Monahan was ready last season. He struggled, but you can’t argue with the results on the ice now. From what I’ve seen of Monahan (last season), Draisaitl, and Bennett, Bennett has the best software of all three. The important thing is that the Flames don’t need Bennett to stick this season. If he stays in the NHL, it will be because he’s ready.

          • Ramskull

            Bennett should go bak regardless. He needs to get his legs back and his game too. Plus, a long playoff run would be great for him. No reason for him not to wait until next season.

  • beloch

    Dead on Loob and well put. I am sure there is a future for him in hockey, and not on the ice anymore.

    PS : I did meet him in person at Winsport. Nice guy and if I did meet him in a ally I would want him on my side. — He is a big scary looking dude.