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?
Brian McGrattan’s gone a month since he last played and he’s appeared in one game (10 shifts, 5:56 TOI) in last 49 days. When will this end?
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) January 7, 2015
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.
Wage per minute. Based on 2014-15 salary and ice time through 40 games:
Sean Monahan, $578
Mark Giordano, $1,977
Brian McGrattan, $6,903
— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) January 7, 2015
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.
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