On Brian McGrattan, and why losing character guys doesn’t hurt

There’s a tendency to want to interact with people you actually like throughout your day-to-day life. Family, friends, co-workers: all are people you’re probably going to have to see a lot. It’s that third group that can really cause issues, because there’s no blood obligation and you didn’t necessarily choose to spend time with them.

The NHL isn’t the average workplace, but it’s still a workplace. They get to play a game for a living, but it’s still a job, and teammates are co-workers. Hopefully they’re actually friends, too.

Brian McGrattan seems like a pretty swell dude: the kind of guy who’d be everyone’s friend.

There’s just one problem: he’s not really great at hockey. And that takes priority.

Welcome back to Calgary

McGrattan cost one Joe Piskula to reacquire. Who is Joe Piskula? He’s an AHL veteran defenceman. So basically, McGrattan came back to the Flames on the mega cheap.

His return was about a week or so before the Flames finally decided they had to trade Jarome Iginla. McGrattan was officially on a rebuilding team.

In 2013-14, he did two things: somehow became best friends with the Flames’ new stud rookie, Sean Monahan, and set a career high in games played with 76. 

The Flames also did something that year: had their first ever bottom four finish, with a less-than-stellar 35-40-7 record.

Now, was that all on McGrattan? Of course not. That just wasn’t a good team, but it wasn’t supposed to be. One of the major parts of rebuilding is getting a top draft pick. The Flames got Sam Bennett for their troubles, so their efforts were, ultimately, a success.

At the same time, though, McGrattan was a part of that team for almost the entire season. He played 511 minutes in the NHL that year; his previous career high was 254. From his rookie year. Eight years prior. That still isn’t a lot of minutes at all, but for him, it was substantial, and yet, his presence on the ice didn’t really accomplish anything.

And goodbye again

While McGrattan and fellow goon Kevin Westgarth ended up being staples for the Flames’ fourth line in 2013-14, they weren’t present for 2014-15. While Westgarth departed for the greener pastures of Belfast (he scored 13 goals!), McGrattan stuck around for the final year of his contract. 

He played eight games, the third lowest of his career. He spent the first half of the season a healthy scratch in the pressbox, and the second half in the AHL. His time as a Flame was essentially over; maybe even his time in the NHL.

The Flames swapped their two goons of the previous season for a different two guys – Brandon Bollig and Deryk Engelland – and ended up making the playoffs. They improved to 45-30-7, got a favourable matchup against the Vancouver Canucks, and made it into the second round, with Bollig and Engelland staples in the lineup.

Again, of course, the Flames’ success this season wasn’t all on McGrattan being replaced with Bollig. They both played fourth line minutes, and generally weren’t too consequential to the game. Johnny Gaudreau’s rookie season provided a far greater impact than goon swap.

You have to have more than character

In professional sports, being a nice guy certainly helps, but skill and talent are going to win out most times. We’re seeing that happen with the gradual phasing out of goons from the NHL.

Even though, by all accounts, McGrattan is a nice guy and great locker room presence, his removal from the Calgary Flames didn’t impact them at all. With him still in the room, they went 21-17-3. Without him, they went 24-13-4. Their ES CF was 44.5% in both splits. They were pretty consistent all year long, taking high percentage shots and scoring off them, while being moderately okay on the defensive end of things.

They were lucky, and swapping marginal NHLers who may or may not be cool people to hang out with did nothing to change that.

Having good character guys in the room is pretty important to hockey’s team-focused narrative. Goons are almost always described as this. They don’t play big minutes, and they don’t score goals, but they have to something. That something is always being there to stick up for their teammates.

The problem is, that’s not enough. They don’t offer anything anyone else doesn’t. (If friggin’ Mikael Backlund, who should not be getting into fights, is doing it…) Because to make it so far in a team-centric sport, chances are, most of the guys playing are pretty good character guys. It just isn’t toted as their number one quality because they do many more significant, tangible things. Like score goals, for example. Set up plays. Shelter more vulnerable players. Lots of stuff that shows on the ice and doesn’t have to resort to looking at someone’s personality to justify his spot in the lineup of a professional hockey team.

Everyone’s in roughly the same situation. They’re all going into work, and they all want to have good work days. A major part of that is getting along with the same 20 or so guys throughout the year. They’re around them constantly: practices, games, charity events, road trips. Friendships are going to form, no matter what.

If all you bring to the table is being a good friend, then you aren’t bringing enough. In a beer league, sure, absolutely. In professional sports? Someone else will be everyone’s friend, and actually contribute along the way.

By all accounts, McGrattan’s a great guy. But that isn’t enough. And the Flames didn’t miss him.

Talent is always going to win out.

  • beloch

    This season had the lowest number of fights per game since 2000 when hockeyfights started logging them. There has been a particularly sharp decline in fighting over the last two seasons. The times are changing, and fourth lines are changing with them.

    • everton fc

      The post-concussion issue has scared everyone. Even in international “futbol” guys are having post-concussion issues due to heading the ball and/or when they bang heads in the air trying to get to a ball.

      It is what it is…

      • MattyFranchise

        I agree with this and there have been studies to prove it.

        However, to Arii’s point, there are people that we all work with that are awesome people. But some of them just plain suck at their jobs and other people are tired of doing their work for them.

        People call guys like McGrattan a ‘goon’ and guys like Ferland a ‘pest’. The only difference in my mind is that Ferland is actually pretty good at the hockey and McGrattan isn’t.

        That’s the direction of the new NHL and I’m all for it. McGrattan has been one of my favorite Flames over the past couple years but I can assure you that his on ice capabilities is not one of the reasons why.

    • MontanaMan

      Get over it. Sven is a career AHL/European League player and will never be the impact player that the Flames thought when they drafted him in the first round. The Flames were very fortunate to get a second round pick for him. Take it and run.

      • Truculence

        Based on what? 2p/pg in junior or the p/pg in the playoffs in the A and NHL preseason? Or his rookie numbers that were very comparable to Monahan’s?

        Yes, he’s not in the NHL yet, but there’s nothing besides baseless vitriol from bandwagon hypocrites to suggest he’ll never make it. Ever heard of Nino Niedireiter (sp)? Kyle Turris? Seriously, your statement is just pure ignorance and blind hatred.

        In fact, your obsessive hatred of Sven would be quite impressive had you expressed it, oh, I don’t know, before he was drafted rather than after he fell out of favor with the coach and it became obvious he’d be moved.

    • Rockmorton65

      He’ll do well in the AHL for a while. Then, one game, the coach won’t use him on the 1st PP, Sven will pull out his hurt bunny routine, and that will end his hot streak.

      • Truculence

        Funny how the same people oh so ruffled by this article have no issues in knocking Sven’s character every time they have the slightest chance. Same people who also trashed when it was suggested Sven be traded for a D prospect last summer – before it became cool to gate on him. Hypocrisy, apparently, is the one thing that will never go away. Shameless.

  • Burnward

    Why do people keep beating on guys like this? They played their role. They did it to the best of their abilities. The game evolves but it doesn’t diminish what these guys did.

    Big Ern would have jumped in front of a truck any of his teammates as well, I bet.

    Young Monahan also learned a thing or two about being a man in the NHL last year from this guy probably.

    • everton fc

      Agreed.

      The difference with the recent crop of guys like “Ern” and many of the guys of the 70’s and 80’s was skill. But all the guys from Stan Jonathan and Terry O’Reilly all the way through the likes of Timmy Hunter, Wendell Clark, Rick Tocchet, Probert, Plett, even Tooto – many of these guys could/can play without dropping the gloves. Look at the year Tootoo had with the Devils. At his age, that’s commendable. But all these guys went through the same emotional stuff Big Ern did in his time in the league.

      I respect most of them. Not all, but most (Twist I never liked, but he also couldn’t play. Big difference.) Big Ern I do respect because he adjusted his game late in his career to do the best to remain relevant. Time and lack of skill caught up with him. And I’ll miss them, going forward, as the game “evolves”.

    • Truculence

      That`s funny. I can recall more than a handful of times when an opposing player took a run at one of our guys, and Big Ern did absolutely nothing about it. Oh he was there when another dancing bear wanted to throw rabbit punches at each other once they had grabbed each others`jerseys, but was absolutely usesless as a so-called policeman.

      And exactly how did Monahan become a `man`by having Big Ern on his team? Jeez, you would think the kid was an orphan without any parental figures. Good players like Giordano inculcate the proffesionalism and dedication required to guide young players because they lead by example. Not a goon who plays 4 minutes a game, but is supposedly cordial in the dressing room.

      I`m happy that players of his ilk are being replaced by the Ferlands, Kassians, and Lucics of the world.

      • Big Ell

        Players that can fight, hit and score have always had a place in the game. The goon is being replaced by guys like Paul Byron, Nathan Gerbe or Francis Bouillon. Short, small guys that aren’t superstars like Fleury and St. Louis. Those guys would have probably never even got a shot five years ago.

      • Big Ell

        While I agree with you that far to often McG did not take care of business with the cheap shot artists around the league I don’t see how you can say that he did play a role with Monahan. The kid has said as much, as has Ferland. Others helped in the transition as well especially Hudler with whom he lived for awhile. I hope McG lands on his feet and does not become a casualty of post concussion syndrome like so many have. Maybe there is a real job in the organization that keeps him close to the players and developing his other skill set. Good luck to McG and his family.

        • Truculence

          So Monahan never plays NHL hockey without McG. You need to reread the article, this was the kind of narrating it was referring to. Monahan is there because of Monahan, period.

          • Truculence

            Your absolutely right Monahan is the biggest reason Monahan is the player he is but one should also acknowledge that his parents, coaches, teammates all help him who he is. When the player himself says that McG helped him become a NHL player I tend to believe the player.

  • Tenbrucelees

    Like most of the people who already replied,I have to say I’m disappointed with this article.

    “By all accounts, McGrattan’s a great guy. But that isn’t enough. And the Flames didn’t miss him.”

    The Flames didn’t need him because all the other teams dropped their “Heavyweights” as well…to say they didn’t “miss” him is kind of disrespectful and most likely untrue to some extent.

    • The GREAT Walter White

      Very much a tasteless cheap shot from an internet blogger that doesn’t have any repercussions or accountability to be held to unlike a professional journalist who’s name and reputation are at stake…and must think about that every time before they start throwing stones at others.

      Most have stopped reading this site for this very reason…you reap what you sew

    • Truculence

      All of those other heavyweights were dropped for the same reason, because they couldn’t play hockey and contribute to winning as well as other options could. Your reasoning is therefore circular.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Brutal article. Did you really need to Followup the statement “Brian McGrattan is not good at hockey” with Corsi stats as a means of justifying your narrative hahaha.

    I think we all know what McGrattan’s role as a player was and it wasn’t to create scoring chances…appreciate the stats tho just to confirm this if there wasn’t already any doubt.

    With that being said Brian is one of the most respected guys in the league for a reason, for his difficult, yet always under appreciated role of having to go to battle every night and more importantly for his off I’ve efforts with addiction counselling…tell Michael Ferland he isn’t valuable or won’t be missed.

  • mattyc

    Conversely, the (NHL) world is littered with successful people who are also of ‘poor character’. You always root against them, and want the Brian McGrattan’s of the world to succeed, but usually, character isn’t enough without skill/talent.

  • Ari Yanover

    I guess my response/tl;dr is essentially: if McGrattan’s role is “professional friend”, which it kinda was, he can do it without taking up a roster spot.

  • Greg

    I haven’t been a proponent of fighting or “tough guys” in hockey for years, but I did like mcgrattan as a person. Plus the scene of him holding back that moron tortorella will forever be ingrained in my bank of classic flames-fan memories, and I thank him for that! To be honest, I can’t really think of any moment from the 2013-14 season I remember better.

    But ya, no more ice time, thanks.

  • Ari Yanover

    Well I agree that his skill on ice does not help the team in a positive way, but again he brought intangible assets at the right time. Example A, him having that relationship with Monahan showing him the ropes of what not to do aka being mature about the partying aspect around that age. Hmmm lets compare the Oilers young guys to the Flames the last couple of seasons… No guidance in Oil country saw the young players take advantage of that by going out way more then they should, proving that guidance is esstenial in young players. It was the perfect amount of time McGratton spent with the Flames.