Travis Hamonic is a victim of an absurd situation

I grew up in Calgary and went to a lot of Calgary Flames games at the then-Olympic Saddledome through my childhood. Quite often, games between the Flames and their Smythe Division rivals devolved into line brawls and often my father and I found ourselves sitting in Section J2 laughing at the absurdity of it all.

When news broke on Thursday that Travis Hamonic would miss some time with a facial fracture suffered in a fight, I couldn’t help but think about the absurdity of the situation he was placed in.

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The context of the sport

The role of fighting in hockey has definitively changed. While line brawls and general acts of thuggery were relatively common in the ’80s and ’90s, the combination of increased awareness of brain injuries and increased competitive balance led to some changes.

Back in “the day,” teams might have a couple guys there just for fighting. Eventually that became one per team. Then it was one on every other team. Now what The Athletic’s Kent Wilson half-jokingly termed “dancing bears” are found primarily in the minor leagues. While concerns about concussions and brain injuries are definitely part of the shift, the simpler answer is hockey is just too damn competitive now to be able to waste roster spots on guys that can’t play actual hockey.

The Flames context

The trend in recent years – especially given the success Vegas saw running four productive lines – is for teams to skew towards what Kent termed “functional toughness” and not have weak spots in their lineups. Now instead of having somebody like Kevin Westgarth or Brian McGrattan around to just scare guys away from hitting Johnny Gaudreau, the Flames rely on having players like James Neal, Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Stone and Hamonic that can play a regular shift and bring a physical element if needed.

The Flames used to be defined as a team whose skilled players weren’t particularly big and whose big players weren’t particularly skilled. While they’ve added some players who can bring a physical element while playing a skill game – Tkachuk and Sam Bennett can do both – they still skew towards a team filed with agitators rather than being large enough physical presences to ward off trouble. They can make other teams angry, but not scared.

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That said, there are two ways for teams to make their opponents scared of crossing “the line”: imposing physicality, or insane skill. As the Flames pivot towards being playoff hopefuls, they don’t have spots to hide “scary” physical players and they haven’t yet accumulated enough skill throughout their lineup to have “scary” offense. So they’re stuck, for now, in the mushy middle, and aren’t chock full of enough of either kind of scariness to be considered “hard to play against.”

The Hamonic context

And finally, Hamonic himself is coming off a year where he transitioned from Long Island to Calgary and had to adjust to a new system and playing style. He was a high-profile acquisition – added in exchange for a first round pick and a pair of second rounders – and had an okay season on a team that performed well below expectations. He and TJ Brodie definitely had their struggles as a pairing.

Hamonic plays on a team that was criticized for being easy to play against last season – both in terms of not being physical or mean and not being scary good – and is one of a handful of players that is thought to be able to bring physicality. While it’s commendable that he stood up for one of his teammates, it’s unclear what else he could’ve done in the situation.

A few years ago in the same situation, the Flames would’ve had a designated fighter on the roster. A few years from now in the same situation, the Flames might be stacked offensively. Either might have been enough to deter late hits from happening to their rookies, or at least might’ve resulted in Hamonic not needing to fight.

But for where the game is, where the Flames are, and where Hamonic is right now in his tenure with the Flames, his hands were basically tied. That’s the absurdity of the situation. Wednesday night was a perfect storm of challenging circumstances, and that storm cost the Flames a skilled player for a few weeks.

  • buts

    To bad for Hamonic he did the right thing. I’d rather see him body check Pettersson hard and clean rather than fight tho. What’s with the organizations special teams? Stockton gets 4 pp and 2 sh goals against….wow. Is it coaching? Goaltending? Ward better make some adjustments tonight like shooting from the point…..We will see.

  • WidemansAnger

    You need a few players that can play and be able to “fight back” if required. (ie: Wayne Simmonds, Milan Lucic, Jerome iginla). I am sorry I would prefer to have Prout on the ice then Stone for that element. The difference is skill is not that much and and you gain someone that helps the entire team with toughness. Hockey is a contact sport denying this element to the team leaves you an inferior team.

  • Mickey O'Reaves

    “…the Flames rely on having players like James Neal, Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Stone and Hamonic that can play a regular shift and bring a physical element if needed.”

    One down, three to go I guess.

    With all due respect Mr. Pike, insane skill and a great powerplay isn’t going to scare anyone. If that was the case, Pittsburgh wouldn’t have bothered to have Ryan Reaves, or switched him out for Jamie Oleksiak.

    And the perfect storm of having absolutely nobody with a fighting chance against the other team’s intimidating player (or two, or three) could have been mitigated if Dalton Prout was in the line-up to start with. That would have been highly unpopular, but the argument about only playing him when you think you might need him has already played out for all the wrong reasons. Now Prout is basically forced into playing.

    That’s because a second pairing defenceman was the default tough guy, a role which he isn’t suited for, and he’s already on the IR. Now that causes a ripple effect through the entire line-up, and you’ve already lost a valuable member of your team.

    • Flames fan since 83

      There have been many discussed solutions here on FN and other places in the past few day.
      Truth is, no one solution exists in my opinion. It’s been brought up that Johnny’s fracture happened with Derek England in the line up. So that doesn’t work! Others say a good PP is and answer, or Team Toughness, or players like Wayne Simmons etc.
      The truth is we should do as many of the above as we can. Including what I am going to suggest:
      Prout needs to go out on the ice and punch Erik Gudbranson in the face. And hurt him. This is a way to send a message to Erik, but the rest of the league. Don’t F with the Flames!
      I’m not usually a fan of goonery. And I love the new speed and skill in the game. I just believe we need to have and use this tactic to allow our team to play the hockey we have come to enjoy.
      And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Prout should be an everyday player. We should only bring him out when we need to punch a specific player. (we just have to wait until we play that team again).

    • Derzie

      Wrong conclusion again Mickey. Insane skill & a great powerplay scare the bejesus out of teams. Problem is there are only 4 or 5 teams that have that. We aren’t one of them. I’m onboard the facepuncher train until we get better. After that, bye bye behemoths.

      • canadian1967

        “Insane Skill” and a great PP?
        Didn’t the Oilers have the league’s worst PP last year, even with all that “Insane Skill”?
        A complete Hockey Team needs to have ALL the proper elements.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Hamonic lost the fight, it’s unusual a player gets a facial fracture in a dust up like that. Most teams are in the same position as the Flames, dancing bears are gone, speed and skill will prevail.

    • WidemansAnger

      I think your missing the point, Hamonic would not have a facial fracture if we had someone more evenly matched. It is not rare for a smaller man to get a facial fracture when he takes on a bigger man.

    • Mickey O'Reaves

      Can’t wait for next year then. The team will punt on Prout and find a way to get Kylington into the line-up. Bennett and Jankowski will get traded for draft picks in order to make way for Mangiapani and Phillips. What could possibly go wrong?

      • Luter 1

        Exactly Mickey, this front office doesn’t have a clue. We now have supposedly 4 skilled lines (mostly small and soft) and turning Jankowski and Bennett into grinders. They are ruining both, especially Jankowski who is big and strong power forward, now replaced by 31 year old midget Ryan and creampuff Czarnik???

        • Mickey O'Reaves

          I’ve listened to what Peters has said in a recent interview. He hopes to be able to roll 3 strong scoring lines, and have a functioning 4th line.

          If I’m Bennett or Janko listening to that piece of cheery news, I might seriously consider asking to be traded if I’m still on the 4th line come Christmas.

  • everton fc

    A guy like Borowiekci, who put ink 20+ minutes for the Send the other night, and can defend his teammates, would be a nice #6. Prout may be able to fight, but he’s a #7, at best.

    Ferland’s departure will prove costly.

      • WidemansAnger

        Agreed, he would not have answered the bell. He scored had been a beast in Carolina so far so for him maybe it’s a good decision. I can spend Stones 3million cap hit on a stay at home defencemen who just punishes players in the ice…

        • WidemansAnger

          Agreed, he would not have answered the bell. He has scored and has been a beast in Carolina so far, so for him maybe it’s a good decision. I can gladly spend Stones 3million cap hit on a stay at home defencemen who just punishes players in the ice… *edit*

  • Ben.

    I enjoyed watching Olympic hockey when NHL players were allowed. Some of the best hockey I’ve seen, fighting not allowed, players ejected if they do. Hamonics hands are basically tied by the NHL and will be until the NHL bans fighting and increases the severity of intent-to-injure penalties. But they likely wont, as hockey-skill is secondary to entertainment value. Complex issue. BTW, I played in a no-fight league with good refs.

    • Luter 1

      Ben of course you liked Olympic hockey, like watching the Stanley Cup final, but don’t confuse no hitting no fighting Olympic style for 84 games! I watch enough no-hit games from the Flames now that remind me of Women’s Olympic hockey, I don’t need more. You’re obviously not old enough to remember real hockey and if you played any real hockey or enough old timers hockey where you are playing against old pros and juniors they still have a level of intimidation and toughness. Beer league with your buddies is fun but don’t confuse that with real hockey.
      I personally can’t stand seeing what happened last year with Lucic. If your OK with that then be satisfied with this team being perennial out of the playoff creampuffs

  • Luter 1

    Well Ryan I’ve watched the Flames since inception with my father and we completely enjoyed the few years that the Flames both won and battled with toughness, fisticuffs and intimidation: Timmy Hunter, Fotiu, Sheehy driving Gretz crazy, Peplinski, Risebrough, many others.
    Great battles, exciting scraps, everybody was tough (Gilmour, Fleury, Suter) even the small guys. Now we have this team of ice capades. The only unfortunate thing with Hamonic was he thought he could pull what he pulled last year and act like he was a fighter without getting pasted. Well he finally got pasted. This guy is so far from being a scrapper or even a good hitter. Totally overrated in my books.
    This team will not have team toughness because every team has someone that can still beat the crap out of anybody on this team. Ferland was the only guy close last year and couldn’t answer the bell against Lucic (probably concussion problems) and anybody that thinks it wasn’t important on the Dube blindside hit by Gubranson doesn’t remember that’s exactly what happened to Ferland in one of his first games and was out with a concussion.
    If any of you “no fighting, no hitting whiners” ever played hockey you would realize that that toughness, intimidation, and oh my goodness-scrapping – is still and should be still a part of the game. Unfortunately yours and my Flames are as whimpy and intimidated as ever.
    PS: Don’t even mention Westgarth – the punching bag in the same breath as McGratton. The Big Ern playing 3 minutes a night would have more impact (beat down on Lucic) than half the Cinderella’s we have on this team right now.

    • calgaryfan

      I had season tickets when the Flames moved to Calgary and have to disagree with you. The game is much faster today with more skill, a lot of the names you listed did not play much, as they were poor skaters and bad hockey players. The league had to change due to concussions and retired players having health issues from the dirty hits and face punchers. It is sad to read how poorly some of the old players are doing in their retirement.

  • Jakethesnail?

    I’ve ssid many times the last couple of years that until this team realizes that they need some toughness they will most likely be pushed around and pushed out of the playoffs.

  • 左翼二

    Do players not do cheap shots, or big hits, or slashes if they know that there is a tough guy on the other team? Is this a thing that is known and backed up by evidence? Or is it a thing we assume or really want to be true despite actual evidence?
    “Back in the day” when every team had at least 1 goon, all this stuff still happened but the goons would fight each other after. Very rarely would a goon fight a non-goon (I’m reminded of DET’s planned and calculated line brawl / hit on Claude Lemieux in the 90’s after he broke a guys jaw).
    It seems like things like the Gudbranson hit on Dube (for which he apologized after and Dube was not injured) used to happen all the time when there were enforcers, and still happen now. That’s what it seems like to me, but I haven’t tracked down any numbers to back this up.
    So, do we actually need enforcers? Was Hamonics face fracture for nothing? Was it for team morale? Or, to quote a bad Netflix movie, was it a “stupid and useless gesture”?

    • canadian1967

      If you want evidence, just ask any of the players.
      Try Gretzky, or Lemieux etc…
      They all say that it is a required element.
      But nooo… let’s listen to Soccer Moms and Dads.
      What does it matter anyway? The vocal minority that thinks it knows best, will just crank up the volume and drown out the majority like usual.

      • 左翼二

        Drown out the majority. Almost all the comments here are suggesting the Flames need to add toughness. Does that count as being drowned out?
        I don’t have access to Gretzky or Lemieux, I have access to Flames Nation.
        I’m neither Soccer Mom nor Soccer Dad.

        • canadian1967

          The point is that NONE of us want the Flames to dress a Goon, but there ARE 4 lines dressed for every game and having a player dressed who can actually play 8 – 10 hard, physical minutes while possessing the ability to “keep the peace” is a good thing.
          Hockey is a hard game, for hard men. I personally hate when checks aren’t finished, “fly bys” are cause for benching when I’m coaching.
          You can be a hard team to play against if ALL your players will just show that compete level where they bump every guy after they pass the puck, and make them pay a physical price for making a play. Every Time, not dirty, just F-in HARD on the puck and player.
          If you then have someone on your bench who can stick up for you it is easier to play the game in this fashion, which by the way is how the game is meant to be played.

          Hockey is a Hard, Fast and Physical game played in a Skillful manner.

          If you take out 2 elements of the game, then it’s just not the same game.
          It can’t be just Fast and Skillful.
          It can’t be just Hard and Physical.

          Hockey MUST be all 4 elements.

          Or it’s NOT Hockey.

    • Luter 1

      Another guy that obviously never played or was Bantam C caliber. You cannot allow guys like Dube get cheapshotted. The Flames never learn, same thing happened to Ferland first year, now he’s gone because of concussion problems (not from fighting). Sick of Calgary always being the nice guys and on the short end of the cheapshots and scraps. You don’t think Johnny Hockey wouldnt benefit from a Ryan Reaves on this team???

      • 左翼二

        So you’re saying that if Reaves or someone similar were a Flame, Johnny wouldn’t get slashed? When the Flames did have that type of player, Big Ern for example, that Flames players didn’t get slashed?

      • calgaryfan

        Ferland was not a good fighter at the NHL level. He did well in junior but his style of waiting for the big punch hurt him in the NHL. He took a lot of punches in his NHL fights and got dinged a few times and probably had to quit fighting. Your comment about bantam C caliber was unnecessary and petty.

      • canadian1967

        For anyone 50 years of age or so, Bantam “C” was what we had to play because of course those “ratings” were based on Town Population back when everyone just played for their Hometown unless they made the WHL or AHL, before all the new “AA” teams cropped up.
        For instance my Hometown was “C” because the population was 1300, we also only had 13 – 17 players any given year. Whoever registered made the team.
        Almost every game in our league we played against the Larger Towns just South of Calgary that had 3 teams worth of registered players to pick from, and we played their top teams in our league, not their “C” team.
        We had the Lethbridge AA team play in our Midget “C” tournament . They never won a game.

        The point is, we played against guys who went on to play in the WHL, AJHL, AHL and NHL almost every game growing up on our “C” team, back then that’s just how it was.

        Nowadays Hockey is a Sport for the elite/rich if you want to play in anything above a “C” level team. I bet you anything that there are plenty of kids who aren’t on travelling teams, that are Damn good players but won’t be given the opportunity to move up levels, but that doesn’t mean they deserve your obvious derision.

        You sound just like those AA wankers we played against that Big -mouthed themselves into a corner that 10 minutes later they wouldn’t go into to save their lives.

        So, even though I only played “C”, I think my opinion is still valid, “Bud…”

        Gudbransson thought Dube was going to receive the bank pass, so stepped up on Dube, and if Dube had taken the pass he would have been snotted by Gudbransson.
        But, Gudbransson had made the decision to step up, then once he saw the timing was off and that Dube wasn’t going to get the puck you can see him let off on the check and not “blow through” Dube like he could have. Dube has now learned to keep his head up and be aware that there is a BIG difference between a Man and a Boy and that he is now playing against Men, not Boys.
        If Gudbransson had been like Tom Wilson, Dube’s funeral would have been taking place today.

        I’m glad that Gudbransson stepped up on Dube, and that the check was “gentle” because that was an easy way for Dube to learn a lesson.

        It’s too bad that Hamonic got hurt, but I hope that this is something that Dube takes a huge lesson from and ends up being a catalyst in putting the team on tack for a great year.

      • R4anders

        We live in a society today where opinions and facts have merged.All of the information in regards to NHL fighting majors clearly shows that having a fighter on your team is not an advantage that will win you win any games.

  • Chucky

    This team could do with a little meanness, nobody took cheap shots on Gilmor or Mullen because although they were little guys they would pick their spot and bite back. I am not sure that they actually need a fighter if they have a whole bunch of guys who are intent on putting the opposition players into the front row by driving them through the boards. The only guys that showed up to hit on Wednesday were Bennett and Jankowski and they did not play enough to have an effect.

    • Luter 1

      And big bodied Jankowski had an opportunity to obliterate a couple of Canucks early and threw half-hearted checks instead. Bennett is one of few that throws a check with any impunity. Even Hathaway gets people looking too bad his skating is suspect.

  • LannyMac

    It only makes sense to me that when when of your smaller players are run by a guy who is, I’m guessing thirty to forty pounds heavier that you need to do the same. Then let them start searching for the fist match. When you have Hamonic looking for revenge, as honourable as that was, it does nothing when he’s outmatched. It proves that no matter how useless Peluso would be on the ice he serves a purpose that palpable.

    • Luter 1

      Not as Honorable as you think he thought he was going to ge away with his fake fighting he got away with last year. He finally got tagged, his scrapping is done with.

  • Fan the Flames

    You only require the enforcer type now on a few games a year . Edmonton, Anaheim and apparently Vancouver now the problem is you give up some skill but that’s the price to keep the thugs from taking liberties with your star players.

    • Killer Marmot

      Gudbranson is not an enforcer. He rarely gets into a fight, takes a moderate number of penalties, and is often chided for playing smaller than his actual size.

      He does, however, have one hell of an uppercut.

  • Flint

    First, Hamonic is not a victim.
    Second, I don’t think Hamonic thought he had to fight, I think he thought he should fight and chose to do so.
    Third, if the league actually got it’s act together and punished cheap hits like the one laid by Gudbranson… for example a game misconduct for a blatant, high and dangerous interference hit… there would have been no fight with Gudbranson.

    Similar to that rat Max Domi and his cheap shot on Ekblad… that suspension was meaningless…. he didn’t miss a single real game, didn’t lose a dollar. Should have been suspended 10 regular season games.

    Instead we have “scores will be settled”

    • Kevin R

      And this is it in a nutshell. If the league ever manages to get its refs to consistently call the crap & they penalize it properly, then yes we can eliminate they need for enforcers. That isnt the case in the NHL & now we will probably see Peluso & Prout in this game. Rightfully so, because I can easily see this game getting out of hand tonight.

    • If the league actually enforced its rules and punished cheap shot artists like Kadri or Marchand, I doubt Gudbranson would have even been acquired by the Canucks. We suffer from it too, like Kadri’s blindside hit on Daniel Sedin, Trevor Lewis on Brock Boeser, and others.

      By the way, while the hit was bad, it wasn’t so much that Gudbranson was trying to hurt Dube, it’s more Gudbranson is a seriously bad player who completely muffed the hit. I wouldn’t have been surprised or disappointed if he received supplementary discipline, you simply can’t do that. It’s not safe.

  • Rockmorton65

    I just don’t see where Prout fits in.

    Do they leave Stone & Valimaki together and have Prout in the top 4? Or bump Stone up with Hanifin and then stick Valimaki with Prout?
    Valimaki/Hanifin & Prout/Stone?

  • Off the wall

    I’m going to share my story with you. Last week when I was playing hockey, I was given a heavy check from behind, during a scrum along the boards. I’m 5’6 150 lbs. He was close to 6’0 and easily 190 lbs. I went on my ass and banged my head on the ice. Play stopped, however no one did a thing, nor said a thing to this BIG guy. I wasn’t happy. We had bigger boys on our team, why didn’t they at least SAY something?

    My only response in retribution, was to hip checked him later in in the game and got my revenge as he crumpled on the ice. I thought for sure I was going to get the piss beat out of me. I wouldn’t stand a chance against such a big guy and I knew it.

    He got up and chirped me a bit, but the rest of the game, I was thinking he’s going to “cream me” and I played with trepidation, as I was constantly looking over my shoulder.

    This week, we had a MONSTER of a man 6’5, at least 220lbs on our team. I chatted to him in the dressing room about last weeks scenario and during warmups pointed out the player who took liberties with me.
    I didn’t want to create any problems, I just wanted to feel SAFE on the ice.

    He told me, “ Off the wall “, as long as you’re on my team, I’ve got your back.” I’m not going to let a big guy hurt you “
    I can’t explain how much it made me feel better.

    During warmup I went over to the guy who laid me on my ass. I had a chat with him to bury any animosity that he might have been harbouring towards me (about my hit on him) and indicated the new MONSTER on our team wasn’t going to allow anyone on our team to get hurt. He looked toward him and agreed.

    The game was clean, fun and that BIG boy on the opposing team never so much as bothered to come near me during the game. I didn’t even notice him at all.

    This may be simplistic, after- all we’re playing old timers hockey with no refs. But the outcome is similar. You have to feel safe on the ice, otherwise you’re not really playing hockey. Because you’re too busy worrying about that one play that’s going to hurt you. At least it was for me, cuz I’m the smallest guy on our team.

    Whether or not Prout does a dance with Gudbranson doesn’t matter tonight. It’s all the other players feeling SAFE with his presence.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    At first I thought that Gudbranson may not ha e tried to take out Dube, but after watching some fighting clips of Gudbranson and what led up to the fight, it is clear Gudbranson often crosses the line.

    Here is the problem with payback, it can go a few ways and only one way will get the fans and players feeling it. Prout can challenge Gudbranson to a scrap and pummel him into submission; or they could drop the gloves and have an uneventful wrestling match. There is the possibility that Gudbranson gets the better of Prout which would sap the energy out of the building and the team; or the team could make the Canucks pay by pasting the young Canuck players. Personally, I like a combination of the fist and last options. Calgary needs to find its own energy and not wait to react.

  • Derzie

    Great article Ryan. For me, it draws attention to the fact that we just are not skilled enough yet to take the high road. I am now firmly in the facepuncher stopgap measure (Mickey’s plan A). I was drinking my own kool aid of thinking we were able to take the high road to get past the goonery, but Travis’ injury and zero ability to respond without reinforcements seals the deal. Bring on the punchers. If they can cancel out Gudbranson tonight (preferably twice), mission accomplished. A slash or two wouldn’t hurt as well.

  • JoelOttosJock

    This is why players like Lucic and Wilson in Washington are well worth their salaries. Having a defenceman like Prout isnt the awnser for a successful team. #1 he isnt good enough. Plain and simple. Can anyone out there really argue that Prout is an upgrade or on par with Valimqkki Andersson or Stone? I do not believe so. #2 sitting five or seven if he gets the instigator disrupts more for a coach than a third on fourth line winger. I would have fathered the Flames sign Reaves than Ryan. Would have made the team way more competitive. Not many guys are going to take liberties with Mr. Reaves to awnser to. I am happy what Hamonic did though. He is a beauty.