Tough Guys, Skill and the Healthy Scratch

November 15th, 2013 | Posted in Commentary
By: D'Arcy McGrath

I loved watching Tim Hunter in his hey day in Calgary! Loved it.

The animosity with the Oilers was palpable four times a season at the Saddledome and as a youngster I’d scream until my voice was shot leaving me a croacking mess the next day in junior high. Back in the day the games set up almost like UFC in the modern era with an undercard of Peplinski scrapping Jackson, Sheehy exchanges fists with Krushelnyski, Nick Fotiu getting turned down by everybody.

Later the Flames developed Stu Grimson, then Sandy McCarthy, the almost cup year had a cruise missile by the name of Oliwa … I loved all of it.

But I’m done. I join many a Calgary hockey fan that just can’t for the life of him understand why the Flames dress two guys on a night in and night out basis when all they seem to accomplish is getting hemmed in their own zone and icing the puck whenever they flip their boots over the boards.

Developing Players

Having run a public based hockey site for 15 years I certainly understand the Calgary hockey fan’s passion for young players. They can do no wrong, they should never be scratched, and they should never sit when veteran player “X” is dogging it and not doing anything the coach has asked.

Youth is equal to hope, the promise of better times, the future as a glimmer today and who can really argue against that.

However all you have to do is gaze up the QEII to see how well an organization that is runny exactly in that manner has succeeded in turning top prospects and draft picks into a cohesive unit that is marching forward towards promised success.

It doesn’t work.

Kids need to be developed, not set free on a grizzled professional hockey environment that they are ill prepared to handle.

Which pretty much puts me on the fence, a position I tend to find in most issues I admit.

Issue One – Player Development

My not in the know opinion of what the Flames are doing?

1. They want to develop Zetterbergs instead of Kovalchuk’s
2. They see the youth as the best way to change the team’s culture into a new era (not bringing in vets to do it)
3. They quietly have admitted that the last “era” featured skill that didn’t put in the same effort in the other 150 feet of ice

So if a young player is freelancing a little too much he’s leaned on. If a young player is inconsistent he’s leaned on. If a young player fails to take direction from the coaching staff he’s leaned on.

What does this do other than drive Calgary hockey fans nuts?

Teach kids the right way to play from the beginning to develop the organization in a Red Wing way, where era after era comes along and plugs into the model with very little confusion as to what is expected.

Is it an easy model to achieve? Lord no, but I like that they are trying to accomplish such high ideals.

The downside of an approach like this is limited … you get a disgruntled young player ~cough Yakupov ~cough asking to be traded, limiting his value and putting the team in a tough trade situation. But is this really a downside? Maybe it’s better to find out that a player doesn’t have the fortitude or foundation to be a core player earlier and cut ties in the development process before too much time and energy is invested?

Works for me.

Issue Two – Size and Toughness

So I’ve established my support for benching or ice limiting the Flames future, I’m on board. However, don’t mistake that for a complete endorsement of Calgary roster decisions this season. Not in the least.

To me the day of the guy that can only fight is over, it’s done. I’m not a fan of carrying the shoot out specialist either, but that’s a whole other article. Brian McGrattan is a great guy and I understand a positive influence in the dressing room. Tim Jackman is a solid foot soldier and a guy that will always protect his teammates and do what’s asked. Nobody is questioning their professionalism or effort in a game in and game out basis.

But to dress both of them on a fourth line and insert a young developing player between them? What can that possibly accomplish?

Does the presence of these players allow the young, physically immature roster holders time and space to develop their craft? Really? I just don’t see a league full of head hunters chasing down and punishing kids left and right. Plus in a game where a young player gets lit up you often don’t see much a response from the tough guys on the Flames roster anyway. It just doesn’t add up.

Now if the Flames want to dress one, and then have a myriad of young players on the roster that can be inserted for one another I’d be much happier.

Imagine a world where the conversation is “Mikael, Sven you guys are sitting tonight. We’re just not seeing progression towards the details we pointed out last week. Max Reinhart and Corbin Knight will be taking your place against the Oilers” … then you have young player competing against young player to be more culturally appropriate to the model they are developing.

Leave the fighting to energy players that can keep a team from getting in trouble five on five and drop the gloves now and then to help their team find some zip. I think the policing days are over.

When did I become so soft?

Tim Hunter would kill me on the spot.


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