Calgary Flames GM Brian Burke Trades for Toughness in Westgarth

The Flames have acquired forward Kevin Westgarth from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for minor leaguer forward Greg Nemisz. The six-foot-four and 234 pound winger has failed to score any points in 12 games with the Hurricanes this season. A veteran of 133 career NHL games with Carolina and the Los Angeles Kings, Westgarth has recorded 202 penalty minutes, three goals and six assists.

Kevin Westgarth, left, is a heavyweight with an Ivy League education and a soft side (Photo by Mark Mauno).
Kevin Westgarth, left, is a heavyweight with an Ivy League education and a soft side (Photo by Mark Mauno).

Nemisz registered four goals and five assists with the Abbotsford Heat this season. The former first round pick of the Flames in 2008, 25th overall, has only appeared in 15 career games in Calgary with just one assist.

Need for Toughness

“I don’t like the way we’ve been pushed around,” said Burke, the team’s acting general manager, after the Flames two consecutive shutout losses at home. “I don’t think that’s any secret. And having one guy that’ll answer the bell? That’s not enough in our league.”

Burke said he has liked Westgarth “since he played college hockey … I liked him in the American League. What he brings is what we desperately need: Size and toughness.”

The trade is Burke’s first since taking over as GM of the Flames after recently firing Jay Feaster. Burke said he was looking for a permanent GM to take over the position. But many fans wouldn’t be surprised if Burke continues in this role for a while yet, maybe for the rest of the season. Many Flames fans wonder if Burke will be calling the shots at the NHL Draft takes place in June and announcing the drafting of any player over 6’4 and 200 plus pounds.

brian burke
Brian Burke (Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)

The era of Burke’s big bad Flames has officially begun. After his team was unable to score in two consecutive games, Burke brings in a player with no points this season. Truculence is the key word in Calgary. Flames fans can expect more “beef” in their lineup. But will it be at the expense of skills players?

Impact of Burke’s decisions

The trade of Westgarth may be good news for Flames fans depending on their point of view. This is not the type of trade that improve the fortunes of a struggling and less skillful team. It may improve the Flames’ odds of drafting in the top three. And maybe Connor McDavid might imagine himself wearing a different red sweater in 2015.

Of course, this trade does not determine the fate of the franchise. But it is Burke’s philosophy that has many Flames fans feeling “black and blue” as per his own words. They can be forgiven to be apprehensive about the new direction of the team. “But, to me, it’s time for this team to get bigger, and I think this will help our smaller players,” said Burke. “We’ve got some smaller defencemen. It takes a lot of heat off the defence and the forwards sure take less of a pounding this way. I think fear and toughness are both contagious.”

If Burke is after a more balance team, sure, the Flames could use more size. But how about size that can also add some offense such as Dwight King of Los Angeles or Milan Lucic of Boston?

What does Burke really have in mind for the Calgary Flames? Burke said: “We’re open for business,” said Burke, when asked if more deals should be expected. Who else does Burke intend to add to the current team? Will it affect his decision if the team continues its slide down the standings?

Burke has already stated he is an impatient man and doesn’t want to follow a long rebuild like the Edmonton Oilers. Burke wants to speed up the rebuilding process by at what cost? Bringing in players to fit his style of hockey, like Westgarth, may means getting rid of small players such as Mike Cammalleri, Mikael Backlund, Sven Baertschi, and Kris Russell.

Mikael Backlund Flames
Mikael Backlund (Icon SMI)

This is a fear that is growing among Flames fans, that of skillful players being replaced by the likes of Westgarth, Brian McGrattan and Lane MacDermid. The Flames are becoming grittier but also reducing a roster spot for a young player who can bring more, especially offense skills. It may feel like a step backwards to many fans. Is this the best way for a rebuilding team?

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