Call it what you want and read into it what you want, but the Flames continue to win when Garnet Hathaway is in the line-up while lately, they continue to lose without him, dropping each of their last three games in which he's been scratched.
Nor is anyone pinning Monday's 4-1 loss in San Jose on the absence of Hathaway. They went into a tough building against the defending Stanley Cup finalist on the back end of back-to-back games and got thoroughly outplayed and lost. So did Anaheim last night in the same circumstances, getting pumped 5-1 in Montreal. It happens. Don't overthink it. The Sharks are the best team in the Pacific Division.
But what you can't argue is while not possessing the same offensive tools as Tkachuk, Hathaway packs many of the same agitating qualities that everyone effuses about when referencing that part of Tkachuk's game and there's something to be said about that.
It's also important to put the discussion into proper context because you have to be cautious in overvaluing the role that fourth line grinders, pluggers and muckers play in wins and losses.
The debate -- and apologies to fans for re-opening an old wound -- is not whether to play Hathaway or a guy like the speedy and skilled Paul Byron on the fourth line. The decision for Glen Gulutzan these days has come down to Hathaway or Lance Bouma. That's what we're talking about here.
Without getting into all the data points, the argument the advanced stats disciples will raise is it should be Bouma because he produces more shot attempts in his ice time compared to Hathaway.
But how much more?
Is it a tangible enough difference in the nominal minutes he would play on any given night to offset the other non-measureable attributes that Hathaway brings such as an ability to get under the skin of the opponent and often their better players -- see Max Domi, Dustin Byfuglien. I reference shot attempts (Corsi) occasionally and I understand their value so please do not portray me as turning this into a stats versus eyeball debate and choosing sides. But I do know those other qualities are useful too -- and so does Brent Burns.
The prolific Sharks defenceman said as much the last time the Sharks and Flames met at the Saddledome, a game in which he was first introduced to Hathaway.
That game was last March, eight days into Hathaway's NHL career and Burns had some high praise for the rough-and-tumble native of Kennebunkport, Maine, who has the jersey number befit of a football linebacker and plays like one too.
Brent Burns on Garnet Hathaway: "What did he draw, five penalties tonight? He plays hard. Those are guys that you want on your team."— Darren Haynes (@DarrenWHaynes) March 8, 2016
Well, Hathaway is on the team, but he wasn't in the line-up Monday and the result was the same as the previous two times he watched a game from the press box -- a Calgary loss.
Better Off With Him, Than Without Him
The Flames lost their next four games and 10 days later Hathaway was back in the NHL. He made his season debut that night in Minnesota in which the Flames began their current 12-6-1 run that has got them back in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
Stockton's top two goal scorers are Linden Vey (8 goals in 20 AHL games) and Hunter Shinkaruk (7 goals in 14 AHL games). Both had stints with the big club this season and didn't generate much -- and much of that time came playing in the top nine. If they're not producing when alongside skilled players, is their past offensive ability going to transfer in a fourth line role? Them being in the minors right now probably answers that question, or at least how Flames management sees it.
Also, it might be a little early to dismiss Hathaway as a construction worker dressed in a hockey uniform.
By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.
Recent Flames Reading:
- Picking up the Pieces: Goaltending in Organization Much Better After Being Blown Up - Determined to get better and deeper, Flames moved on from five goalies with NHL experience last summer and brought in five replacements -- and it's worked. (December 19, 2016)
- Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Reasons Behind the Flames Stunning Turnaround - It was the furthest thing from the Sweet 16. More so, it was the Sour 16. But it's been followed by a phenomenal run that has the Flames back in contention. What gives? (December 9, 2016)
- FF80F Podcast: Episode 9 - With Flames Heating Up, Jermain Franklin Stopped By - You'll enjoy this visit with TSN's longtime Calgary correspondent, who shares some TSN stories and also weighs in with his thoughts on all the Flames hot topics. (December 5, 2016)