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Brian Burke, Trevor Gillies, and the circular logic of enforcers

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Brian Burke is one of those responsible for Trevor Gillies' continued employment in professional hockey, among other goons.

Trevor Gillies is currently employed by the Flames' farm team.
Trevor Gillies is currently employed by the Flames' farm team.
Bruce Bennett

Circular reasoning: a logical fallacy in which the reasoner uses the ending conclusion to begin his or her argument. The argument exists because the conclusion has already been decided, and that conclusion supports the argument. To put it simply:

X is true because of Y.

Y is true because of X.

Or:

Enforcers are needed to protect hockey players.

Hockey players need to be protected because of enforcers.

And thus, the job of the enforcer exists. Enforcer X on Team A needs to be in the lineup, because otherwise Enforcer Y on team B might go after his teammates. Likewise, Enforcer Y needs to be in the lineup to stop Enforcer X. And then maybe the two will fight each other while everyone else is just trying to score goals, I don't know.

There's been a lot of heat surrounding Trevor Gillies these days, and for good reason. In the very first Adirondack Flames game, he went berserk against Rochester Americans players, most notably assaulting William Carrier while the Sabres prospect, gloves still on, could only helplessly turtle on the ice.

He's done it before.

There are all sorts of disgusting stats you can volley at Gillies. Does 261 penalty minutes over 57 NHL games sound right to you? How about 1,575 over 390 in the AHL, where many teams' prospects play, trying to make the NHL? Do they deserve to get mauled by a goon with no future in the sport? Is it acceptable if someone does this to Markus Granlund or Sven BaertschiTrevor Gillies doesn't deserve to be here.

Gillies apologized. Said it would never happen again. This isn't even his highest profile incident, and yet he keeps doing it. The man should be banned from stepping on the ice at any level. He's been suspended for 12 games.

Brian Burke, noted truculence enthusiast, employs him. Gillies doesn't have an NHL contract, but he's a member of the Flames. He took part in Flames training camp. He plays alongside Flames prospects.

Brian Burke is responsible for the continued employment of some enforcers. Last season, when Brian McGrattan left a game early for an elbow on Andrew Alberts, Burke saw his team outplayed, and his first reaction was to immediately trade for Kevin Westgarth, because he determined the reason the Flames lost 2-0 and were outshot 30-18 was because they weren't tough enough. Westgarth is gone now, but the Flames instead decided to trade for Brandon Bollig and chuck an insane amount of money at Deryk Engelland.

Because otherwise, the Flames might get beat up. You know, by guys like Trevor Gillies.

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole, Burke talked about his continued support for fighting in hockey.

"But I believe there’s still a role for fighting and I shudder at the idea of the game without it. Because I think we have a rat problem now because of the instigator penalty, and if you take the big dogs off the ice, now it’s overrun with rats."

Dear Mr. Burke: you employ Trevor Gillies. You. One of the most despicable rats in recent hockey history, and he's in your team's system. Or is William Carrier a rat now? Eric Tangradi was always a rat, wasn't he? The first thing I think of when I think of Cal Clutterbuck is "rat".

Or what about Shawn Thornton? The former Bruin took issue with Brooks Orpik's hit on Loui Eriksson, and when Orpik didn't want to fight, he decided to force him down to the ice and repeatedly punch him in the face. Enforcer logic dictates Thornton's mere presence should have stopped Eriksson from getting hurt. It didn't. Instead, primitive retribution was served in very rat-like behaviour.

Or what about Patrick Roy?

Wow, sure sounds like a rat. That worked out well for him; the Wild beat the Avalanche by a score of 8-0 over two games.

"Your skill players? They like looking down the bench and seeing the big boys there. There’s no security blanket better than a heavyweight."

Alternatively, teams could simply stop dressing heavyweights. Stop employing them. After all, what's there to fear if it's only hockey players against hockey players? Sure, scrums will still happen. But you're not going to have Thornton or Gillies out there turning a scrum into a legitimate assault.

"So the idea that hockey is better without toughness, that’s not even a myth, that’s just wrong. I think our fans want fast, skilled hockey, but they want black-and-blue hockey, too."

Nobody is saying toughness in hockey is a bad thing. Big hits are awesome. Shot blocking is pretty tough. It's a contact sport, and that's going to guarantee there's going to be a certain amount of violence to the game. That's fine. Trevor Gillies is less "black-and-blue" and more "if this wasn't on ice, he would be held criminally responsible". Brian McGrattan is less "black-and-blue hockey" and more "terrible at it". There's a difference between hockey being tough and feeling the need to dress no-skill players because of some myth that without a pure goon in your lineup, Johnny Gaudreau is going to get his brains bashed in (probably by another team's pure goon).

"The amount of fighting has been significantly reduced, that’s a good thing. We don’t have bench-clearing brawls, we don’t have three-hour games."

You're fucking kidding me, right? That was your team! Not even a year ago! THAT WAS YOU!

"The guy who sits on the end of the bench and plays two minutes … that’s been gone for several years now. Your toughness has to be able to play now."

McGrattan's career ice time average is 4:52. Okay, so that's a little more than two minutes. Good job. There's zero indication he can actually play. Bollig consistently looks lost, useless, and terrible out there. And Engelland...

"In the West … I mean, we’re going into St. Louis tomorrow. Big, ugly team."

The Blues destroyed the Flames 4-1, and Engelland was largely responsible for that, either taking out his own players or giving St. Louis free powerplays with sheer idiocy.

"You play Anaheim, they’ve always been big and ugly, now they’ve added Kesler, who’s not big and ugly but he’s a grumpy, hostile player. Then you go up to San Jose, they’re historically one of the biggest teams in the league … I said this in a speech the other night: size and toughness, they’re not optional in the West."

Okay, but here's the thing: your big players need to also not suck if you want to compete. The Ducks just got Ryan Kesler? Good for them! They got a career .60 points per game player who can usually be counted on for at least 20 goals a year. Good luck getting that out of Bollig. The Sharks have Joe Thornton, who is freaking huge, and also nearly a point per game after over 1,200 NHL games. But I'm sure McGrattan can keep up with him.

Heck, we're no strangers to toughness in Calgary. We got to watch Jarome Iginla for 16 years. Yeah, he could fight. You know what else he could do? Score 50 goals in a single season and near singlehandedly bring the Flames to within a goal of the Stanley Cup.

Hell, just last night, Blake Wheeler took 17 penalty minutes: an instigator, a fight against Robyn Regehr, and a misconduct. Wheeler also has 304 points in 457 games, and although the season is young, currently sits at a point per game. I'd take him on the Flames in an instant.

Nobody has a problem with toughness. What people have a problem with is useless toughness. The kind of toughness that leaves your team floundering, while Kevin Shattenkirk, who had three assists against Calgary, cackles while he shares three minutes of ice time with McGrattan.

Burke isn’t sold on the suggestion that teams will still dress their fighters when facing an opponent that has visible scrappers in the lineup.

"It messes with your tough guys having a part-time role. They resent it."

Well, shit. Because the Flames sat McGrattan against the Oilers. And it looks like he'll be sitting against the Predators, too. Probably the only reason he drew in against the Blues was because Jiri Hudler had the flu and the Flames didn't have any other bodies to call on.

Your tough guys are a part-time role. They don't play a regular shift. They play a fraction of what everyone else on the team plays. They're still grocery sticks.

And you know what? If they resent it so much - even if sitting them is what the coach thinks is best for the team (and it is) - then that means they're not very good team players. Who wants that?

"My teams have always played like that, but it’s not optional," Burke said. "This is survival skills.

"You want to play with the big boys in the West, you better be big and ugly."

Okay cool.

/waits for the Flames to draft their second-ever top five pick in franchise history

/rinse and repeat

Because if Brian Burke seriously thinks McGrattan, Bollig, and Engelland are the answers to playing against the Blues, the Sharks, and even the Kings, then we're going to be doing nothing but looking forward to the draft for a long, long time.

And getting internationally embarrassed by Trevor Gillies all the while, using Burke's own circular reasoning.

Go Flames?