Flames’ Burke places emphasis on size ahead of NHL Draft

Brain Burke drops by Prime Time Sports to talk about Calgary’s coaching vacancy, his thoughts on the combine, and the NHL Draft.

Despite the fact speed clearly won out over size in the Stanley Cup Final, Brian Burke’s mantra remains the same: His team needs to get bigger.

While other teams may be taking a page out of Pittsburgh’s playbook by valuing swiftness over expanse at the upcoming draft, Burke doesn’t anticipate his club’s mindset will change.

"(There was) a big speed differential in the Final," said the Calgary Flames president of hockey operations who has long built teams with the goal of being as big and belligerent as possible.

"It’s a copycat league and if Pittsburgh wins, yes, you’ll see guys drafting differently."

Not Calgary.

"I don’t think so," he said.

"You still play 82 games and you’ve got to make the playoffs and to do that you’ve got to play big teams, especially in the west.

"Now you say to yourself ‘maybe we’ve got to go with more speed,’ but the teams that made the playoffs and made it a few rounds like Los Angeles and St. Louis – those are big teams. To get there you need size."

Most importantly, you need skill.

"It’s already moved towards more skill and speed but I still think the teams that are successful have some size in the lineup and can play that kind of game," said Burke, who points out to win the Stanley Cup you need depth and luck to go with skill, speed and size.

It also helps when you have a third line that can dominate like Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel did for the Penguins.

The Penguins were the third-lightest team in the NHL and the eighth-shortest. And they finished on top of the heap, dismantling a beefy San Jose Sharks team that was on an impressive roll until they met with Sidney’s stealth bunch.

Burke admitted the increased emphasis on speed has been a big part of NHL roster-shaping the last few years, partially explaining why the fourth-line lugs he and so many other GMs used to adore are gone. Big enforcers simply couldn’t keep up and have almost all been replaced by quick fourth-liners whose speed allows them to kill penalties, create energy and apply pressure on the opposition.

Flames GM Brad Treliving said he doesn’t think Pittsburgh’s quickness will prompt teams to draft dramatically different at next Friday’s NHL Draft in Buffalo.

"You have to be conscious of speed but players have to be able to read the game – they can compensate for lack of quickness," said Treliving whose team picks sixth overall.

"To me compete isn’t just running over guys – it will you win puck battles. What stood out for me with Pittsburgh was speed and obviously skill but their compete level.

"At the end of the day San Jose is not a slow team. You look at the teams they had to play and you have to be able to match up in terms of overall size. I don’t want to take anything away from Pittsburgh but it looked to me like San Jose had no juice left."

As Treliving says, ideally every player drafted would 6-foot-5 who can skate like the wind.

But mutants like that are rare.

So balance is the key. That said, Treliving echoes his boss’s desire to beef up the Flames’ roster.

"Speed is definitely a factor and we’ve talked about that internally in our meetings," said Flames director of scouting, Tod Button.

"Speed is important and size is important but skill is important too. When I walk into Walmart there isn’t an aisle for big, skilled guys. It’s too simplistic to say you’ll draft fast or big guys. You look at the total package and all things being equal between two guys you take the bigger player."

The weighing of size, speed and skill will come in to play for the Flames as they debate who to pick sixth overall.

Their biggest organizational need is skilled forwards, preferably with some size. That said, the club’s mantra is strictly to take the best player available, defined as the player who will have the best career when they look back 15 years later.

With the top three picks of the draft set in stone, it’s very likely big London winger Matthew Tkachuk and sizeable Cape Breton forward Pierre-Luc Dubois will go fourth and fifth.

That leaves the Flames with forwards like 178-pound Mississauga winger Alexander Nylander, Windsor’s 6-foot-6, 209-pound centre Logan Brown, mid-sized Penticton centre Tyson Jost or perhaps U.S. development team hotshot Clayton Keller, who also lacks size.

Alternatively they could pick from a host of talented defencemen like Calgary’s Jake Bean, London’s Olli Juolevi, Windsor’s Mikhail Sergachev or Sarnia’s Jakob Chychrun.

With so many great options the Flames have the flexibility to trade down several spots if, by doing so, they can also address their goaltending void or the gaping hole on their top line.

An important draft for a team with sizeable holes to fill despite a growing list of promising prospects in their midst.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.