"Get that little mustache back here, Georgie Boy!" - Frederick Breedon
Some folks -- including Dirk -- scratched their heads when David Poile claimed enforcer Brian McGrattan off waivers just days into the 2011-2012 season. But what the Nashville Predators got in return, that they were losing anyway in a retiring Wade Belak (RIP), was the intangible of the "great locker room guy."
It's worth remembering just how puzzling it was when David Poile claimed McGrattan off waivers in October 2011, putting tough guy Zach Stortini on waivers in return. Was McGrattan or Stortini a piece in an elaborate trade scheme? Was McGrattan a better brute than Stortini? Why was Poile adding sanctioned violence when the team needed scoring help to stay competitive in the higher-speed "new NHL?"
In the words of our fearless leader, McGrattan was a "non-factor" in outcomes of games last season. Here's a synopsis:
Advanced stats only belabor the point about an enforcer's lack of influence on wins & losses. [McGrattan] skated with 4th-line players, played against 4th-line players, and took the fewest shots on goal among the forwards per 60 minutes of 5-on-5.
The best you can really hope for with players like this is that nothing really bad happens during his few minutes of ice time.
I swear, every time I watch that, I lose count somewhere after 25 punches landed for Big Ern.
But the real value add for the Predators in McGrattan was his inspiring personal story, as evidenced by the talk he gave last season to a Nashville homeless shelter crowd about his recovery from alcoholism:
McGrattan clearly had a positive influence on now-departed Jordin Tootoo in this regard, and if Big Ern's Twitter feed is any indication, he's the kind of humble goofball that keeps guys loose and light, while at the same time demonstrating that all sorts of good things are possible when you take it a day at a time. These intangible contributions were enough to reward McGrattan with a one-year contract extension at the previous rate of $600k.
getting married today!!!!!!— brian mcgrattan (@bigern10) July 21, 2012
Now that he's married (sorry, ladies), will Big Ern be more relaxed than he is now (is that even possible?)?
In all seriousness, with Jordin Tootoo's departure, and despite a possible agitator roster battle between recently-claimed Rich Clune and upcoming prospect Michael Latta, it's possible that McGrattan could see more minutes this season, depending on how the other two fare in their development. With a one-year extension, David Poile has signaled to McGrattan that they like what he brings to the table, but that they'd possibly like to see more from him before upping the pay or extending the years. What "more" would mean in that context is sort of up for debate -- McGrattan's offensive contributions are only marginally better than Wade Belak's were, but it's not far-fetched to think that Poile would like some added on-ice protection for the younger players coming up/staying up this year (Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Jonathon Blum, Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, etc.). But to reiterate what Dirk said, the best thing to hope for with a player like McGrattan is that nothing really bad happens during the 4 minutes he plays every third or fourth game of the season.
We all know what to expect out of an enforcer, so the question surrounding McGrattan this season isn't so much about him as it is about the Nashville Predators: how will the system of play evolve this season, if at all, and will that system continue to require the services of a bulky bodyguard?