Smoke But No Fire:The Calgary Flames and the Bertuzzi Acquisition

The signing of Todd “Big Bert” Bertuzzi by the Calgary Flames is a controversial one.

And it’s one with which the Calgary faithful are not entirely comfortable.

Want an example? Take a look at the blog Red Mile: The Calgary Flames Blog:

Ha Ha (nervous laugh)… I thought you said that the Flames just signed Todd Bertuzzi. That’s a good one. Ha Ha. Really… you’re killing me with your great jokes!!! ROTFL!!!”

(And that’s one of the cleaner examples I could find.)

Even my husband, a life-long die-hard Flames fan wasn’t entirely sure about this one.

After a night of really chewing the acquisition over he finally stated tersely: “Well, if he’s a Flame, and he plays well, I’ll support him.”

Why Is This Signing Controversial?

Typically, the signing of a signing of a former all-star forward for (US)$1.95 million for a year wouldn’t be a big deal.

But this isn’t typical. For those of you with only a passing acquaintance with the NHL, Bertuzzi is best remembered for an act of violence he committed while playing for the Vancouver Canucks in 2004. He slammed Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore’s head into the ice in retaliation for an earlier hit Moore made on Canucks captain Markus Naslund. And Bertuzzi’s hit was a nasty sucker punch.

See for yourself: Here or here. (Warning: It’s rather brutal.)

Bertuzzi’s attack not only left Moore concussed but also with three broken vertebrae in his neck.

And now he’ll be back playing in the same division as the Canucks and the Avalanche.

Those games could be tense.

How the Flames Have Tried to Neutralize Negative Publicity

Despite the fact that this signing would not have been necessary had the Flames been able to hold on to Owen Nolan (newly-acquired by the Minnesota Wild), they have done a very good job handling the publicity around the acquisition.

Tactic One: Have a (Really) Good Guy Speak Up for the Bad Guy

It was clever of the team to enlist Jarome Iginla, a clean player, the captain of the Flames and a bona fide hockey superstar (check out his stats on NHL.com), to speak up on behalf of the acquisition of his former Canadian Olympic Team teammate Bertuzzi.

Iginla has offered strong vocal support for Bertuzzi. On the official website of the Calgary Flames, he stated:

“I think he is a character guy…He made a bad decision. It was a bad incident. It he could take it back, I assure you he would. I do believe in second chances. He should move on and I think we should too.”

Smart Tactic Two: Limit the GM’s Airtime After He Almost Derails The PR Initiative

The efforts to win over the Calgary fans were almost derailed by their GM, Darryl Sutter in a press conference. According to the National Post, commenting on the hit on Moore, Sutter stated

“That’s a long time ago…I had a traffic ticket three years ago. I hope there’s three or four fans who can forget that I went through a red light.”

That thud in the background was the sound of the team’s PR people collapsing in agony. Those situations are not really comparable – not unless Sutter ran someone over and ended their hockey career when he ran the light…

The Flames were lucky that random comment did not explode into a big story. But they seem to have learned their lesson. Sutter’s been quite quiet since then.

Smart Tactic Three: Reinforce The Captain’s Praise

Well-respected veteran defenceman Robyn Regehr has joined Iginla in praising Bertuzzi, reinforcing the key messages that the big, bad forward is now one of them, will be good for the team and should be accepted.

As he commented in a Calgary Herald story picked up by Canada.com:

“I know Todd a little bit from playing with him at the (2000) wold championship in St. Petersburg and also at the (2006) Olympics –he’s a good person…I Know there’s some negativity that’s surrounded him in the past. I hope the fans in Calgary can look past that and give him a clean slate.”

Will It Work?

So far it seems to be working rather well. There has not been a run of negative press nor has there been a wave of cancellation of season tickets. Fans may be cursing but they’re still with their team. So far the Calgary Flames have effectively put out the smoldering danger of negative publicity before it could become a raging fire.

Do you think this was well handled?  And how would you react if Bertuzzi was signed to your team?

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2 comments so far

  1. Alexander Ovechkin on

    This was a great breakdown of the Bertuzzi signing. But why are you talking about him when you could be talking about me … the greatest hockey player of them all playing for the greatest hockey team of them all.

  2. abbymartin on

    Very cute. Well, “Mr. Ovechkin”, what are you up to that would deem you newsworthy?

    And aren’t there sports blogs that might be more appropriate places for covering your exploits? I think this blog might be linked to one of the best sports blogs ever and that might be a good place to read about yourself….;)


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