Real playoff MVP

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:07 PM ET

Shortly after 8 p.m. tonight, with a national TV audience looking on, Todd Bertuzzi will make his first on-ice appearance in Calgary since The Incident.

The second he steps onto the ice and every subsequent shift during which he touches the puck, he will be booed. Unmercifully.

It's an understandable, emotional response to one of the most heinous attacks in hockey lore.

However, in Calgary, of all places, it makes no sense.

When you think about it rationally, what fans should almost be doing is applauding him.

Bear with me here.

As reprehensible as his mugging of Steve Moore was, it opened the door for a Flames playoff run and two-month celebration like no other in Calgary's history.

Without the attack and Bertuzzi's subsequent season-ending suspension, there would be no such beast as the Red Mile. It's that simple.

There'd be no waiting list for season tickets. Sellouts would be few and far between. The Flames would not be considered Stanley Cup contenders. Names such as Martin Gelinas, Mike Commodore and Ville Nieminen would mean little to Calgarians. The guy who makes Flames car flags wouldn't be retired in the Bahamas. Flames jerseys wouldn't have outsold underwear. Google searches wouldn't have found Flamesgirls.com.

Melrose wouldn't be known as hockey's party central and Jarome Iginla wouldn't have received the exposure that led him to be recognized as the world's top player.

Not only did Bertuzzi's actions demoralize an extremely talented Canucks club, it also left the team with a sizeable hole that few, if any, men in the NHL could fill.

In Calgary's first-round series against Vancouver, which took overtime in the seventh game to resolve, no one can question the fact the presence of the game's most menacing power forward on the Canucks' top line would have made a difference.

With Calgary winning three of its four games by just one goal, surely Big Bert would have found the scoresheet at least once.

Instead, the NHL's most dominant offensive trio of Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison was forced to use Matt Cooke on the left side.

Think about it -- a first-round loss to Vancouver would have left another bad taste in the mouths of Flames fans whose interest waned through seven years without playoff hockey. Until then, it wasn't cool to be a Flames fan and the franchise would have remained as unstable as the Oilers were heading into the lockout.

Instead, the run that kick-started with Gelinas' OT winner in Game 7 not only made the owners untold millions in playoff revenue, it also helped ensure almost every game is sold out this year.

The run bridged the gap from the lockout, leaving Flames fans with reason to be excited when the dust finally settled.

Without the run, it's unlikely free agents Roman Hamrlik, Darren McCarty or Tony Amonte would have put Calgary atop their destination list.

Most importantly, Jarome Iginla likely would not have made a three-year commitment to the franchise.

To say Big Bert's stupidity saved the franchise would be too dramatic as the CBA did that all by itself.

However, his playoff absence saved the Flames in so many other ways.

So go ahead, boo him all night long. But remember, in some ways he gave this city more than any player ever has.

Too bad someone was almost paralysed in the process.


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