Top 5 Offseason Priorities for New Calgary Flames General Manager Brad Treliving
When Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke hired new Flames general manager Brad Treliving, he took care of his top 2014 offseason priority. Now that he has, the focus has shifted directly onto his latest hire. Treliving’s job is simple enough, of course—to turn the 35-40-7, 27th-ranked Flames into a winner.
Admittedly, it’s going to be a gradual process that will likely span a few seasons, at least. Here are his top five priorities during his first summer on the job.
5. Start the Rebuild His Way, Not Burke’s
It’s imperative that Treliving first start building a team that he can stamp with his personal seal of approval. While he was hired by Burke, which implies the two are on the same page to some extent, at the end of the day, it's Treliving’s butt that is on the line.
That isn’t just in reference to Burke’s renowned, arguably outdated love for enforcers and rarely used synonyms for “toughness” (truculence, anyone?). And it's not a reference to him being “perplexed” by the fine to head coach Bob Hartley for his role in the infamous line brawl between the Vancouver Canucks and Flames, according to the team’s official statement.
As funny as it is that he believes “(Hartley) acted properly in every aspect of this game,” it’s more Burke's well-documented inability to embrace advanced analytics that shows he doesn’t have a complete grasp on the ever-evolving sport.
Perhaps the most telling quote on the matter is this gem provided by Treliving at his introductory press conference. When he was asked if he personally subscribes to possession metrics like Fenwick and Corsi, he said, via Nichols on Hockey: “Well, if I say yes Burke might punch me, right?”
No one is blindly suggesting Burke is wrong on the matter (even if higher-rated possession teams tend to have more success, according to stats compiled by Extra Skater). It only means that Burke micro-managing Treliving will only lead to disaster (especially if Burke really does punch people who disagree with him).
4. Properly Assess the Goaltending Situation
On the subject of goaltending, Burke has all but handed incumbent starter Karri Ramo the job for next season, according to Calgary Sun writer Randy Sportak. However, the 28-year-old netminder is the only one under contract. Thus, regardless of whether or not Ramo is up to the task, Treliving still has to find a goalie.
Current backup Joey MacDonald is an unrestricted free agent and 34 years old. While that’s not “old,” relatively speaking, he is clearly on the downswing, and the Flames might be better suited going after someone else.
That could be 23-year-old Joni Ortio, a restricted free agent who posted good numbers in the American Hockey League last season. However, if Treliving agrees with Burke when he says, “I don’t want Ortio backing up. I want him playing somewhere,” according to Sportak, the GM will likely have to sign a free agent.
Again, it’s up to Treliving to decide which route to pursue, and if it indeed ends up being free agency, several notable names could be available come July 1. They include New Jersey Devil Martin Brodeur, Anaheim Duck Jonas Hiller, Dallas Star Tim Thomas and New York Islander Jaroslav Halak.
Those goalies are all used to being the No. 1 starter, though. It might make more sense to go after a goalie like career backup Thomas Greiss, who, at 28, still has upside. He just posted a career-high .920 save percentage with the Phoenix Coyotes and could cost-effectively complement Ramo and even push him to be better through healthy competition...or just end up being better and win the job himself.
3. Go After Marian Gaborik
If you were to look at Calgary’s official stats page, you’d find a whole lot of centers (14), defensemen (12), left wingers (seven) and minuses (too many to count). It’s curiously devoid of right wingers, though.
There are actually four, but when the one with the most games under his belt last season is Brian McGrattan (76), it speaks to a general lack of depth, to put it kindly. For the record, another is Kevin Westgarth, who is essentially a slightly younger McGrattan. Westgarth will be an unrestricted free agent and shouldn't necessarily be re-signed.
This doesn't mean the Flames now only have three players who can play the position (there are others listed at different positions, including leading scorer Jiri Hudler). However, it does point to a need that has to be addressed via free agency or trade.
According to CapGeek.com, the top available right winger (based on current cap hits) is Marian Gaborik. While that is also a reflection of how tough it will be to sign him, looking further down the list (save for the player in the No. 2 spot—Flames fans, please avert your eyes), he might just be the only good option.
At 41, Daniel Alfredsson is too old to be an impact player anymore. Ales Hemsky is too much of a former Edmonton Oiler. Brian Gionta is too small. Ryan Callahan is too crazy, reportedly thinking he’s worth more than $6 million per year, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.
All that’s left is Radim Vrbata, who might actually be a good fit. But if you’re Brad Treliving, you have to at least try to sign the biggest fish available first to give fans some semblance of hope. He may not be the most complete player, but, considering his play this postseason, that’s Gaborik.
2. Re-Sign Michael Cammalleri
When Burke was unable to unload Michael Cammalleri at the trade deadline and get some assets in exchange for the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, it was almost a blessing in disguise.
Channeling the Human Torch, he went hot almost at will and scored 23 points in his final 19 games of the regular season (after scoring just 22 in his first 44). The Flames, meanwhile? They went 12-9 down the stretch, in part on the strength of Cammalleri’s play.
Yes, that means they ended up with less of a chance at the No. 1 overall pick come this summer’s entry draft, still finishing 14 points back of making the playoffs (I said it was almost a blessing in disguise). It also of course means the Flames will have to pony up some relatively big bucks to keep him.
But barring an unrealistic demand for something over his current $7 million salary, they should. Cammalleri’s play revealed that, even at over 30, he’s capable of being a star in this league, on a team in short supply of them.
Cammalleri lends an air of credibility to the franchise, and he’s still young enough that he can be a big part of the rebuilding process. Letting him go would conversely only signal a desire to tank.
For a team that earned a reputation for trying hard night in, night out this past season—admittedly, without often winning—that just wouldn’t make sense. And I thought the Flames were trying to put the Jay Feaster era behind them.
1. Draft Wisely
Whereas Cammalleri and whomever else Treliving signs this offseason will represent the present of this organization, the success undeniably lies in its future and specifically the team's ability to draft well. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Being armed with the fourth pick this summer is both good and bad. It’s good since it’s relatively high, but the general consensus is that there are only three upper-echelon talents are available this year: Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart and Kingston Frontenacs center Sam Bennett.
As a result, the likelihood of Treliving getting his hands on a surefire star is good but not great. Of course, according to Edmonton Journal writer Jim Matheson, the Edmonton Oilers are looking to go off the board slightly and use their third pick on Prince Albert Raiders left winger Leon Draisaitl. So, the Flames' chances just went up.
If Treliving has a chance to grab either Ekblad, Reinhart or Bennett, he should do so and run. He should nevertheless be prepared for a worst-case scenario and do his homework properly.
After all, 19-year-old Sean Monahan, with just one modestly successful season under his belt, has been the team’s best pick since underrated defenseman T.J. Brodie was taken 114th in 2008 (excluding the potential-oozing John Gaudreau, who has just played one game as a Flame).
No offense to Monahan, but that statement is an indictment of Calgary’s poor draft record, as that was six drafts ago. In fact, Dion Phaneuf was the last true star player chosen by Calgary in the first round...or any round for that matter. And that was back in 2003. And he was essentially run out of town for his poor play.
The team's draft performance has been so bad that the Flames draftee with the most NHL games under his belt since 1997 never even suited up for Calgary. That was Jarret Stoll in 2000 (719 games), who, after failing to come to terms with the Flames, ended up being redrafted by Edmonton.
It doesn’t get much worse than that. Starting this summer, Treliving has a chance to turn things around for the better.