The Calgary Flames poor 2020-21 season has been costly for many, particularly Geoff Ward, who was relieved of his coaching duties in early March. Ironically enough, the man who fired him in Brad Treliving may also be on the verge of losing his job due to his team’s extremely frustrating season.
Last offseason, there were rumors that either Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan were going to be shipped out of town. While that ultimately did not end up happening, it feels inevitable at this point that one, if not both, will be wearing a different uniform heading into the 2021-22 season. The question is, will Treliving be the one making those decisions?
Treliving’s Future Murky
Since being named the Flames’ general manager (GM) in the spring of 2014, Treliving has done a pretty good job at putting together a strong lineup. Overall he has drafted quite well, including last year’s draft, which early on looks like a terrific one for the Flames. He has also made some pretty good deals over the years, perhaps none more so than acquiring Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins during the 2015 offseason. Of course, he later moved Hamilton to the Carolina Hurricanes but was still able to get a very good return, bringing in both Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.
He has also had some very good signings over the years, including three of the players listed above in Lindholm, Monahan, and Gaudreau. While some may argue Monahan’s deal isn’t great based on his play the last season and a half, there is no denying all three of those deals were extremely team-friendly at the time they were signed.
However, despite the good he has done during his time in Calgary, Treliving has made his fair share of mistakes. Those mistakes are not solely to blame for where this team is, but given that he has been the GM for nearly seven years now with little to no playoff success, they could prove to be very costly for him. Here is a look at some of the questionable decisions he has made in the past.
Bad Free Agent Signings
While Treliving has done a great job in terms of handing out contract extensions, his track record with free agents hasn’t been as successful. When mentioning some bad free-agent deals he has signed, the first one that should come to mind is James Neal, who he gave a five-year, $28.75 million deal. At the time, Neal was coming off of an impressive 25-goal campaign with the Vegas Golden Knights, but it was already clear then that foot speed and five-on-five play was an issue for him. That, on top of the fact he was going to be 31-years-old by the time the season started, had many thinking the deal could end up a disaster.
Sure enough, those who questioned the deal were proven right, as Neal had just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games that season and was held off the scoresheet entirely in four playoff games. Clearly, this wasn’t a good fit, and Treliving was forced to trade him to the Edmonton Oilers just one year after signing him in exchange for another very bad contract in Milan Lucic.
In Treliving’s defence, Flames fans seem much more content with Lucic than Neal. Still, there is no denying that Lucic’s cap hit of $5.25 million, which extends through the 2022-23 season is a major burden, especially given the fact they have almost no cap space right now. This could have all been avoided by letting Neal sign with a different team during free agency in 2018.
There have been a few other eyebrow-raising signings during Treliving’s time in Calgary, including a four-year deal given to Troy Brouwer during the 2016 offseason. However, one that could cause some major problems going forward is the six-year, $36 million deal he chose to give to Jacob Markstrom this offseason. Heading into last year’s offseason, the now 31-year-old was a hot commodity after an impressive 2019-20 campaign with the Vancouver Canucks. It was obvious he was going to get a big contract, and most thought the Flames made a good decision bringing him in.
The interesting thing about the signing was that they had the option to bring back Cam Talbot if they wanted but chose Markstrom instead. For the 2019-20 season, Talbot actually posted both the better goals-against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV%) of the two, albeit in a smaller sample size. That doesn’t appear to be an outlier either, as Talbot, who has played in 335 career games, has better career numbers than Markstrom, who has played in 298.
With the Flames choosing to go with Markstrom, Talbot was forced to find a new home and signed a much cheaper three-year, $11 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. That deal has been a fantastic one for the Wild so far, as through 21 games played, Talbot has a 12-6-2 record along with a 2.44 GAA and a .923 SV%. Markstrom, on the other hand, is 12-14-2 through 28 games and owns a disappointing 3.02 GAA paired with a .898 SV%.
There still is time for Markstrom to turn things around, and he certainly has the talent to do so. If he isn’t able to, however, this deal could be a major disaster for the Flames going forward and may end up looking even worse given the fact they could have brought back Talbot for much cheaper.
Another fault in Treliving, and perhaps the one that could end up costing him his job, is the fact that he was too patient with this team. For years now, many have claimed the Flames cannot compete for a Stanley Cup with the core they have. This became increasingly clear during the 2018-19 season, where they were eliminated just five games into the first round of playoffs by the Colorado Avalanche despite leading the Western Conference that year with 107 points.
Despite the extremely disappointing playoff showing that season, as well as just two years prior in the 2017 postseason, Treliving decided to stick with his core heading into 2019-20. Yet again, this resulted in a fairly successful regular season as well as a disappointing playoff showing. This caused trade speculation to really pick up this past offseason, as it was clear this core needed to be shaken up.
Instead of a trade, however, Treliving elected to sign high profiled free agents in Markstrom as well as defenceman Chris Tanev. Given that the Flames are currently sitting eight points back of a playoff spot in the Scotia North Division, the decision to not make any trades in the offseason appears to be a major mistake.
One Last Shot
Considering how the team is struggling this season, paired with the issues mentioned above, many Flames fans are wanting Treliving gone. He certainly has made some questionable decisions over the years. However, he has also made some good moves that would be talked about a lot more if Calgary were to have performed better in the postseason the last number of years. He should take a bit of flack for playoff results, as well, but at the end of the day, that falls much more on the shoulders of the players than it does himself.
There is no denying that he has constructed some pretty solid rosters over the years. In fact, even headed into this season, they were a good team on paper. For whatever reason, this group just lacks what it takes to amp up their play when they need to the most, and although Treliving should have realized that earlier, he should still get some credit for putting together a talented roster.
Despite the mixed results, I am of the belief that the Flames should give him one last shot, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen. If they do choose to bring him back next season, you can bet his leash will be extremely short.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.