Flames Management Appears to Be Embracing Mediocrity

Many Calgary Flames fans have hoped for changes from Brad Treliving for years. This offseason saw those hopes turn into pleading from the fan base, who have made it clear they are tired of middling results. Much to their chagrin, their team’s general manager (GM) doesn’t appear to be on the same page.

Despite a poor showing in 2020-21, there was some optimism amongst Flames fans given the number of high class players available in free agency. They then had to sit and watch as those players all headed to cities not named Calgary, while they settled for Blake Coleman. That isn’t meant as a shot at Coleman, who is a good NHLer and played a significant role in helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups, but the fact that he was, and remains the Flames’ biggest pickup of the offseason is quite disappointing when compared to what was expected.

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving
Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

What was expected, you ask? Well, many hoped for some big free agent acquisitions, but the likelihood of that was never too high. Instead, it was thought that Treliving would make a trade or two in order to shake up his underachieving core. Names like Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau were the frontrunners on that list, but there were also some rumblings surrounding Matthew Tkachuk’s name early on.

It wasn’t as though players weren’t available. Several interesting names were traded early on this offseason, while some like Jack Eichel and possibly Tomas Hertl remain available. With how close we are now until training camp, it seems less and less likely Treliving pulls the trigger on a major deal.

Lack of Success

As disappointing of a summer Treliving has had, he has done some good in Calgary in the past. Over his seven years as the team’s GM, he was able to put together what at the time seemed like a decent core of players. He was also able to turn the Flames into a good regular season team, proven by their 2018-19 season in which they finished first in the Western Conference with 107 points. However, that team was shockingly eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something that has happened far to often with this group.

In Treliving’s seven seasons with the Flames, they have made the playoffs four times, advanced past the first round just twice, and failed to make it out of the second round. While that isn’t horrible, it is extremely average, something this organization has become all to well known for.

In a article Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic wrote less than a month ago, he got responses from over 17,000 fans who ranked NHL front offices from best to worst. (from ‘Dom Luszczyszyn: 2021 NHL front office rankings: Fans weigh in on every team’ , The Athletic — 08/25/21). The Flames placed 24th out of 32 teams, and Luszczyszyn summed the reasoning up perfectly.

“The Flames are at the same crossroads that all average teams are at when they realize they’re stuck in the mushy middle: go all-in or fold” Luszczyszyn wrote. “Pick a lane and either try to contend or try to rebuild. Doing neither just delays the inevitable and wastes time for everyone and that lack of vision is obviously going to be frustrating to a hungry fan base. Only 4 percent were more confident in this team now than they were last year, the lowest of any team in the league. Do something!”

Treliving’s Thoughts

Clearly, Treliving is hearing the noise from fans, and has to be feeling the pressure regarding his job security. He recently spoke as to why he has been so quiet this offseason, saying his job isn’t as easy as some would like to believe.

“I know everybody screams for change, and we talked about that, but we can only do things that are available to you,” explained Treliving. I can’t click my heels and make things happen. You have to have a trade partner. Nobody is ever done in this business – you’re always looking for ways to improve. But it has got to make sense.

“It doesn’t make any sense for us to give a player away for 50 cents on the dollar. It’s great to say ‘go get this guy.’ Problem is, this isn’t fantasy hockey. The idea that you can go pick ‘this player’ off the player tree … it doesn’t happen that way.”

It is easy to tell he is fed up with the criticism coming his way, and in his defence, he is right about the fact that we don’t understand what it is like to be an NHL GM. I have zero problems admitting that it is much easier to offer up trade propositions in a blog as opposed to making them happen in real life. However, he needs to realize that the fans here are also fed up. Other teams in the past have found ways to shake things up. He needs to do the same.

Prospect Blocking Signings

Another habit Treliving seems to have gotten into is signing veteran players to one-year deals. He attempted this last offseason with players such as Josh Leivo, Brett Ritchie, Joakim Nordstrom, Michael Stone and Dominik Simon. While Ritchie and Stone had their moments, the other three were complete failures, and prevented prospects such as Matthew Phillips, Glenn Gawdin and Oliver Kylington from getting much opportunity at the NHL level.

One would think after trying it last season that he would change his philosophy and give his younger players a chance to shine in 2021-22. Instead, he once again took the approach of bringing in veterans on one-year deals, with the signings of players like Trevor Lewis, Brad Richardson, Erik Gudbranson, and once again Stone. While it can be argued some of these signings were likely at the recommendation of Darryl Sutter, it doesn’t change the fact that none of them are anywhere close to gamebreakers. These are mediocre at best moves, something that as mentioned above, this organization has become far too comfortable with.

Final Chance

Treliving’s job is 100 percent on the line this season. He has been with the team for a length seven year period, and has been unable to achieve much of any playoff success. Once again, he is betting on this core group to get things done, an extremely risky proposition considering how it has worked out to this point. For his sake, hopefully this is the year things finally work out and all can be forgiven. If not, he will be looking for a new team to employ him and will leave behind a legacy of a GM who, despite making some good moves over the years, was too afraid to pull the trigger on a big deal.

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