Nazem Kadri signed with the Calgary Flames on a seven-year deal to wrap up what has been a roller coaster offseason for the team and, essentially, put a bow on the offseason altogether. In an interview on Flames TV shortly after signing the deal, Kadri talked about the decision and particularly liked the direction of the team and the moves they made during the offseason.
The move affects the NHL and the competitive landscape as a whole but, notably, Kadri’s signing, especially with his urge to join a competitive team reflects heavily on the executives that were pursuing him. In particular, the signing is telling about Flames general manager (GM) Brad Treliving and New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello, who also pursued the star center but came up short.
Treliving and Lamoriello have both seen varying degrees of success in the league but with two opposite approaches to free agency and the offseason. After the recent summer, however, it’s understandable why fans would embrace Treliving, who, as an active GM, has not only helped the team rebound but has proven that he is one of the best in the game.
Treliving’s Pursuit of Gaudreau
Even the move that Treliving lost displayed his philosophy as an active GM, which provided a glimmer of hope after Johnny Gaudreau made it clear that he was going to test free agency. He made a strong offer in the $10 million per year range, leaving the Flames and the fans defeated when the star declined. Gaudreau ultimately signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a seven-year contract, but with Treliving being active in the front office, the Flames rebounded.
The Gaudreau departure, along with a handful of restricted and unrestricted free agents, forced the Flames to have a busy offseason. However, instead of waiting for the pieces to fall in place, they were hands-on in acquiring talent and retaining star players. Ultimately, it allowed the Flames to have a strong offseason even before Kadri was on the roster.
Lamoriello Comes Up Short in the Gaudreau Sweepstakes
The Islanders, meanwhile, looked like one of the few teams that had a prime opportunity to land Gaudreau, but the contrast in style, particularly with Lamoriello, backfired as they failed to sign him. As a quieter and more passive GM, Lamoriello made an offer but wouldn’t budge from that offer, which left Gaudreau unsigned late into the first day of free agency.
Gaudreau likely intended to sign with the Blue Jackets anyway, as he expressed his fondness for the city of Columbus and the location being close to home, which he reiterated in his letter in The Players’ Tribune. However, as the first day of free agency unfolded, the star forward remained unsigned, as the Islanders, New Jersey Devils, and Philadelphia Flyers, all of whom are also close to home teams, failed to sign him. It allowed Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen to swoop in and sign Gaudreau, shocking the hockey world in the process.
Lamoriello has a reputation for remaining quiet and waiting for the best offer or player to come to him rather than pursue it. With the Islanders, it has allowed him to retain a consistent roster without falling into any costly contracts while also giving him the most value in his signings. However, with star players, his patience and passive style have cost him and the team altogether. Furthermore, as the offseason unfolded, it continued to hurt the Islanders.
Treliving & Lamoriello’s Offseason Activity Sway Kadri
The way the Flames approached the offseason, it became clear that they were and still are looking to compete. Most teams would look at the loss of their best player as an opportunity or even a sign that it’s time to rebuild, but Treliving sent the message that they were going to have a competitive roster, one that looks to remain among the best in the Western Conference.
After losing Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, arguably their second-best forward from last season, demanded a trade. Instead of looking for assets like draft selections or prospects, Treliving looked for players and searched for the best offer with that in mind. It allowed him to acquire both forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Tkachuk. The two players the Flames acquired are not only two of the top players in the league at their respective positions but two skaters in the prime of their careers. The constant additions reinforced the team’s belief that they are looking to win the Stanley Cup and looking to make the moves necessary to do so.
Lamoriello, on the other hand, stayed quiet and left the Islanders fans in suspense as they waited for him to make a move. However, instead of making a splash, or a signing that makes the convincing argument that the Islanders are looking to improve from the previous season, he bet on the current roster. While the Islanders have a talented veteran-heavy team that reached the Stanley Cup Semifinal in 2020 and 2021, they missed the playoffs last year in a season where the roster’s weaknesses were exposed.
The team acquired defenseman Alexander Romanov, a young defenseman who should be a great partner for Noah Dobson, in a trade during the NHL Entry Draft. But otherwise, Lamoriello has failed to bring in another player to the roster. In fact, the Islanders have yet to sign a player in free agency this offseason, essentially leaving the summer empty-handed.
Kadri saw how the Flames and Islanders were approaching the offseason and entering the upcoming season. Yes, the Islanders have more stability with a lot of their good players still on the roster. However, the Flames sent the message that they are willing to compete and make the moves needed, including signing a veteran center to a massive contract. As a result, they were the team that landed Kadri, who is coming off a Stanley Cup run with the Colorado Avalanche and can possibly hoist the Cup once again on another promising team.
The Outlook on the Flames & Islanders for Next Season
The Flames suddenly have a lot of optimism entering next season, and understandably so. Granted, the Kadri signing can eventually come back to hurt them, especially in the latter part of the seven-year deal when he’s over 35 years old and his production declines. However, this is a team that looks to compete for the Stanley Cup next year and in the next few seasons. The Flames stumbled last season in the second round, losing to the Edmonton Oilers in five games, but with a talented and well-built team, they look like one of the favorites in the Western Conference.
The Islanders enter the season with a nervous and cautious optimism. After missing the playoffs, there’s understandable concern that this team can struggle again. Yes, some of the key players are still on the team, with Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Mathew Barzal leading the offense, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock forming one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, and Ilya Sorokin being one of the best young goaltenders in the league. But the roster is one of the older ones in the league, and the team didn’t improve in the offseason while the rest of their division did. This leaves confidence in Lamoriello lower than in previous years, and if the team stumbles to start the season, there’s a possibility that he will be fired as the GM.
Lamoriello’s quiet and cautious style has paid off in the past, as he helped the Devils win three Stanley Cup titles and the Islanders reach the Semifinal in back-to-back seasons. Patience is a great virtue, and silence is golden. Unfortunately, considering the contrast from other executives, there’s a lot of frustration that comes with that style, especially when the team fails to make a significant move in the offseason. Treliving, meanwhile, has provided optimism heading into the season, largely because of his aggressive and proactive approach to the offseason, something the fans can appreciate.
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Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.