1. The basics to keep in mind
The thing with the addition of this new general manager, finally replacing Jay Feaster after all this time, is that you always knew how it would go down.
One must have no doubt at all about who’s really running the show here (it’s Brian Burke!!!) and so this hiring really doesn’t matter very much at all in the grand scheme of things. It’s probably little more than a guy to hold press availabilities so Burke doesn’t have to bother with them all the time. That’s not to say Brad Treliving won’t have at least some autonomy because he of course will — he wouldn’t have taken the job otherwise, one suspects — but when it comes to the big decisions, the man down the hall will be making the calls.
Which is fine, I guess, if that’s how you want to run things. I don’t personally see the point of having both a general manager and a team president who behaves like a general manager, but if that’s the structure you want, then by all means go for it. Even if it’s a fall guy situation, then sure, this might work for a little while, but I’m dubious about the team’s prospects for long-term success under such a system.
2. My biggest issue
What I have a problem with, though, is the media tour on which Treliving has embarked over the past few days, during which he’s done everything in his power to say, “We’re not going to use analytics.”
Maybe I should just get over it. This is a Brian Burke-run team, and Brian Burke-run teams don’t use analytics, which is fine. But there was something Treliving said on Marek vs. Wyshynski the other day that really didn’t make a lot of sense to me. (Transcribed, as always, by @Hope_Smoke, so I didn’t have to do it.)
“When we were in Phoenix, we couldn’t dismiss anything [with regard to analytics],” he said. “We had $5 and everyone else had $10. We had to find a way to make $5 look like $7. We were always looking at different ideas. That’s the world we live in. You have to be creative.”
Obviously this is a different financial situation for him, because Calgary can and will spend to the cap whenever it wants — though that’s probably not going to be the case over the next few years — but the point of analytics isn’t so that you can find who are the best guys to spend lots of money on. It’s the opposite: They allow you to find who are the best guys to spend not-a-lot of money on.
The point from a GM’s perspective is exploiting market inefficiencies (for coaches it’s about optimizing player use), and while there probably aren’t as many inefficiencies as the Flames might need there to be to get an edge in signing such-and-such a player, they do exist. For example, Tom Gilbert combined with Brian Campbell to form a dominant defensive pairing on an awful Florida team, in the vein of Giordano-Brodie for Calgary. Gilbert went into camp without a contract.
The Coyotes obviously used this kind of thing to great effect in recent years, putting together decent-quality playoff teams. Calgary is flatly telling him not to rely much those skills he acquired.
3. I don’t know why I’m mad
Again, it’s not like I didn’t know this was going to be the Flames’ platform coming in, but to hire a guy who by his own admission has fairly extensive dealings with analytics in general and then say to him, “This stuff doesn’t matter to us so don’t bother,” seems wrong and bad for a team to do, doesn’t it?
Treliving has gone out of his way to say the first thing the team cares about is “The Eye Test,” which no one is dismissing as being the first thing you should look at. But again, this was always going to happen. All Burke cares about is The Eye Test and if you have some corsi numbers that back the feelings culled from that evaluation method, then by all means tell us about them. Otherwise, well, they can take a hike.
It’s been argued to me that perhaps this bloviating from Burke is something of a smokescreen. No one, they say, can possibly not-care about something that’s being used by just about every team in the league. I would argue back that we have plenty of evidence that he doesn’t pay any attention to that kind of thing.
I can’t imagine why I thought it might be different if they hired a guy with a background in utilizing analytics to run a hockey team. There was only ever one outcome.
4. It could have been worse
With that having been said, I do like the hire. Treliving comes off as a smart guy and he is by all accounts well-respected around the league. I don’t even mind so much that he was the first and only guy the team interviewed for the job.
The other names you heard thrown around — guys from the Leafs organization, Joe Nieuwendyk, George McPhee, etc. — were legitimately scary to hear because they came with poor track records and would likely allow for an even greater Old School Guys echo chamber. Treliving seems, to me, to be outside that sphere to some extent, so hopefully he might be able to chip away at some of Burke’s more extreme leanings in this regard. (You also wonder how much “Oh yeah fighting is super-important!” tap dancing he had to do in the interview.)
I think it’s fair to say that most people who read this site have fairly analytical leanings — certainly, the people who write for it do — so the general consensus has to be that anything Treliving can do to move the Flames juuuuust a little bit away from the team’s current extreme view on such statistical work is going to be positive. It seems a difficult job, especially because I don’t really have a lot of optimism that he’s going to have much control, but “any” is better than “none.”