From a media perspective, if Mark Giordano was going to get injured this season, it was going to be this week. If nothing else, the injury and the uncertainty surrounding his status has shone a bright light on some very real worries people around the hockey community have about the team.
Moreover, it provides a chance to get a real glimpse at what, exactly, Brad Treliving thinks of the team he’s inherited from his predecessors. With the uncertainty around Giordano, we’re at a fork in the road, balancing a few different perspectives and needs. And the potential for the team to slide back in the standings without the captain raises the spectre of the team attempting to acquire stop-gap measures to fill the void until his return.
THE CAUTIOUS PATH
This is the path that advises prudence and balance. After all, the team officially began the rebuild just two years ago when it began stripping the roster down and selling players for scrap. It’s a process, and patience is necessary. If they lose, they lose, but the key thing to keep in mind is improving the team long-term.
What kind of moves are on the cautious path? I’d say swapping out pending UFAs and other expiring or declining assets for picks, prospects or another organization’s spare parts qualify. Treliving’s trades to-date can be qualified as cautious transactions – a third for Brandon Bollig and Corban Knight for Drew Shore. If they work out, great. If they don’t, the price isn’t crippling.
Moves I’d anticipate on the cautious path are ones involving Karri Ramo, Raphael Diaz or Curtis Glencross. The idea would be to continue the organization’s step-wise progression by adding draft picks to give the scouting staff more kicks at the can in June, or more young players to give the developmental staff more young minds and bodies to mold. If the team gets a player that’s early in their pro career, or hasn’t started it yet, it’s probably a move that fits into this category. If the team sheds salary or cap space, it’s also probably a cautious move. But it’s also potentially one that reaps rewards over the summer or in the years to come.
THE AMBITIOUS PATH
This is the path that sees how close the Flames are to a post-season berth, their first since FlamesNation was launched in 2009, and goes “Oh man, it would be great to bring playoff hockey back to Calgary!” This is the path that looks to get the Flames resources to get them over the hump and into the post-season.
Bear in mind that returning to the playoffs merely gets the team a spot at the table and is not a guarantee of success. Heck, I’m sure that most odds-makers would see Calgary get run by either Nashville or Anaheim if they crept into a wild-card spot. But the ambitious path seeks to further the work that was done in prior years, and while I don’t think it can be denied that the team is making progress, a playoff spot is something tangible and real that can be held as a bellwether of future success, rather than the team relying on moral victories.
It was great that the team did so well after that January brawl in Vancouver last season, but nobody took them seriously because they were a country mile from a playoff spot. Making the playoffs? That’s a step towards being taken seriously. But it’s also a case where the team would probably get older and add salary in order to load up for a playoff run. If a trade seems like one that Jay Feaster or Darryl Sutter would’ve made, it’s probably an ambitious move.
And there’s a good chance they’ve over-paid to land an asset.
CONFLICTING NEEDS AND WANTS
The big challenge Treliving must balance is this: I don’t think it’s possible to add older bodies for a playoff run AND younger assets and picks. And I don’t think it’s possible to address Calgary’s organization needs on both paths, outside of making maybe a move or two here or there. (I don’t think adding Bryan Allen for a late pick really hurts the Flames long-term, but over-paying for a more high-profile defender definitely might.)
Calgary needs puck moving and possessing players. They need speed. They need right-handed shots, preferably defensemen. They need players in the early years of their pro careers, so they can reap the rewards of having inexpensive depth players when the Johnny Gaudreaus, Sean Monahans and – yes – Mark Giordanos of the world get their raises. But if you go crazy at the deadline with an eye towards losing in one round this year – and that’s what would probably happen – you might hinder your team’s ability to win two or three rounds in a couple years because of short-sightedness and dumb asset management.
On the surface, Brad Treliving appears to have a plan. He added a much of arguably over-paid bodies over the summer. Why? The rest of the team was young, and they needed to hit the cap floor with bodies that could fill out a roster. The good news is that the young part of the roster is the good part and the filler players all seem to serve a function and can be cycled out in another year or two, potentially entirely. But the challenge will be to resist the temptation to overpay now and replace these fairly inexpensive cap-floor filler bodies with more expensive ones.
What’s that old saying? Everyone says they have a plan before the bullets start flying.
This deadline is the first real test of Brad Treliving’s tenure as Calgary Flames general manager. By the time Monday is over and done with, we shall likely have an indication of which path he’s chosen.