When Brad Treliving first came on as the Flames’ GM, there was immediate speculation that he would ultimately be a puppet for President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke. It made perfect sense to the conspiracy theorist, after all: Burke is a very well-known name in hockey, and he has a reputation for being rather vocal, headstrong, and getting his way.
So despite claims from Burke that he just wanted to step away and let Treliving do his job, there was a questioning air around the rookie GM every time a move was made. It was especially strong at the start of his tenure, but as the season went on and not a lot happened, it gradually began to fade.
With the Flames’ season over, and Treliving’ postseason presser with it, he seems to be firmly in the driver’s seat.
Now that he’s out of Burke’s shadow, this off-season will be crucial in establishing Treliving’s identity.
Who was really in control?
While Burke said he didn’t want to be visible, it was hard to believe him for a few reasons:
- He kept popping up at the beginning of the season, and,
- He’s Brian Burke.
When Treliving was first hired, there was a lot of reason to believe Burke was still in control. The draft reeked of him, particularly with the Hunter Smith, Adam Ollas Mattsson, and Austin Carroll picks. The trade for Brandon Bollig only seemed to reinforce this, since one of several words you could use to describe him is “truculent”.
And that’s without even getting into the preemptive fear that the Flames would pass on Sam Bennett at fourth overall to take the 6’3, 220 lb. Nick Ritchie: a fear that, fortunately, did not come to pass.
Free agency was more of the same. Deryk Engelland fell pretty firmly into the truculent Bollig category, so it’s easy to suspect Burke. Even Jonas Hiller was part of a Burke team, however briefly their times in Anaheim overlapped.
There’s a very good explanation for all of this, though: Treliving was a brand new GM, hired partway through the off-season, with little time to prepare for or get a handle on his new team’s assets. Burke was an experienced former GM who had spent the past season with the team.
Some guidance by Burke was only natural, even if he did seem to overshadow his new hire at the time.
Stepping out of the shadow
After the Engelland signing, Burke’s influence didn’t seem to spike up nearly as often.
Sheldon Brookbank being invited to training camp may have been him, but Raphael Diaz is a pretty different type of defenceman, and he was ultimately the one who won a spot.
After that, not much happened until the new year, when Corban Knight was traded for Drew Shore.
Prior to that trade, there really wasn’t much to judge the team’s management on at all. They were quiet, and for good reason: the Flames were out-performing expectations, and there was absolutely no reason to mess with that.
The Shore trade, however, came out of left field. It may have been Burke. It may have been Treliving. It may have been both. It was a steal of a deal, with Shore a step up on Knight in just about every category, so it either meant Treliving might be good at trading, or Burke – the man who somehow got a second round pick for Reto Berra – aided him.
Burke wasn’t exactly talking, though.
A bubble team at the trade deadline
By this point, it was Treliving doing all the talking. And come the trade deadline – a time when GMs can be rather susceptible to losing their minds – Treliving was faced with a rebuilding playoff bubble team, seemingly ahead of schedule, with expiring assets.
That left the rookie GM with a few options:
- Buy buy buy, gearing up for a playoff run,
- Sell sell sell, you’re still rebuilding, or,
- Stand pat.
Treliving did the exact right thing, a combination of options two and three. He only addressed Mark Giordano’s injury by claiming David Schlemko on waivers, a move that cost him nothing. Recognizing his team was not yet truly ready, he avoided buying anyone. And understanding that picks are important for a rebuilding team – even a rebuilding team on the verge of the playoffs – he dealt away an upcoming UFA in Curtis Glencross and an unhappy RFA in Sven Baertschi for assets.
That’s when we were really able to get a handle on just what kind of GM Treliving is. He was quiet, shrewd, and patient. He knew exactly where his team stood, and refused to deviate from his plan, no matter how tempting it may have been.
He’s exactly the kind of GM a team like the Flames needs.
One year later…
The anniversary of Treliving’s hiring came just a few days before the Calgary Flames took to the second round: completely uncharted territory over the past decade.
No, you can’t say Treliving led the Flames back to the playoffs. The only impactful move he really did was to sign Jonas Hiller; his entire top line is the result of Jay Feaster, and his top defence pairing comes from Darryl Sutter.
Treliving really hasn’t done much over the past year, and it’s an excellent sign. With few expiring contracts and a team he evaluated to be overachieving, there wasn’t much to do but see where things went, and make a few small moves along the way that were ultimately net positives.
There’s no obvious selection at 15th overall in the draft like there was for fourth, so his choice will be interesting. He has yet to sign a free agent to a big contract, but with a couple of excellent defencemen (a position of weakness for the Flames) soon to hit the open market and a ton of cap space, we’ll see who he picks, and how long they’re signed for.
With a new season comes a blank slate, and this will be the most freedom Treliving has ever had with which to build a hockey team.
Based on his actions (or inactions) over the previous year, though, the Flames appear to be in very good, extremely capable hands.