Brad Treliving looked regression in the eye and said, “Not today”

We heard (and said) it all last season: this can’t last. The Flames can’t stay in the playoff race, can’t make the playoffs, can’t do anything meaningful this season. They’re going to miss out on a high pick, and they’re going to Colorado Avalanche it up: bet on the wrong horses, go all-in on an unsustainable situation, and go back to the bottom of the standings.

There’s only one problem: somebody forgot to tell Brad Treliving this.

Definitely not the Colorado Avalanche

The 2013-14 Avalanche and 2014-15 Flames had one major narrative in common: they shouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing, but they are. They saw it through to varying degrees of success: the Avs won the Central Division, but the Flames actually won a playoff round. Colorado got there on the back of a high save percentage, while Calgary, a high shooting percentage.

While some heralded the Avs as a new contender, the stats community was quick to predict their regression. Sure enough, Semyon Varlamov did not repeat his performance, but Colorado made it even worse for themselves. Over the first days of the off-season, they:

  • Traded P.A. Parenteau (49.79% CF, +3.52% CF rel) for Daniel Briere (44.08% CF, -3.03% CF rel)
  • Traded for Brad Stuart (51.33% CF, -2.75% CF rel)
  • Let go of Paul Stastny (46.00% CF, +4.10% CF rel)
  • Signed Jarome Iginla (53.57% CF, -0.44% CF rel)
  • Re-signed Nick Holden (48.00% CF, +1.47% CF rel)
  • Signed Zach Redmond (51.36% CF, -1.19% CF rel)

In short, the Avs lost two of their better possession players, and replaced them all with worse guys. The Parenteau-Briere trade was particularly bad, as Parenteau actually had a relatively good season for Colorado, whereas Briere was terrible for Montreal. They also lost Stastny, which sometimes can’t be avoided; however, they replaced him with Iginla who, sadly, was a negative relative possession player for the Boston Bruins, and continued this with the Avalanche.

Colorado ignored the statistics, spit in its face, and went on to fall out of the playoffs. It remains to be seen if they can get back into the race for 2015-16, but the Western Conference is ever-improving, and they aren’t going at the same rate.

What a week

To recap the Flames: one week ago, they still had the same team that saw them eliminated in early May. Without many expiring contracts, they were expected to lose just a couple of bottom pairing defencemen, as well as their 1B goalie, and that was it. 

They were still lacking depth in several areas, though: primarily the right side and the defence beyond the top pairing. And with the magical season finally at an end and historical evidence stacked up against them to repeat, the idea of making the playoffs again didn’t seem likely.

To change that, so far, they:

  • Re-signed Mikael Backlund (45.87% CF, +2.07% CF rel)
  • Traded for and signed Dougie Hamilton (54.91% CF, +4.72% CF rel)
  • Re-signed Karri Ramo (91.85 SV%, 92.93 AdSV%)
  • Signed Michael Frolik (55.15% CF, +3.74% CF rel)

The Flames retained one of their better possession players in Backlund, kept around a decent goalie they were familiar with, and added two very positive possession players.

In short, they did exactly what the Avalanche did not do: paid attention to the numbers, the kind of players they were after, and got them. It remains to be seen how well it works out, but the early returns are looking good, and Hamilton and Frolik both address positions of weakness the Flames had one week ago.

Over the course of the past week, the reaction from outsider fans seems to have gone from mocking the Flames to outright fear.

Brad Treliving: One of us

Treliving used some interesting language in his presser. In describing Frolik, he used phrases often used to describe Backlund, a player who has faced hardships from Calgary media due to lack of scoring, and ignoring everything else he brings to the table.

An “unheralded guy who does a lot of heavy lifting and doesn’t necessarily seem to get the accolades” is exactly the sort of language that has been used to describe guys who post good underlying numbers. Even though Treliving has not used the word “corsi”, it’s pretty clear that’s exactly what he’s talking about. The Flames watched Frolik and knew to target him, and a big part of that was his possession stats: part of a numerical representation of all those little things he does right.

Improving the Flames’ possession has been a stated goal of Treliving’s, and he targeted players who would help him reach that goal. 

The 2014-15 season, while fun, was not satisfactory for the long term. The Minnesota Wild, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Colorado Avalanche have shown us that kind of performance is unsustainable year-to-year. By targeting the players he did, Treliving has upped his bets for the 2015-16 to go just as well, if not maybe even better.

No guarantees, but

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and contending hockey teams don’t pop up out of thin air. Although, with the Flames entering the third year of their rebuild, it isn’t necessarily out of nowhere.

The Flames aren’t contenders yet, but they have the pieces in place to be. Treliving said it himself: most of their good players are very young (as young as a 19-year-old Sam Bennett, in fact). There are no guarantees they turn out elite, but right now, things are looking very, very good.

By adding pieces through trades and free agency – Hamilton was a game changer, and Frolik an excellent depth acquisition – the Flames have just advanced their rebuild that much further. And while a year ago size was added for the sake of size, it has also been a year since that was the case.

There’s still a chance none of this pans out. There’s a chance there are unforeseen setbacks. The Pacific Division remains tough, after all, as does the Western Conference, and there are never any guarantees. Even with the Flames’ improved (and still cap-friendly) lineup, they could fall out of the playoff race next season.

But this is a better team than it was a week ago, so an entertaining 2015-16 can be expected – and with it, real growth in the right direction.

  • CofRed4Life

    Treliving has done a great job with addressing needs and not wants. It seems last year Burke wanted to add size, so he did, not understanding the true needs of the organization (though you can’t argue that size is nice, if the player fits). Treliving has seen the actual needs, and is addressing them. *Slow clap for BT*

  • beloch

    So far this summer, Treliving has only added to the roster. At present, the Flames have 11 forwards, 7 defenders, and 3 goalies under contract. NHL rosters are limited to 23 players, so room is getting tight.

    The total number of spots filled comes down to 20 out of 23 if you assume Smid stays on LTIR long-term. That leaves 3 spots. Now, consider that Jooris, Bouma, Byron, Ferland, and Drew Shore don’t have contracts yet and only Ferland can be sent down without needing to pass waivers. None of these players are guys you’d want to simply jettison. If Smid is going to be out long-term, the Flames also probably need to sign an additional defenceman, such as Schlemko. 6 players, 3 spots.

    Treliving has proved he can make smart additions to the team, but now he has to make smart subtractions. Some of these players have got to go. The challenge is to keep the right ones and get fair returns for the rest. Perhaps the best next step would be to look for a package deal where quantity can be exchanged for quality.

    Edit: Looking at the situation more closely, it appears Markus Granlund is still waiver exempt, so sending him down (likely) frees up a spot. Ferland is 23 and has three years of NHL contract behind him, so he is not waiver exampt and that cancels out Granlund. Bollig would likely clear waivers, but he’s the Flames only pure-enforcer, and that’s a loaded topic. Mason Raymond would also likely clear waivers, given his contract, but sending him down would likely end his NHL career and make his contract a toxic asset for good. You’d really want to give him a chance to make a come-back. Engelland might not clear waivers, but he probably would. Sending down three of Granlund, Raymond, Bollig and Engelland would let the Flames retain their RFA’s, but this is definitely suboptimal.

    • Burnward

      Totally agree with the article and your comments. But let’s look a little deeper. If the adds are clear CF Rel+ standouts, who amongst our players are CF Rel- holes? Maybe someone knows, I’ll have to check on some back articles….

      • Ari Yanover

        Deryk Engelland, Markus Granlund, Lance Bouma, Ladislav Smid, Brandon Bollig, Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman, Joe Colborne, Mason Raymond, David Jones, and Matt Stajan were all the Flames’ negative CF rel players, in order from worst to… not as bad.

        Engelland was -5.98%, Stajan -0.41%. Russell at -2.43% as a midpoint.

        Drew Shore had a pretty terrible CF% rel too, but he only played 11 regular season games, so I wouldn’t look too much into that. (The only guys on that list who had worse zone starts than him were Stajan, Jones, and Bouma, anyway, so he didn’t exactly get any favours.)

        • beloch

          Deployment matters. Bouma was clearly not a top six guy, but he could be fine on the fourth line. Players who were terrible but already on the fourth line are the ones to ship out. Add near the top (e.g. Frolik and Hamilton) and subtract near the bottom (e.g. Engelland, Bollig). Then let the rest settle into easier roles and see how they do.

          • Parallex

            Yeah, I’d try to trade Raymond & Colborne. Engellend and Smid won’t get any takers (probably not Bollig either) but I bet you could sucker someone into giving something up for Colborne/Raymond.

        • KiLLKiND

          Thanks Arii. Yes I agree deployment matters, but I bet the fourth line/3rd pairing guys got a bunch of top lines matched against them on the road so it may not be as easy as saying 4th line&bad CF Rel.

          That said I guess it’s pretty obvious: Engelland, Bollig would probably be the prime candidates.

  • Canadian Hockey Fan

    Nice title. Love the moves the Flames have done this offseason. I have the Flames and Oil placing 2nd and 3rd in the Pacific next season. I know its early, but that would be cool.

      • KiLLKiND

        He said in the Pacific which would likely have the Ducks finishing ahead of us. I think the kings and ducks might be ahead of us. So a more realistic Pacific division would actually be 3,4. We would be ahead of Vancouver (obviously they are at hockey), San Jose (They also can’t to figure out this sport), and Pheonix (really bad at pretty much everything). I think this would be realistic

        1- Anaheim

        2- Los Angeles

        3- Calgary

        4- Edmonton

        5- San Jose

        6- Vancouver

        7- Pheonix

  • Off topic, but Franson is still not signed, thoughts? I think if you can sign him for Wideman money or less, pull the trigger and move Wideman out,… I don’t hate Wideman, just think if you did this and signed Schlemcko, you’d be ridiculous on the back end and balanced nicely.

    • TheoForever

      Without Wideman last year we would have missed the playoffs. Once Gio went down we were in big trouble and Wideman stepped up even more.

      The only reason to trade Wideman would be his age, that’s all. He is actually a 2nd pair dman on virtually every team.

      It would take too much money and TERM to sign Franson.

      • MattyFranchise

        Franson aside, it makes sense to trade Wideman after one of the best if not the best offensive seasons of his career. Sell high on an aging asset. Besides, his contract makes him much too expensive for the third pairing on the Flames.

        Is Wideman a player that every team wants? Yes. He has decent to good offensive abilities. Is he a second pairing defenseman? No. He’s best served at this point as a 3rd pairing offensive dman with a permanent spot on the PP.

        But his contract at 5mil+ means too much money for the third pairing. Especially when you have guys like Schlemko that are better possession wise for the third pairing.

        • TheoForever

          At this point Flames have one of top 3 if not #1 defence groups in NHL. I feel we are a shoe in to fight for 2nd place with LA in the Pacific.

          If we replace Wideman with Schlemko we are no longer one of the top teams when comes to d.
          We are also in the same spot as we were last year, one top d-man injury from trouble and most likely we are fighting with SJ for the 3rd in the pacific.

          Schlemko is replacement level NHLer, no better than #7 guy, that is clear as he gets waved a lot.
          I would not ink him to a contract, unless I want him in the pressbox as the #7 insurance.

          Also I would not be playing Wideman on 3rd pairing but on the second with Brodie. Russell can play with Engs and cover for his shortcomings.

          Not sure what Wideman has to do to prove to some people that he can be #4. Apparently quarter of a season as top pairing dman is not enough.

          With the pairing as I described we can have 2 excellent PP units and no need for mixing of dmen, just run with 3 pairings.

          If I was the GM, I would wait and see what we got in Nakladal, perhaps he can be ok on the 3rd pairing, as he has international experience.

          If Nakladal is decent then we can start talking about trading Wideman, although this trade will weaken Flames in the quest for playoffs.

      • The Last Big Bear

        The only reason to trade Wideman would be his age, that’s all

        You say that like it’s not basically the biggest consideration, both for the organization right now specifically, and for players in their 30’s in general.

        “The only problem with signing Giordano to a $9m x 7 year deal is his age, that’s all.”

        Yes, I think everyone is 100% in agreement that his age is the only reason to trade Wideman. It is a VERY GOOD reason.

        • TheoForever

          Lots of people are insinuating that Wideman is not good enough, which is not the case.

          I don’t mind trading him for the right reasons, and I would want a significant return.

          However, lets be clear, our chances of making the playoffs decrease, by how much is open to debate.

          Since, I said the only reason is his age, I think it is very clear that I meant the reason is his age and not his play. Was that not clear enough?

          You added the last sentence after my response, so it changes your post a lot.

      • trox

        I like Wideman and he had a great season. But age is not the only reason to trade Wideman:

        1) Place in Roster: After signing Hamilton, our top 3 d is crystal clear (Gio, TJ, Hamilton). Now either: (a) Wideman or Russell moves up to the 2nd pairing, the other down to the 3rd; or (b) someone else [Engelland/Schlemko] moves up to the second pairing and Wideman/Russel are the 3rd. Together and individually Wideman and Russell are too expensive for a third pairing (especially bearing in mind both are UFAs at the end of next season and will need new contracts).

        3) Future Planning: Wideman will be 33 when his contract expires at the end of 15/16. He will want decent money, and will be exiting his prime years. If you agree that the Flames will truly be a contender, say, 3 years out, Wideman will be 35 by that time. Russell will also be a UFA after next season, and we won’t be able to afford to sign both. So we will need to choose between a cheaper 29 year old Russell and a more expensive 33 year old Wideman. Seems like an easy choice to me. Plus all of this is assuming that: (a) we don’t trade for or sign any other NHL ready d-men; and (b) none of the guys in the AHL [Morisson] is ready to play on the 3rd pairing by the time Wideman’s contract expires in 16/17.

        3) Value: he had a career year that he in all likelihood will not replicate; therefore his value is probably at its peak; if you believe in the “buy low, sell high” mantra, now is the time. By not trading him now, you risk he has a worse year next year (almost certain) or he gets injured (a risk at his age).

        • trox

          Let’s at least have our fact correct: Wideman has 2 years left on his contract and Russell is a UFA at the end of next season.

          Russell and Wideman proved that they could be an effective 2nd pairing last year after the Gio injury and yes they played as the first pairing.

          England after the Gio injury proved he was able to elevate his game playing with TJ but TJ’s overall game suffered as a result. England at best is your 7th defenseman going forward. Personally I think he will be moved by the end of the season(either traded or buried in the AHL)

          The nice thing about the addition of Hamilton to this group is he gives Hartley lots of flexibility. He could start the season with the easy choice: Gio/TJ, Hamilton/??, Wideman/Russell. Another choice split Gio and Brodie and go: Gio/??,TJ/Hamilton, Russell/Wides or Gio/Wides, TJ/Hamilton, Russell/?? or TJ/Wides, Gio/Hamilton and Russell/??.

          Who are the top candidates for ??; as I see it Spoon(L), Nakladal(R), Morrison(R) or whomever they sign whether it be Schlmeko(L) or someone else. I have left Smid off because I hope he is put on LTIR.

          • TheoForever

            Let’s remember he has a no movement clause. Which teams have space and which teams are trying to build for a big push next year. One option would be Washington; he has played there and depending on his relationship with OV he might consider it. They seem to be building for big push the next two years, they have capspace to take on his contract and have just lost Green; this seems like a good fit. What do they have that we need? I’m not sure.

  • The Last Big Bear

    But Arii, Lambert just literally told us in the article posted right before yours that regression is still likely, yet failed to provide any real reason for it unlike you that actually took the time to compare moves made by teams like Colorado that did regress, compared to the moves the Flames are making now.

    Night and day difference between the quality and merit between these two articles. Please FN stop with the Lambert debacle and let credible writers contribute here that actually take the time to research and intelligently post here.

    • TheoForever

      Does everyone realize as Arii is implying that BT and BB are using advanced stats? They just aren’t bragging about it. Lambert must be tearing his Oiler jersey apart.

    • al rain

      Uh, I’ve got to step in here.

      Lambert has a bit of a rep for being a downer and being arrogant, I’ll admit, but to say that he’s not credible, doesn’t take time to research and doesn’t post intelligently is patently false.

      Personally, I’ll make time to read anything Lambert puts down. Not because I like what he’s saying or am anxious to hear that the Flames will crash and burn, but because it’s a different look at the numbers, a different take on the situation and I’m not afraid to factor that in to my world view. Call it the yin to Arii’s unicorns and rainbows yang.

      The knee-jerk Lambert haters, to me anyways, stink like homers reflexively dissing anything associated with the enemy team: juvenile and so tiring. Agree, disagree, that’s up to you but to claim shoddy research because the conclusions don’t give you a warm fuzzy is dim.

      And admit it, the last few articles Lambert has posted here have been utterly absent of his past smarter-than-you smarm. Credit and respect.

      • DestroDertell

        >the yin to Arii’s unicorns and rainbows yang.

        Do some researches. Half of Arii’s articles on here and MS&G have been negative to some extent.

        Also, I agree with Lambert’s overall conclusions more often than not, but he has penchant for willfully ignoring facts to advance a narrative (a good example would be his recap of the game 3 ducks-flames series).

      • DestroDertell

        Have to disagree with you. Lambert is nothing but a Flames Troll with the green light to post critique’s of Flames management, insult the calibre of players on our team & advocate tanking to get 1st overall talent. I have yet to see a pro Flame writer writing on a consistent basis criticizing everything Oiler management & the organization does (although it hasn’t been needed the last while as MSM had been doing a pretty good job of trashing that organization). Lambert has gone as far as taking all the success our team was having last year & turning it to a big negative & calling Flames Management & it’s fans delusional. So I take offence to you calling Flames fans that are Lambert haters as stinking homers. So please take your wonderful perspective back up to ON & get back to the masses doing the McDavid dance or the McDavid chant or whatever it is you are all doing up there.

        • Robear

          I’m going to back up al rain here, at least in the aspect that the automatic hatred of Lambert is unjustified. I frequently don’t agree with Lambert’s assertions and his automatic a+b=c he associates with low corsi and elevated shooting percentage meaning regressions of everything good and holy in Flames silks can be grating, but I certainly don’t believe that he deserves the degree of hatred from FN regulars he gets.

          I thought that Kevin R’s reply was mostly reasoned too…. Up until you lost it in yourlast sentence and spewed about Lambert non-haters= Oiler lovers…

          Let’s see if we can keep the comments from getting too personal and keep the car between the ditches on the road.

      • smith

        He does actually often have facts wrong. Or calls things facts that are not. That is the problem I have with his writing.

        For example in the most recent article:
        1. Calgary does not have enough in cupboard for Kessel? Seriously. You do not think that Bennet, Poirier, Klimchuk, Anderson, Granlund, Ferland, Gillies and a 2016 1st would get them Kessel? Of course it would.
        2. No top tear offensive players? Giodano is not top tear offensive player? he is 2nd best offensive defenceman in the league. Hudler finished top 10 in scoring. Gaudreau even was above players like Eberle, Carter and Spezza in scoring.
        3. Oilers – good contracts? who? They have been a cap team and not winning, that is due to bad contracts not good.
        4. We know flames can’t shoot at 8.9% again. Really? But Tampa did it for three years but flames can’t? Made up fact?