The Calgary Flames shocked the hockey world in 2014-15. A rag-tag team beset with low, low expectations, the club instead scrapped, plugged, clawed, and occasionally lucked their way into enough wins to qualify for the post-season. For a group that was a 75-1 underdog to win the Stanley Cup when the season began, it was a pretty big feather in their collective caps.
But general manager Brad Treliving didn’t spend his summer sitting on his laurels, and several of his off-season moves have seemingly been designed to ward off complacency within the organization by upsetting the proverbial apple cart.
- If you’re a goaltender? Suddenly you’re one of three guys on one-way deals fighting for a pair of jobs.
- If you’re a defender? Dougie Hamilton joins the group, and suddenly ice-time is at a premium and roles are thrown into question.
- If you’re a forward? Congrats, you’re fighting with Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik for ice-time on the wings or up the middle.
As much as the Flames were trying not to get caught up in the doom and gloom of last season’s media pronouncements that they’d struggle, they’re also trying not to be mired in the heightened external expectations after last season’s success.
“We tell people, don’t get too caught up in your own headlines,” said Treliving. “We don’t read that stuff a lot. If we did, we would’ve finished 32nd in a 30-team league [last season]. Well this year, there’s going to be a lot of people lauding how great you all are and how wonderful everything is before we play a game. That also can’t be paid attention to. The games are played on the ice. We have to be engaged, prepared.”
Treliving noted that the addition of the players they’ve brought into the organization this summer, in addition to the growth of their existing young group, will help foster competition for jobs in September.
“I think you have to have competition,” said Treliving. “That’s the business. It’s a very competitive business. I think one of the things, you look at the teams that have success…look at the schedule nowadays, it seems you play every other night. It’s a hard league, there’s injuries, there’s all sorts of things, and you have to find ways to get points. One of the things we want to do is we constantly want to improve, but I think by improvement you want to create competition and depth at every position, and if you look at our team right now I think we have that. And you continue to do that by, to me it’s a push from underneath. What we created last year is an underneath push. What I mean by that is when your young players are getting ready to play in the league full-time, they’re ready to take a job. Lots of young players can come in and play a game here and fill in here, and when everyone’s healthy they go back down. When those players are ready to be NHL players, that is a critically important thing for a team to take the next step, because now you have a push from underneath. People can’t say ‘you know what, I’m safe, I’ve got this position,’ and I think we really started to introduce that last year, and that helps to make you better. Depth, I think it gives our coaches a lot of options and as we go into camp, we still have lots of time before camp, but if we went into camp the way we’re set up today, I think there’s lots of competition at every position.”
One thing that many onlookers – particularly those of us on this site – have been curious about is the vast number of Flames players on one-ways or who are waiver-eligible in the fall. Josh Jooris made the team as a training camp long-shot, and his presence in the roster both seemingly energized the NHL club with some youthful exuberance and acted as a beacon of hope for the farm team. Treliving doesn’t think that their present allotment of contracts fences them in at all.
“The other thing we’ve shown in the past here is decisions will be made on performance and not contractual situations,” said Treliving. “So, again, we’re not starting camp tomorrow, but again if we were, somebody who’s not on a one-way contract and gives us a better chance to win, we’ll find a spot for him. And there’s lots of avenues in order to find that spot. You always like to have some flexibility in terms of the ease of moment up and down, but I talked to a number of our players at development camp and I’ve talked to a number of players over the summer, and when we add a player the comment from me is ‘don’t think all of a sudden we’ve erased your name. You come in, you do what you need to do to make sure you’re prepared. If the coaches and we feel you’re ready to help us win, we’ll find a spot for you. It doesn’t guarantee anybody anything, nor does it eliminate anybody.”
In other words: if a player or two from the AHL ranks really impresses in September, the Flames are prepared to get creative in order to open up a spot. It definitely will not be as financially or logistically easy as burying Devin Setoguchi or Brian McGrattan on the farm team, as they did last season to create spots for Jooris and others.
TRELIVING ON DAVID WOLF
Reports out of Germany have David Wolf returning home. Here’s what the GM had to say about the team’s restricted free agent when queried.
We’ve been staying in touch with David since the end of the season and we had a sense of where he was at in terms of his hope or expectation for a contract over here. It was not shared, I guess, in my view. We tendered him his qualifying offer. I knew he had potential opportunities in Europe. We’ll see where that goes, but I don’t have a comment on the report. I know what’s out there, but no comment on that at this point.