Brad Treliving didn’t skirt around the matter of hand in his end of season press conference: the Flames’ season was a failure. You can search for all of the silver linings you’d like, but that doesn’t change the fact that the year ended much earlier than they would have liked it to, and there’s a lot to be done.
Today was the post-mortem; tomorrow is the start of looking towards the future. Evaluations will all get underway then. In the meantime, the message is the same as it was last year: the Flames have to improve. For all the steps forward they took this season, they aren’t there yet.
Of all things Flames that need to be evaluated with a microscope, the coaching staff is absolutely on that list. Really, everyone is, according to Treliving, starting with himself. From management on down, the Flames had a team-wide failure.
The coaching staff is of particular interest, however. You can’t change your entire roster overnight – but you can make a huge impact on your team with a coaching change. Look no further than the Penguins’ performance under Mike Johnston, and now under Mike Sullivan, where they appear to be Cup favourites. Coaching is massive, and the right guy can almost singlehandedly turn a season around.
The coaching staff has not yet been evaluated, but they will be as we go into this off-season.
There were a couple of things Treliving said, however, while not specifically mentioning coaching, but things that should certainly apply to them.
“You can’t be 30th in special teams for a large majority of the season,” Treliving said. Whose job are special teams but the coaches’? The Flames had a top-six scorer league-wide in Johnny Gaudeau, but couldn’t score on the power play. Is that on Gaudreau, his teammates, or the people in charge of drawing up special teams?
The Flames’ overall style seemed to be under criticism, as well. “We need to hold on to the puck longer,” Treliving said. They need to have a better way to defend – perhaps with less reliance on shot blocking and more on preventing zone entires? That part remains to be seen, but major evaluations should be underway starting tomorrow.
“You can’t be 30th in goals against,” said Treliving. He was clear to stress that wasn’t only on the goalies: that’s a team-wide stat. But it still stresses that goaltending is absolutely a priority for the Flames this off-season.
Jonas Hiller will not be back, and neither will Niklas Backstrom. There are still contract talks to be had with Joni Ortio, a restricted free agent. Karri Ramo is a consideration as well, but he’s still coming off from a pretty sever injury. Still, “[goaltending] is obviously an area we need to solidify going into next year,” Treliving said.
One other point of note, though: when addressing questions about an expansion draft, Treliving stressed that expansion isn’t even a sure thing yet, so they have to wait on that front. However, with the proposed rule of teams only being allowed to protect one goalie each, he’s looking at teams that have two goalies they would like to protect, and see if there’s anything available there. We already know the Flames kicked tires on Matt Murray; other options could still be Frederik Andersen and Ben Bishop.
If there’s one thing Treliving has made clear, it’s that he loves draft picks. Teams are built through the draft, and so, the more draft picks you’ve got, the better off you probably are. And the Flames have four picks in the top 60: one first and three seconds, with one of those seconds potentially becoming a first.
And the first they have is lottery eligible. Treliving has his fingers crossed for the lottery, but with the percentages not looking too great, it isn’t a pick he can rely on. He believes the Flames will be getting another good young player no matter what, but unless they move up in the draft, said player probably won’t be on the team next season.
So many young players
“There is a very good young nucleus here,” Treliving said in regards to his developing core. Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will no doubt be getting new contracts, and are a part of said core. “There are building blocks here in place. We’ve put some more in place,” Treliving said. He frequently brought up the Dougie Hamilton (and, to a lesser extent, Michael Frolik) acquisitions from last season.
A crucial part of how the Flames fare next season will be how well their young players grow. There are three ways to improve, according to Treliving: “bring someone in from the outside, potentially improve by eliminating someone on the inside, but more often than not, it’s internal growth.” It was that last point that was the main message of the day: the young players that make up much of the Flames will have to have NHL-caliber off-seasons, and grow and develop physically. (Getting bigger was another priority of Treliving’s.)
The Flames should be able to compete for a playoff spot next season – but a major part of that happening is going to have to be the young players on the Flames continuing to grow. “We rely most nights on very young players to push this team along,” Treliving said. For all the strides the Flames have made with their younger players, the Flames will stagnate if they don’t continue to grow.
The World Championships
Treliving is the co-GM for Team Canada these World Championships, so with players like his top three defencemen all turning down invites, there’s some disappointment there for him – but also, understanding.
He’s lost out on some good players to play for Canada, but he supports and understands where his guys are coming from. You can’t force Mark Giordano to spend time away from his young son if he doesn’t want to. You can’t force T.J. Brodie to suit up if he feels he isn’t 100%. So Brad Treliving, Team Canada General Manager may be disappointed, but Brad Treliving, Calgary Flames General Manager is understanding and supportive of his players.
The rest of the defence
The good news? Treliving feels the Flames have depth and options on the backend, aside from his top three.
He outright stated Jakub Nakladal was an NHL player. He also rather liked Jyrki Jokipakka’s game, and thinks players like Tyler Wotherspoon and Brett Kulak can be depth options as well – but the Flames will always be looking to improve.
The major challenge here? Some contracts and the cap situation, which seemed to hint towards Dennis Wideman, though he was never named.
“We’ve got some pieces on the backend,” Treliving stated. It’s encouraging that several players have taken steps forward – but they’ll need to find room for them.
As for skaters in general, there was nobody off the top of Treliving’s head he thinks can’t come back next season; when asked specifically about Derek Grant, he said he “showed well”.
“You can improve quickly in this league”
There’s good reason to be optimistic about the Flames next season. They have a lot of good, young players in place. And it’s entirely possible they’ll be back in the playoffs next season, with the right changes enacted.
Because there will definitely have to be changes. Everyone and everything gets evaluated, and then, what will hopefully be the right decisions get made.
But there are still very, very key problems that need addressing.
The Flames’ goaltending was bad. Their defence was bad. Their special teams were bad. “You factor those things in, you’re going to have a difficult time,” Treliving said. Their bad start to the season put them behind from the get-go, and there wasn’t enough done to get them back into things.
“We had some wins down the stretch,” Treliving acknowledged. However, he followed it up by saying, “I think those are dangerous evaluation games when there’s zero on the line.” You always play to win, sure. And games in October mean just as much as games in March. But when you fall behind the way the Flames did, and only start playing well later in the season when things don’t really mean much anymore, you can’t fall into the trap of looking at just the good games.
Still, Treliving cites Flames ownership as outstanding, and willing to provide the organization with the resources it needs to be successful. A couple of changes here and there, and next season may not be a failure.
“I think there’s a great future for this team,” Treliving said. However, 29 other teams may very well be thinking the same thing.
“It’s a competitive landscape. We have to get better.”