Got a problem? Give Brad Treliving a year, he’ll fix it

When musing on why acquiring Brian Elliott was a smarter move than Ben Bishop, something Toofun said in the comments caught my eye:

“All together it takes our biggest liability from last year and turns it into an opportunity.”

At this time last year, the Flames’ goaltending didn’t look like it was going to be that horrible; of course, we know how that turned out. So while there aren’t any certainties heading into this season, we still have a lot more hope going in to 2016-17.

That’s what Brad Treliving did: he took the club’s biggest weakness and turned it into a cause for hope.

Sound familiar?

A quiet start

When he was hired as the Flames’ general manager on April 28, 2014, Treliving didn’t really do too much. There were the standards: draft new players. qualify some restricted free agents, let others walk. Even his signings were without theme or overarching meaning: Brandon Bollig and Deryk Engelland because grit, sure. Mason Raymond for a little more scoring in the lineup, why not? Jonas Hiller because the Flames kind of needed another goalie.

Really basic, mostly inoffensive moves (although with the benefit of hindsight, we know most were about a year too long). If anything, it was a time for feeling out the team he had inherited. Sure, there were mis-steps – who was to know Micheal Ferland would be knocking on the door sooner rather than later? – but no GM is perfect.

His first in-season move of note was to re-sign T.J. Brodie to a five-year contract with an annual average value of roughly $4.65 million, a move that’s going to find you approximately zero critics.

As the year went on, there were a few more minor moves. Then the trade deadline hit, and despite his team being in playoff position, he shed as many assets as he reasonably could and accrued draft picks, which led directly to…

2015: The defence

The Flames’ top four defencemen in Treliving’s first year were Brodie, Mark Giordano, Kris Russell, and Dennis Wideman. Because the Flames were in the playoff hunt, they looked like a capable enough group; in reality, only the top two were. Throw in the general lack of defensive prospects – Tyler Wotherspoon wasn’t being played, Brett Kulak hadn’t made an NHL debut yet, and Brandon Hickey had just one good college year to go off of, which really isn’t much – and defence was a major concern for the 2015 off-season.

Until it wasn’t. Because over the span of 24 hours, he acquired Dougie Hamilton, Rasmus Andersson, and Oliver Kylington: fixing both the NHL team’s defence and the cupboards with just a few shrewd moves.

Defence was a major problem heading in. A little over a year into the job, and Treliving had found a way to correct it. At least on paper – but it was a massive step forward, taking his team’s biggest liability of the previous season and turning it into a strength.

We haven’t fully seen the dividends from Treliving’s work on the defence, but they’ll probably start becoming much more apparent this season. With Hamilton a year settled in (plus with a new coach without previous biases), Kylington a year into his professional North American career, and Andersson set to turn pro, those good-on-paper moves should start translating to the ice.

2016: Goaltending

Just like with the defence, we should see this come to fruition over the 2016-17 season. What had been a season-long problem for the Flames was seemingly completely corrected over roughly a week.

Treliving was in fortunate position for this. He may have goofed by re-signing Karri Ramo to a one-year deal, but it was just that: a one-year deal. His Hiller signing from 2014’s free agency period was probably the best of the bunch, because it was only a two-year deal. He was left in position to have a blank slate.

If the goaltending had actually worked out in 2015-16, then fine, re-sign those guys. Because it didn’t, it was easy to just let them go – and then target two other bodies who would come at a fraction of the cost, and could be expected to provide significantly better results.

I’ve heard that the asking price for Marc-Andre Fleury was the sixth overall pick; for Ben Bishop, it was the sixth overall pick and a third rounder. Either pickup would have improved the Flames’ goaltending, but that’s a very considerable cost; instead, he was able to pry Brian Elliott out of St. Louis and pick up the ideal backup in Chad Johnson a week later.

Once again, Treliving had a year to examine his club’s most prominent fault, and give it a quick, but wholly appropriate, fix.

Hopeful transitions

Whatever has gone horribly wrong for the Flames, Treliving has been pretty quick to address it. That’s why so far, his tenure as the Flames’ general manager has been a hopeful one. Problems don’t linger any longer than they have to.

Treliving isn’t a magician – he can’t make the number of bad contracts already present on the Flames (some which he himself signed) disappear in an instant – and he isn’t perfect (hey remember that time Johnny Gaudreau had a contract with the Flames? Yeah me neither). But as the Flames work to transition from rebuilding team to legitimate Stanley Cup contender, at least on paper, their general manager has been really good at identifying problems and correcting them as quickly as possible, all the while without creating more.

His attention to the defence in 2015 and his apparent quick fix of the goaltending in 2016 are what gives me hope for the Flames to be playoff regulars in the near future. We’ll see what challenges arise and deficiencies become apparent over the course of the 2016-17 season, but with what should soon be a very flexible cap and the youth he’s already brought in continuing to grow, Treliving will probably be in perfect position to address them and get us excited for 2017-18 – and it’s all with merit.

  • Kensington

    The one big thing left for this season is signing J Hockey of course, to a reasonable deal. He did let Colbourne walk and I understand why but think we will miss him this year. His goalie moves appear to border on the brilliant… on paper anyway. He will show us his brilliance next summer when all the dead contracts come off and he gets the wiggle room needed to make some more moves. The more I read and look at the stats, I think pairing Geo with Wideman allows Calgary to have two solid first/second pairing d. It may also allow Mr T. the chance to unload him at the deadline for some kind of return, similar to the Russel deal? Really liked his move to replace Bob with GG when you look at the underlying stats BH had. Again not afraid to make the moves necessary. So far great job!

      • Kevin R

        Colborne had a career year in shooting% to finally hit 20 goals, previously he didn’t come close. Brouwer is a consistent, proven, money in the Bank 20 goal man. RW too boot. Cost zero assets but $$$. I have no problem with this signing.

        • Parallex

          “Brouwer is a consistent, proven, money in the Bank 20 goal man.”

          Let’s examine that claim, we’ll ignore his cup of coffee seasons to be fair…

          08-09: 10 Goals
          09-10: 22 Goals
          10-11: 17 Goals
          11-12: 18 Goals
          12-13: 19 Goals
          13-14: 25 Goals
          14-15: 21 Goals
          15-16: 18 Goals

          … so your “consistent, proven, money in the Bank 20 goal man” has in fact only achieved that accomplishment 3 times. Ok, ok, I’ll “credit” him with getting it the lockout shortened season even though he didn’t… so 4 times out of 8 full seasons. I don’t consider a coin flip to be “consistent, proven, money in the Bank” nor do I think it’s reasonable to assume that a guy will carry forward consistent performance in his age 31-34 seasons.

          You can say “Cost zero assets but $$$” but let’s be real here… $$$ is a pretty big asset in a salary capped NHL so you can’t shag it off as nothing. I don’t hate Troy Brouwer, I think he’s an acceptable complementary hockey player for an NHL club… but he’s not worth the price they’re paying him. He’s to reliant on the PP to get those goals and he doesn’t have a history of pushing the play north.

          • Stan

            If your going to criticize the Brouwer signing there are many, many ways you can go about doing it.

            Splitting hairs over one or two goals (18/19 vs. 20) is not a great way to do it.

          • Parallex

            …and if someone is going to complement him it should behoove them to actually be right about the claims. If you’re going to set an arbitrary number as some kind of benchmark why not make it one that’s actually true?

            In terms of goals Troy Brouwer has been a consistent 10-12 goal scorer at even strength who tops that up with 7ish PP goals. If you’re happy to be paying $4.5M per for that past performance (plus underwhelming underlaying stats) for a guy’s age 31-34 seasons more power to ya… I’m not.

          • T&A4Flames

            Also, how do you know that the PP wasn’t exctly something BT thought about when he offered him a contract? Maybe it’s exactly his ability to score on the PP that made the decision for BT?

            You really need to think outside your spread sheets a whole lot more. You might even enjoy the game a bit more.

          • Parallex

            “Also, how do you know that the PP wasn’t exctly something BT thought about when he offered him a contract? Maybe it’s exactly his ability to score on the PP that made the decision for BT?”

            I don’t. But if that’s the case then paying a 30+ guy $4.5M per on a long term deal to essentially be a PP specialist is a fugly use of finite resources.

            “You really need to think outside your spread sheets a whole lot more.”

            I think you need to think inside them a whole lot more.

            “You might even enjoy the game a bit more.”

            I enjoy the games plenty. It’s the offseason… transaction analysis pretty much is the game in the off-season (y’know due to there being no actual games to watch). I mean if all you want is blind praise commentary through homer-lenses then by all means ignore me because I’ll give credit and criticism where due.

          • T&A4Flames

            “I don’t. But if that’s the case then paying a 30+ guy $4.5M per on a long term deal to essentially be a PP specialist is a fugly use of finite resources. ”

            But you’re only looking at the small picture here. You don’t like to give credence to the idea of a deterrent, that’s fine, it’s your belief that it doesn’t factor in to a game. But you believe it because you can’t quantify it by some fancy math. But it exists whether you like it or not. And it goes beyond that. $4.5 mil is a bit much, sure, but it’s FA. We over paid by maybe $500k, term by 1 extra year. No big deal.

            “I think you need to think inside them a whole lot more.”

            I would expect you to answer in this way. Truth be told, the game is played on the ice and really in a players (and actually a team mentality) head.

            “I enjoy the games plenty. It’s the offseason… transaction analysis pretty much is the game in the off-season (y’know due to there being no actual games to watch). I mean if all you want is blind praise commentary through homer-lenses then by all means ignore me because I’ll give credit and criticism where due.”

            I don’t take issue over how you enjoy the game, just in how you criticize others for how they do. You want to see the negative on a transaction instead of looking at the positives, that is your prerogative. But I think a guy like Brad Treliving, not to mention his team of hockey experts, know a hell of a lot more than you or I. So I would rather try to look at what they were thinking and saw in a player when they decided a guy like Brouwer could help, and if the extra $500k and year term is worth it. They see the mental side of the game as well as the #’s (including #’s we don’t even see or know about).

          • Stan

            Not to pile on or anything, but I find it pretty funny that you try to use him scoring under 20 in the lockout season as a point against him…. You do realize that if you prorate his production over 82 games that season then he would have scored 33 goals, right?

            Anyways, the whole argument your trying to make here is ridiculous. If you don’t like him for his possession metrics or reliance on the PP or whatever then just state that, but to argue that a guy isn’t a 20 goal scorer when he has literally averaged EXACTLY 20 goals since he established himself in the league (over the past 7 seasons including the lockout season) is both ridiculous and hilarious.

    • Kevin R

      Don’t think we will miss Colborne too much. Once you see the consistency of Brouwer, you’ll realize why that decision was made.

      I am glad we went the direction we did, neither of those goalies warranted our #6 overall & Flames will be a better team for keeping the pick. But…..this is only a band-aide situation on our goaltending situation. We will be right back at discussing that position in length next June & chomping on all the trade rumours just before the draft & expansion draft. Personally, I kind of like the fact we will be players next year in that market as I expect some pretty interesting scenarios to shake out.
      I do have a little more hope that Elliott & Johnson will provide us NHL playoff calibre goaltending this upcoming year. But, if truth be told, I kinda expected Ramo & Hiller to really give us playoff type of goaltending last year as well. & we all know how that worked out.

    • Craig

      I don’t understand how we will ever miss Colbourne, Sure he had some points, Bob Hartley inexplicably played the heck out of him.

      He was awful though, the play consistently died on his stick, he couldn’t gain the offensive zone to save his life.

      Basically he was a big body with some luck in fron of the net and super favourable minutes from his bad coach.

      The Flames are automatically better without him, even if a rookie replaces him. Addition by Subtraction.

      • Kensington

        It all depends on the money whether Troy, Joe, or as mentioned earlier Kris Vertang. I don’t disagree Troy should be better then Joe but at a much higher cap hit, Joe was as high a quality guy in the dressing room as anyone could be. Kris might be able to be signed for league minimum and be the best of the three. I just think Joe was improving every year and still had some upside. As with all things time will tell. To me who would you choose looking at the stats, Troy at $4+ Joe At $2 plus or Kris at lets say a $1. As always who gives you the most bang for the buck in todays Cap world.

    • ClayBort

      Wings need help, but I’m sure we can all agree the wings were the least pressing issue. The team is in a good spot up the middle, on the blueline, and in goal moving forward. Getting Shinkaruk on the cheap, drafting Tkachuk, signing Pribyl, etc are a step in the right direction.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Coaching bad… fire the coach a year after his Jack Adams.

    Fear of prospects stalling? Clear the house on the farm…

    He is not afraid to make the moves necessary.

    May go down as the best GM in Flames history if his moves continue to bear fruit.

  • FeyWest

    He always seems to keep his cool, very calculated. Seems to me he’d be a great Chess or Shogi player, plans ahead and reacts on each move seemingly appropriately.

    During their year-end meetings they must have a ranking of the teams strengths/weaknesses and act upon the greatest weakness, don’t want to spread their focus too thin.

    Will be interesting to see how this year plays out and the steps forward into the following year!

  • jakethesnail

    ..and what if he can’t come to terms with Johnny before the season starts? I don’t think this will be the case, but…

    One thing Ari that you did not mention was coaching, mentioned by B-c cowboy. If Hartley was a problem, is GG the solution? Here’s hoping that the coaching change will bear fruit sooner than later!

    • everton fc

      GG will be his biggest “test” as a GM.

      If Gaudreau holds out, that’s a real problem.

      Signing some of the dead weight we have, was also not wise.

      Overall, massive improvement over Feaster.

  • Deef

    From what I hear Ken King has always had his foot on the throat of Flames GMs. I hope he’s realized the error of his ways.

    Pay ‘Tree’ whatever he wants and give him the keys to the kingdom!

    • Primo

      The keys to the kingdom will soon come….Burke is nearing retirement….I see BT becoming the next President of hockey ops and Don Maloney the GM…great combination as these guys worked together in Phoenix under difficult financial situation with success!

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Flames would be idiots not to find some position of importance for Maloney. He is one smart cookie. I said it before but it bears repeating: the signing of Maloney was the Flames biggest acquisition over the offseason.

  • jakethesnail

    Speaking of goalies, Darren Haynes wrote:

    “Joni Ortio is off to Sweden. The former Flames goaltender has signed a one-year deal with Skelleftea AIK in the Swedish Hockey League. Skelleftea was the regular season champion in the SHL last year but they ended up losing in the league final.”

  • Derzie

    With Brodie’s contract there are probably 2 guys that would change it: TJ & his agent. Absolute steal of a deal. If Brad can get Johnny signed without drama, that will be huge. I’m of the mind that you pay your elite players and save on the rest of the roster. Not to Chicago levels where you are bleeding but when someone is your marquee player, don’t get cute with nickels and dimes. No hardball because walking away or damaging the relationship will set us back in a big way.

  • Styxx

    Treliving has done a nice job bringing the Flames team management back to being stable, respected and trustworthy by other teams in the league.

    Some of Treliving’s best traits can be summed up as “NO”. No blasphemous statements talking about “best-outside-the-NHL”, no false bravado, no high-risk gambles, no knee-jerk decisions, no chatter for the purpose of grabbing self-aggrandizing headlines.

    However his non-sexy hard-working behind-the-scenes stuff is becoming legendary…determining a team concept, addressing issues that fall within that concept through trades & drafting, building solid player evaluation & development capability, building repoire & trust with players and getting fair value contracts in return, creating a positive culture and “desired destination” status for the Flames…the list goes on.

    Brian Burke selected well.

  • T&A4Flames

    Another thing that BT has done that I really like and respect, is leave a few spots open for the kids to battle for. I would really like to have them resign Nakladal but then you’re definitly relegating guys like Kulak and Kylington to the AHL without even being seen in camp yet. Same with the wings. SHink, Poirier…they have a real chance to earn a spot.

  • MontanaMan

    Brouwer is not a cheap option but that’s what happens when you’re a proven veteran – you’re overpaid. Happens all the time which works out for the player (salary) and often the team (consistency / low risk). It doesn’t always work out, but that’s life. So if not Brouwer, then who? Not Colborne. Not some of the other high priced free agents. Not an unproven European or a rookie. So who? Nobody is saying Brouwer is the answer to all of the Flames needs at RW but he was the best option at the time.

    The goaltending situation was handled correctly. Had the team been in a position to contend deep into the playoffs, Bishop for the #6 overall plus a third might have been palatable but given the Flames rebuild, giving away the #6 would have been disastrous. Regarding goaltending, shipping out deadweight in Stockton and a few other “bold” moves, I like BT’s confidence and leadership. Bodes well for the future.

  • Greatsave

    A cursory glance at Brouwer’s numbers over the years would suggest that a) he can be an asset on the PP, and b) Gulutzan would be wise to keep him away from the top line at 5v5.

    All stats from Puckalytics.com from here on in.

    Over his essentially 8-year career, Brouwer has played on three different teams, with a total of 601 games played and 1483 PP minutes. Over that time, he has a PP GF60 of 9.47, which ranks him 3rd among 574 skaters with at least 200 PP minutes since 2008, sandwiched between Backstrom at 1st and Ovechkin at 5th (more on them later), and Panarin at 2nd (one year of data playing with Patrick Kane and his lights-out season) with Holmstrom at 4th (retired since 2012).

    The curious thing is that, while Backstrom also ranks #1 in Individual PP Points per 60 (iPts/60), Brouwer sits at a wholly unremarkable 188th out of 574. And in Individual PP Primary Points per 60 (iPPts/60), while Backstrom, Ovechkin, Panarin, and Holmstrom are 6th, 9th, 1st, and 13th respectively, Brouwer lags behind at 99th.

    What this tells us is that it is Brouwer’s *presence* on the PP, rather than his actual touches of the puck, that makes him valuable. This is also supported by the fact that he also ranks low on PP Individual Point Percentage (IPP) at 534th of 574, or 41 from the bottom. And everyone below him had fewer than 850 PP minutes over 8 seasons.

    One might think that Brouwer’s time in Washington (4 seasons from 2011 to 2015) bumped his numbers favourably, and to a certain extent that is true, but I don’t think it would be fair to say he rode coattails of others.

    His first season in Washington saw him play 2nd PP minutes, but in the next three he was playing roughly the same amount of PP minutes as Backstrom, so we’ll focus on those three (well, two and a shortened one) seasons.

    And over those three seasons, out of the players who played any kind of meaningful PP minutes (let’s say, 150 minutes, which gives us 359 players), guess who led the league in PP GF60?

    That’s right. Troy Brouwer.

    Ahead of Backstrom (#2), Ovechkin (#4), and Green (#6), all Washington teammates. And a lower PP GA60 than each of them, to boot.

    And, not surprisingly by now, while Backstrom and Ovechkin ranked #1 and #6 in iPts/60, Brouwer was 86th. His PP IPP of 38.9% is even lower than his overall career number, and puts him 341st, or 19th from the bottom, again with everybody below him having played fewer PP minutes.

    But Brouwer had the highest GF60 of them all. And I don’t know where to look for WOWY numbers on the PP, but I can say with confidence that the Washington PP was scoring at a higher rate with Brouwer on the ice than without, given that his PP GF60RelTM was +6.07, again #1 in the league over that span.

    In conclusion (for my first point anyway), there is no doubt in my mind that Brouwer is an asset on the PP, whose presence and usage on the Washington PP contributed significantly to their incredibly success from 2012-15, during which they scored 172 PPGs (18 ahead of both Crosby/Malkin’s Penguins and Giroux/Voracek’s Flyers), at a rate of 24.9% (a full 3 percentage points ahead of the Penguins). Prior to Brouwer’s use on the PP, they had languished around 17% the previous two seasons. The use of Brouwer coincided with the return to the level of success they had enjoyed between 2008 and 2010, way back during Semin’s, Green’s, and Boudreau’s firewagon hey-days.

    That was long-winded, and I didn’t even get to my second point yet. Maybe later.