Brad Treliving’s folly: The salary cap

Let’s get this out of the way: Brad Treliving is a very good general manager.

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He couldn’t have handled this offseason’s goaltending reboot any more perfectly. He acquired Dougie Hamilton for nothing more than a handful of picks and seemingly restocked the Flames’ defensive cupboards overnight. He’s executed both trade deadlines he’s been in charge of perfectly, and he pulled the trigger on changing coaches at the right time.

But Treliving is not a perfect general manager. His first few months on the job weren’t great. Specifically, he either acquired or handed out a lot of money before his team even played a single game under him. And he kind of did it again the season after. And again, even though two of his best players in line for serious raises were still in need of new contracts.

The Flames are a better team now than they were when Treliving first came in – but the organization’s handling of the salary cap since then hasn’t been fantastic.

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The 2014 offseason

Over the course of the draft and free agency, Treliving added the following cap hits:

  • Brandon Bollig, $1.25 million
  • Jonas Hiller, $4.5 million
  • Mason Raymond, $3.15 million
  • Deryk Engelland, $2.917 million

That’s roughly $11.8 million added. It wasn’t all bad at the time – the Flames needed a goalie and Hiller had a pretty solid body of work behind him, and Raymond was coming off of a 45-point season – but for the most part, it ended up being a lot of money spent on not particularly great on-ice results (Hiller’s 2014-15 season aside).

Most of that money is gone now. Just $5.2 million remains thanks to Bollig and Engelland’s cap hits, and Raymond’s buyout. That’s $5.2 million of now desperately needed cap space tied up in what are, at best, a fourth liner, a bottom pairing defenceman, and dead weight.

Treliving wasn’t responsible for the bad contracts he inherited – Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid, and Matt Stajan, in particular – but those are three players who take up another $11.9 million whose gross cap hits weren’t properly budgeted for the future..

The Shane O’Brien saga

This one is just so bizarre. O’Brien was bought out by the Flames on June 30, 2014 – about two months after Treliving became the Flames’ GM. At the time, it was thought to be a compliance buyout. Hell, it was thought to be a compliance buyout until two days ago. It just made sense for it to be a compliance buyout.

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And now, it apparently… wasn’t, maybe?

I think Robert Cleave put it best when he called it an “unforced error” – if this is, in fact correct. I still have a hard time believing it to be the case, simply because it’s so odd and would be such a silly mistake.

And if it wasn’t a mistake, as has been theorized, then it was an inappropriate decision. Considering how much the Flames spent the very next day in free agency (the Engelland overpayment alone!), staying over the cap floor shouldn’t have been a concern. And if it was anyway, then the Flames still failed to properly budget for the future (though I suppose you could just as easily point the blame at all of the bad three-year contracts signed or acquired – everything adds up).

No matter what, though, if O’Brien’s buyout wasn’t, in fact, of the compliance variety, it was an extraordinarily bad move on the Flames’ part.

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After an unprecedented offensive explosion – including a sky-high, for him, 15.4 shooting percentage – Lance Bouma was re-signed for a $2.2 million cap hit.

Treliving avoided repeating something similar following Joe Colborne’s abnormal 19.0 shooting percentage, but instead, he signed Troy Brouwer to a $4.5 million contract.

I understand the arguments for signing Brouwer. I understand the team’s mindset at the time of acquiring him. These all make sense and could easily prove to be beneficial.

What I don’t understand is going out and spending that kind of money when the Flames had two extremely high-profile restricted free agents to re-sign, one of whom still does not yet have a contract.

The Flames had two key priorities for the offseason: revamp the goaltending, and re-sign the kids. Those were the necessities. The former was accomplished quickly and painlessly. The latter continues to drag on, and yet it’s the latter that’s going to dictate this team’s cap situation for a long time. And in the meantime, the Flames went out and spent $4.5 million on a luxury.

In trying to project the Flames’ cap situation for the future over the course of this summer, I’ve been estimating Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan would cost the Flames a combined $14 million. For this to come true, Gaudreau would need to have a cap hit of $7.625 million: an amount that the Flames would still be able to fit under the cap, with roughly $300,000 left in space.

That leaves almost no margin for error. Recalls count on the cap; the numerous call-ups the Flames exercised during garbage time last season played their own parts in pushing the Flames into overage territory.

In summation

The Flames have put themselves in a bad situation cap-wise. The next couple of weeks – the season is about three weeks away – are going to be extremely interesting, because the Flames have a lot of work to do to make sure they’re cap compliant. And not just for the season opener, but preferably for throughout the year.

But we’re past the point of the Flames’ cap problems being bad mistakes from previous regimes that Treliving had the misfortune of inheriting. He didn’t account for them properly when he first came in. He signed numerous poor deals on his own. And there’s still a very significant number figure left; the most important of them all, in fact, not just for this season, but for the team’s long term.

Treliving is a good general manager, but the Flames’ cap situation this season has taken off some of the sheen.

  • Parallex

    I never quite got why the Flames were doling out term like candy on halloween. Gonna overspend to make the floor? Sure, whatever… but there are guys every offseason you can get on one year deals to do the same thing.

  • Kevin R

    That first year of signings aren’t really all that bad, the two that are just killing us is Widemans 5.25mill & Smid’s 3.5mill. Is what it is & if you step back & look around the league, every GM get caught giving a too long too much $$$ contract out at some point. Hope he realizes how important handing out the contracts is. My biggest problem right now is just stop, please, trying to get Gaudreaus contract under Gio’s. Make a blockbuster announcement & a big splash by handing out the biggest contract in Flames history at a press conference rolling out Johnny’s 8 year $61.0 mill deal. This kid is one of the big reasons I spend big $$$ to go to these games, not the 4.5mill per to Brouwer, not the 3.2mill to Stajan, not the 5.25 mill to Wideman, not the 4.3mill to Frolik, not even the 3.5mill to Backlund. I pay to watch talent like Gaudreau’s do his magic out there. Pay the friggin kid!!!! If it means we run with the lineup we have now so be it & miss out on Nakladal because we can’t give him a 1 way deal, whatever.

  • Greatsave

    I understand the point of the article is to look at how Treliving had mismanaged the team payroll over his tenure, and indeed his record has been less than stellar, but it would be unfair to him not to note some of his better deals:

    – Brodie’s 5-year extension at $4.65m AAV

    – Hamilton’s signing at $5.75m AAV for 6 years

    – Giordano’s 6-year extension at $6.75m AAV

    – Backlund’s $3.575m AAV deal for 3 years

    – Frolik’s signing at $4.3m AAV for 5 years

    – Monahan’s 7-year deal at $6.375m, which, if not a cheap deal, at least got decent term at market value

    – And if you think of the changes on RW this off-season as replacing Hudler ($4m), Jones ($4m), and Colborne ($1.275m) with Brouwer ($4.5m), Chiasson ($800k) and Vey ($700k), they came out well ahead money-wise.

    Overall, I feel like while there have been deals that are hamstringing the team’s cap situation, Treliving has bat pretty close to .500 with his signings.

    • Nick24

      I wouldn’t give him too much credit for getting rid of Hudler, Jones, and Colborne. All those were expiring deals anyway. I’d argue that it would have been better to bring Hudler back in at $2m than signing Brouwer at $4.5m.
      They had many options on July 1st and they could have found players who produce similarly, if not better than Brouwer, for cheaper.

      • Greatsave

        I’m not giving him credit for getting rid of them; I’m only pointing out that if you looked at RW as a group in terms of comings and goings, the team shed money while getting decent replacements.

        I wouldn’t have minded bringing Hudler back at $2m or even $3m myself, to see if he and the kids can rediscover some of that 2014-15 magic, but it looked like things had soured or the team had moved on. Even the league as a whole seemed uninterested, otherwise he wouldn’t have had to wait till late August for a $2m 1-year deal.

        I’m not sure what “many options” were available that were cheaper. Lucic, Ladd, Okposo, Backes, Eriksson all signed for more money. Stempniak is 2.5 years older. I don’t know what cheaper option there was that you thought the Flames passed on. Matthias? McGinn? Weise? Perron? Purcell? Grabner? Vanek? Pirri? Maybe. I could be sold on some of those, but I’m not sure they bring the same qualities as Brouwer does.

        • Nick24

          I just disagree that they got good replacements. Vey and Chiasson are at best fringe players; while Brouwer is a bottom-six forward, and a poor one at that. They let go of Jooris. At least he was pretty good in his role. They haven’t brought anyone back who will really be able be a constructive part of the PK like Jooris was.

          Now Hudler was more of an example, but It would of been much smarter on the part of the Flames to find a few players on the cheap. Getting a hand-full of players in the $1m range and seeing how they preform would of been okay with me.
          Stempniak may be older, but his style of game lends itself to longevity and I’d bet on him over Brouwer everyday. I don’t see how physical players can endure in this league. Just look at Curtis Glencross. He went from 2nd Line forward to being forced into retirement in just one season.

          Piri is a player I’d of liked. Jonathan Marchessault was another, Brent Connolly, Teddy Purcell, PA Parentau, Viktor Stalberg, Colton Sceviour, and maybe even Alex Taungauy. I’d take two, maybe even three of any of those players at the value they were signed at over Brouwer.
          Now obviously I’m not/wasn’t calling on the Flames to sign all those guys, but two or three could have been a solution that would have allowed The Flames to still save in the cap department.

          • BlueMoonNigel

            Maybe signing any of those guys you listed was out of Tre’s hands. Calgary is not exactly an attractive destination for most NHLers. In the best of times, it’s a small-market team that is an outpost on the prairies where its closest rival is a 3-hour drive away. Winnipeg is a 2-hour flight.

            Loved what Matty said just after he was drafted by the Flames and the reporter asked him what he knew about the Flames and he said not much as there was next to nil coverage of the team in Ontario.

            Unless a FA has some ties to Calgary or is on his last hockey legs, signing with the Flames is not top priority. It is more a case that all his other options have run dry. There is a reason teams like Calgary and Edmonton have for the last several years been called by NHLers the “Last Chance Café.”

          • Greatsave

            Clarification: When I said “decent”, I’m leaning closer to “serviceable” than “good”. I don’t believe there’s a significant drop-off from Jones/Colborne to Chiasson/Vey. I do mourn the loss of Jooris as well, and Byron before him. That’s two guys who did their bottom-six jobs and special team roles well.

            Pirri intrigued me in that he’s a versatile, career 0.5 ppg player with years ahead of him, and yet nobody picked him up till late August, and on a risk-free deal at that.

            Your list of players aims a little lower than I first thought. They’re essentially a mix of over-the-hill veterans and young AHL ppg’ers unproven at the NHL level. I suppose the question is, “What is the end game here?” If you’re hoping that one of them will pan out and turn out to be a top-line guy, sure, throw them at the wall and see what sticks. But if the end game is getting a legit top-line RW who’s a proven, finished product, then these guys aren’t it. (Mind you, I’m not saying Brouwer is “it”, either. But if $4.5m is making it difficult to sign Gaudreau, $5.5m for Ladd or $6m for Okposo/Eriksson was never gonna happen.) And this year’s crop was better than next year’s is shaping up to be.

          • Nick24

            With the cap space the Flames had to work with, looking for a minted top line winger was not the right decision . All the players I listed are effective at moving the puck up the ice, have special teams value, and could probably score between 20 and 30 points a season.
            Now maybe one of those guys works out and you find a top line winger, but more than likely that won’t be the case, but they’re still all effective depth players.
            Brouwer isn’t all that effective.

            The gist of what I’m trying to say is that you’ll see more value from two of those players than you will see from Brouwer; and you’ll save $2m for your trouble.

          • Greatsave

            I agree with all you’re saying, but I think my question remains, “What is the end game?” If the Flames don’t go for a top RW this summer (and, again, I don’t think Brouwer was necessarily the best choice here if that’s what they were going for), and there’s little to choose from next summer, is the plan then to just wait till Tkachuk or Shinkaruk prove themselves?

          • Nick24

            They dont need someone of first line pedigree. If you can get someone that makes sense for the price, go for it, but otherwise the Flames already have a ton of skill on the top line. I’d be happy if they could get someone who can just compliment that top line. The player doesn’t have to be otherworldly. He just needs to be able to keep up. Now Maybe Shikaruk turns into that, maybe Ferland does. I’d be more confident in those two than Brouwer, but I think you have to wait and see. Maybe in a few years we see a situation where a young player gets in a Drouin kind of situation and the Flames can work something. I don’t know, but the right move was not to spend $4.5m for four years on an aging, declining 3rd liner.

            The gap at right wing is a problem, but brining in Brouwer has not made that problem go away.

  • ronipedia

    The thing that kills me about Brouwer’s deal is that Treliving only had to get through this off season without blowing the cap situation, and then next year he gets 13 million in cap space when Bollig/Engelland/Wideman/Smid come off the books.

    If he signs an average player instead of Brouwer, say for $2.5m, (more than what Hudler got), he’s looking at an extra $2m to maneuver with Gaudreau and then for moves throughout the year.

    He would then have $15m in cap space available next year. $17.5m if the replacement for Brouwer was a one year contract (like Hudler got). Go after some spiffy free agents then. Why sign Brouwer now?

    The thing that might save them is if Smid goes on LTIR right away, it will open up some cap room. Everyone seems to be assuming that’s what’s going to happen. I wonder if Johnny’s agent is thinking about that too.

    • Greatsave

      I broadly agree with your points. Frankly, I would have been pleased with re-signing Jooris, picking up Chiasson, and signing Pirri and Vey all to 1-year deals, as a means of tiding us over another season. Even re-signing Colborne or bringing back Hudler would have been fine if that was the plan: to get the big contracts done this summer, tide us over with some decent, inexpensive RW depth, and go for a big #1 RW signing next summer.

      The only problem is who’s actually available as a UFA next summer? The pickings are pretty slim and everybody of note will be 30+. Oshie is probably your best bet, Radulov is a wildcard, after that it’s Iginla, Jagr, Hemsky, Doan… It wouldn’t surprise me if Treliving took one look at that list and decided if they were going to try upgrading the right side, it might as well be this summer.

      EDIT: I actually did leave out another big name for next summer: Brad Marchand. But he’ll be 29, is already making $4.5m and due for a significant raise, even more so if he scores 30 goals again, and I don’t see him leaving Boston. That said, Sweeney has done some mind-boggling things, so who knows?

      • ronipedia

        Fair point, and also as Nigel notes, some of that money is needed for raises next year too. Still, Oshie would be sweet, and I’d rather overpay for him than for Brouwer.

        Man that cap page looks rough though. Even Hamilton might not get signed.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Next year’s freed up dough is already spent on a long-term deal for Bennett and a pair of goalies unless you think Jon Jon is ready to take the bull by the horns.

      I do agree that the Brouwer signing was imprudent. The question now is how long before this deal really stinks? If the Flames get 2 good seasons out of Brouwer can that be termed a success?

      Guys have been whining about the Stajan deal for the last while. The Brouwer deal has the potential to make the Stajan deal look like the Teddy Bears’ picnic.

  • McRib

    Some of those earlier deals have Brian Burke’s name written all over them (Bollig, Engelland, etc), looking back at the 2014 draft timeframe compared to the recent 2015, 2016 drafts I think it tells a good picture of when Treliving gained more control of day-to-day operations and that is reflected in contracts signed at that point as well.

    Jakub Nakladal is playing in all situations for the Czechs and is looking good doing it tonight, he is the number four defender we desperately need for Dougie Hamilton. Hope we somehow can get him inked, although its getting less likely by the minute. The minute Deryk Engelland stops playing 18+ minutes a night like he did too often last year is the minute this team takes the next step, IMO.

    • freethe flames

      I agree that Nakdaddy would be an ideal signing for the Flames but i just don’t see him playing with Hamilton, I suspect you would see a partnership of tJ/Hamilton, Gio/Nakdaddy as it would make little sense for two righties to play together and two lefties. But this is just wishful thinking at the moment.

  • ComeOn

    Oh come on, we have nothing but speculation on why Johnnie isn’t signed, speculation that a contract like Brouwer’s won’t turn out.

    Months back we were hailing how great Treliving is, now we see click bait crap criticizing him.

    How about speculating that Treliving has known he MAY have a penalty associated with bonuses and was waiting before signing contracts he couldn’t undo? How about speculating that Treliving is the smartest guy in the room and has given himself just enough money to deal with Johnnie and that we don’t know what his total plan is? How about that he intends to do a last minute move to open up additional cap room to get deals like Johnnie’s done? That he’s delayed buying out Wideman as long as possible to avoid being saddled with the do nothing cap cash down the road? Or that he’s waiting on Smid’s injury to commit him to the long term IR and free up additional cash? Or that he’s done well to sign Monahan early at what seems a reasonable deal?

    Come on.

      • ComeOn

        Nope, I dislike blatantly opportunistic negative media stories with no new information. Furthermore, if an article isn’t going to contain any new information and just whines and bitches about a temporary situation I think it really isn’t achieving anything.

        Well, its great for generating apathy and a media environment like one would see in say…Toronto?

        If there’s not going to be anything new in the article, and its just opinion, well then at least provide some substance and balance to the subject as opposed to just trashing someone.

        BTW, if you’re a GM, you’ll almost certainly end of hated…wonder why.

  • MontanaMan

    It doesn’t look good but I will wait for the final act to make my decision. If Tre can clear some salary, sign JG and sign Nak, all will be forgiven.

  • everton fc

    Brandon Bollig, $1.25 million
    Jonas Hiller, $4.5 million
    Mason Raymond, $3.15 million
    Deryk Engelland, $2.917 million

    The only deal that made any sense was Hiller’s. The worst deal was Raymond’s – he was damaged goods when he got here. Overpaying for Engelland – another mistake – but at least he played decent many games, last season.

    Bollig? Words fail…

    I am still in the camp that sees Brower’s contract as “too much”, though I like the player on our team. But I think the salary’s high.

    Wideman for a 6th. Make it happen!

  • cberg

    Ari, this is all nonsense. First, the Flames needed to reach the Cap floor. Secondly, 20:20 hindsight on two players far exceeding expectations is nice for you but not something to hold against the GM. Finally, as of right now we’re still fine.

    • Greatsave

      You’re right on both counts. One would have liked, essentially, for Engelland’s and Raymond’s deals to have been a year shorter, in hindsight. But you’re right that probably a combination of a) not foreseeing how good Monahan and Gaudreau would become by the end of their ELCs, and b) thinking that Hudler’s and Jones’ salaries coming off would be sufficient to cover Monahan and Gaudreau, led to Engelland and Raymond being handed 3-year deals. Of course there’s also a chance that they wouldn’t have signed a shorter offer.

      If anything, I’m more irked (and had been since day 1, as I noted on a Matchsticks & Gasoline thread) by the Bouma deal. By summer 2015, they had an inkling of what Gaudreau and Monahan might command in their new deals, yet still dished out $2.2m per for 3 years for Bouma, an RFA who had filed for arbitration.

  • The LAME Walter White

    I wonder if the other GM’s are playing hard ball with the Flames now when it comes to trades.
    Example: GM X: O? You want us to take Wideman and his contract? Well we will take him off your hands but you have to give us a decent prospect (andersson) or a second round pick.

  • beloch

    I’d still like to know why O’Brian turned out to be a regular buyout. Weird stuff is going on there.

    As for the Flames cap situation…

    If Smid goes on LTIR on opening day, that gives the Flames a wee bit of breathing room. Treliving could sign Gaudreau for ~7M and have enough cap left, with Smid out, to hire Nakladal, who has hinted that he has a deal waiting to be signed. If that happens, I think Treliving will come out of this summer looking pretty good. If he can unload Wideman mid-season, even with some retained salary, he’ll be sitting pretty.

    In a much darker timeline, Gaudreau will miss games before Treliving agrees to an ammount nearer $8M and Smid will inexplicably decide to risk permanent disability to play more hockey. Nakladal is left jobless and the Flames wind up in instant cap trouble. If this happens (and I hope it doesn’t!) Treliving is going to be in heaps of trouble.

    This is probably going to be a rough few weeks for Treliving’s stomach.

  • Hubcap1

    I’m a little unclear as to why someone from Flames Nation doesn’t call some from the Flames and try and get an answer as to whether O’Brien’s buyout was compliance or not? Doesn’t anyone there have any pull? End the speculation.

  • Misterbator

    300,000 in cap space? UMMM NO. TECHNICALLY YES, BUT NO.

    Ladislav Smid will be placed on LTIR when the season starts.

    That frees up 3.5 million in cap space.

    That gives Treliving more than enough cap room to work with, having plenty of youth to fill in spots when injuries occur. Nit-picking a Troy Brouwer contract while ignoring his brilliant work signing two solid veteran goalies on very cap friendly contracts that expire next year.

    Speaking of next year, Treliving has $17,116,667 in salary coming off the books.

    I for one would argue that no NHL manager can boast a clean sheet of contract history. In the salary cap era GM’s have to be creative in order to deal with their rosters, so a mistake or two is bound to happen. Look at Chicago for instance!! They fumbled the ball a few times, took some risks, won a few cups. It’s all good right?

    My overall point is, Treliving has breathed new life into our franchise, most of which won’t be apparent until The history of his draft decisions fleshes out. At this point, he has done well to add to and maintain inherited talent, and overall has returned the Flaming C back into the conversation.