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