Our dear friends at Sportsnet 960 The Fan had hockey information maven Elliotte Friedman on their station Monday morning for his regular hit and he reiterated a fairly interesting (and alarming) piece of information: Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving is in the final year of his contract. Friedman also noted that he’s “not 100% convinced” that Treliving will be back for the 2017-18 season.
All due respect to the people involving in the decision-making process, but ditching Treliving after just three seasons would send the absolute wrong message to the hockey world at the absolute wrong time.
I think it’s safe to say that the Flames were adrift during the Jay Feaster years. That’s not to judge anybody’s performance, but Feaster was tasked with keeping the team competitive during a time when the drafting short-comings from the Darryl Sutter years were coming home to roost. Not only were the Flames unable to really stock the bottom half of their roster with inexpensive internally-developed players, they didn’t really have any worthwhile assets to trade to get better players. They were stuck. When Feaster seemingly finally got the green light from ownership to clean house and begin a long-delayed rebuild, it was a relief because at least the team was beginning to address its underlying issues.
It turns out, one of those issues was how it signaled itself to the league via its management structure.
As noted on Sportsnet 960 (also on Monday morning) by morning host Dean “Boomer” Molberg, the Flames ownership has a reputation for being hands-on. I am not begrudging them that, because if I’m spending hundreds of millions of dollars of my money on anything, I want a say in its operations. These guys are all incredibly successful in their chosen fields so it’s an approach they’ve been conditioned to take. But in the hockey world, a hands-on ownership is a huge red flag to the marketplace (see: the Florida Panthers for a recent example of hockey navel-gazing) because it’s unclear where the final call is made.
In September 2013, the Flames seemingly did their best to put a stop to any whispering about decision-making when they announced Brian Burke as the team’s president of hockey operations. People in the hockey world respect Burke immensely for his tenure in the game, his willingness to put himself out there to defend his decisions and his willingness to talk tough to those above him when it’s needed. Hiring Burke effectively put a gigantic neon sign outside the Saddledome saying “Burke is in charge here.”
Right away, two things happened: whispering about meddling ownership quieted down considerably, only to be replaced with whispers that Burke would “bring his own guy in” to be general manager. By December, Feaster was sent packing. By the spring, Treliving was hired on. Again, whispers were Treliving would “bring his own guy in” to coach. Bob Hartley lasted about a year longer than anybody expected, but he was sent packing following the 2015-16 and replaced by Glen Gulutzan.
Now, the hockey world said, these guys can really be judged on how they do things, because they had finally finished the transition from the old pre-Burke regime (with the old GM and coach) to the new regime.
Punting Treliving basically a single year into the regime – and just as the bad money deals signed to get them through the painful rebuild transition are finally coming off the books – would basically begin the chattering once again. If Treliving’s gone, what happens with Burke? What happens with the head coach that they just hired? Moving to a new general manager would create more needless questions and annoying problems than it would solve.
It’s really tough to win in the NHL. Teams have to be patient and play a long term game when it comes to developing a winning culture and bringing in the right people. The Flames spent years getting the old people out and bringing the people they pronounced to be the right people to town. It’d be extremely troubling (and terribly short-sighted) if they changed course now.