It’s already been a noteworthy summer for the Calgary Flames, as they’ve transitioned from Glen Gulutzan to Bill Peters as head coach. But that move is just a part of what’s likely destined to be a massively important three-year period for the Flames franchise – one that will probably determine the trajectory of the team and the future of general manager Brad Treliving.
Given the state of the organization when Treliving was hired in April 2014, it’s worth emphasizing how far the club has come in a relatively short period of time – particularly when the Carolinas, Buffalos and Edmontons of the league seem to be in perpetual rebuild. Barring an occasional Troy Brouwer whiff or Brandon Bollig trade, the majority of Treliving’s moves have served to create depth at almost every position – the goaltending position is arguably still a push, though the organization has more viable future options than they had in the past.
According to Elliotte Friedman’s weekly Friday appearance on Sportsnet 960 The Fan, both Treliving and Peters are under contract for three more years, meaning their contracts both expire following the 2020-21 season. Their contracts correspond with “the window” that the club is projected to have; the Flames have all their key assets under contract for the next few seasons and have salary cap flexibility that’s not predicated on any rise in the cap ceiling. That’s not nothing, but now comes the hard part: maximizing that flexibility and making the right moves around the fringes of the roster to elevate the core from the status of “promising” to “actually good.”
The 2018-19 season
Over the next 12 months, Treliving has two big things to deal with and a handful of smaller tasks. The big things are re-signing Matthew Tkachuk – he’s eligible for an extension on July 1 – and figuring out the goaltending situation after the final year of Mike Smith’s current contract.
The smaller tasks involve new deals for Sam Bennett and Micheal Ferland, who will both be restricted free agents with arbitration rights following the 2018-19 season. Ferland’s goal-scoring prowess alone will make his arbitration case really challenging for the Flames.
The 2019-20 season
Presuming none of them get traded or bought out in the interim, 2019-20 is the decision point for five pending unrestricted free agents: Troy Brouwer, Michael Frolik, TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone. There are also two challenging external factors that could weigh into decision-making heavily during the season:
- Either the NHL or the NHLPA can opt out of the final year of the CBA early; the NHL has to opt out by Sept. 1, 2019 while the NHLPA can do so by Sept. 15, 2019 (if the NHL hasn’t already done so).
- If neither side opts out of the CBA early, then the NHL will progress along with the Seattle expansion process. The Vegas expansion process was announced just before the 2016 NHL Draft, so presumably any 2020 process would be announced around the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver… if the NHL thinks there won’t be a lockout.
An expiring CBA would complicate matters incredibly. So would an expansion process, though in a much different way. A lot of the big things that will dictate 2019-20 are out of Treliving’s control, but he’s gotta nail how they’re handled nonetheless.
The 2020-21 season
Either there’s going to be another lockout in September 2020 or Seattle will begin play in the Pacific Division in October 2020. It’s also the last year under Dougie Hamilton’s current contract. Following the season, only Johnny Gaudreau (who’ll be 27), Sean Monahan (26), Mikael Backlund (32) and Mark Giordano (37) will remain under contract. Giordano’s going to be a bit long in the tooth, but the other three players will probably still be at least half-decent.
If Treliving makes it to the end of his current deal, he’ll be the third-longest tenured GM in franchise history (after Cliff Fletcher and Darryl Sutter). But in order to do so, he’s going to have to create and maintain some organizational momentum. In the 13 seasons of the salary cap era, the Flames have six seasons in the playoffs and just one series win. The bare minimum qualification for success has to be three playoff appearances and at least a couple series wins.
It’s going to be a very, very important three seasons for the coach, the general manager, and the entire team.