While most NHL teams won’t step on the ice until Friday, Sept. 14, the Flames, along with the Boston Bruins, will be flying to China on Sept. 11 to prepare for their two preseason games. Flames GM Brad Treliving joined me and Jason Strudwick on my show (TSN 1260) to discuss the unique trip, the Flames’ depth at forward, which young players he thinks could push for an NHL job this year and more.
Just before Brad came on the show Strudwick was talking about swearing to release his frustration while doing home renos, and we sequenced right from that to our conversation with Treliving.
Jason Gregor: Have you ever done that (swearing) in contract negotiations?
Brad Treliving: Yeah, there’s tons of profanity, that’s usually how they start out. The more profanity that gets yelled at each other, that usually means that you’re getting closer to a deal. So… Yeah, that does happen.
Gregor: Speaking of the whole negotiation process. You don’t want to take things personally but at the same time you’re like ‘no, this is how I see it.’ How do you go through a negotiation that gets heated? Is it heated and then once a deal is signed you shake hands and move on, or do some negotiations with certain agents carry over to their next client?
Treliving: For the most part you have a pretty good relationship with all of the agents out there. You don’t want to carry anything over from one negotiation to another. Different agencies do things differently, but you find ways to work through.
It’s funny that you bring it up because Pat Brisson is the agent for Noah Hanifin and we were joking that we did a deal like 11 years ago and that was one of the last ones that we’ve done. For whatever reason I’ve worked a lot with JP Barry clients recently.
For the most part now with negotiations you’re sort of in a range and there’s always a little bit of an arm wrestle that goes back and forth, but certainly we’re glad to swim over the finish line and get it completed.
Jason Strudwick: We’re a couple of weeks away from training camp, does the GM or the agent start to feel the pressure that something needs to be done in short order so that we know that the player is going to be at camp?
Treliving: You always want your team together in camp. Years ago it used to feel like the season got serious around December, but we all know how important getting off to a good start is now. It’s a real difficult league to chase in. We’ve been in that situation a couple of times. So absolutely you want to get your people into camp. I think what people have to understand is that I know from a fan’s perspective and from the outside world you get a couple of weeks away from camp you think it’s right around the corner. Really in the grand scheme of things, you have lots of time.
If you look back historically in the last number of years, and you look back now, especially for those guys, those restricted free agents who don’t have arbitration rights, the timeline for them is usually late signings. And for a number of reasons each one is a little bit different, and you’re trying to find common ground. But those guys who don’t have arbitration rights, there’s really no deadlines. You talk to those guys whose are eligible for arbitration, and the one good thing about arbitration is that it does bring a deadline; it brings a conclusion one way or another. With these guys (no arbitration) usually the deadline is, for the most part, a little bit of a soft deadline is getting in on time, but there’s always that desire I think is on both sides. The team always wants to have their people there and quite frankly the players want to be there.
You know what it’s like Jason as a player, you go through the summer and negotiations, but after Labour Day and everyone is back home and the guys you’re skating with and playing with all heading off to camp it starts to be like ‘OK, it’s time to get going.’ So usually as we get to the end of August, first part of September you start to see those deals come to fruition.
Gregor: Your team is heading over to China early, leaving on September 11th, and returning September 19th and then the players get some time off. It’s a unique situation; you’ll play two preseason games against the Boston Bruins and you are taking 25 players. Are those 25 essentially the ones who will be competing for a spot on your NHL roster?
Treliving: We’re kind of just finalizing. Of the group that we’re taking there are probably one or two spots written in pencil that in the next day or so we’ll finalize. The message I’m sending to our guys is for the most part the guys who are going is the group, your main group. But I’ll say this, without a doubt there are going to be people that go to China that probably don’t start [the season] with us. And there will be people that don’t go to China who start with us and play with us at some point this year. With the changes that we’ve made here, we’ve got some new coaches in place, and we’ve made some significant changes in our roster we are expecting some battles for a few spots.
The real benefit we think going over to China, it’s a long way, and it’s a road trip, no question. But to get a smaller group together, early, we think that that could be a benefit to try to build a little bit of cohesion, get everybody around each other, get the players knowing the coaches and vice versa. But the other part is that the group that’s going to be here, there’s great opportunity for young players. We all know that we go into the preseason usually those young guys they’re hoping and scratching and crawling to get a game or two or preseason. There’s going to be some real good players in our organization who are going to get a handful of preseason games.
The analogy and the example I’ve used is last year Vancouver and LA went over. Brock Boeser didn’t end up going over to China with Vancouver, but ended up having a heck of a preseason when the team was away and put himself in a real good position when the team came back to be with the main group. So that’s how our guys are looking at it, is if you’re going to China you’re going to China. If you’re not there is a real good opportunity for you here to get into some games, get power play time, get penalty killing time and get a prominent role where you might not get that in normal circumstances. I think it’s going to be beneficial, but it will certainly make for a unique camp and if we can get through the challenges of the travel we think there is a lot of benefits.
Strudwick: Brad, some significant changes up front with [Elias] Lindholm, [Derek] Ryan and [James] Neal coming in. You wanted to get more depth up front, do you feel you have enough?
Treliving: Yeah for sure Jason, that was a big thing. Obviously we’re disappointed in how our year went and ended last year. When you get through all of that emotional stuff and you take a step back and through a clear lens try to evaluate your team, one of the things that we looked at up front was just needing more depth.
We all know in today’s game, offense is at such a premium and we’ve relied on too few guys to carry too heavy a load from the offensive standpoint, so we wanted to try to find some players that fit specific roles, higher up in our lineup, specifically on the right side. It’s been a positional area that we’ve tried to address over the course of the last few years. So we looked at guys like Neal and Lindholm coming in and we also we wanted to add depth to our centre position.
You mentioned earlier young Mark Jankowski had a really good rookie season, but bringing in Derek Ryan, who is a right shot, is able to play both sides, specialty teams, and is able to bounce around the lineup a little bit helps a lot. And the other thing, is giving our coaches some flexibility. Quite frankly I don’t think that we did a good enough job from my seat last year in giving our staff enough flexibility. We all know that your top guys, you’re going to ride them, but you want to give them (coaches) as many tools. If things are not going well coaches need to be able to move people in and out of certain positions and up and down the lineup.
That was a focal point for us this year, we’ve added some guys, like I said, Elias Linholm, James Neal, Derek Ryan, and we went out and signed a young guy out of the Boston organization, Austin Czarnik. He’s been a prolific point producer at the American Level. We think with the opportunity, he’s looking to grab a spot too.
It’s one thing to feel comfortable about it in July and August, it’s another thing to start doing it on the ice. In the next week or two we’ve got to get to the doing it on the ice part.
Strudwick: And that’s a big challenge to do that. I love the way you talked about the depth and spreading guys out. Are there some other young guys to keep an eye on that when you come back from China who might be able to make the jump from the AHL? You must be impressed with what Ryan Huska did in the AHL because now he’s your assistant coach, so would he have a good feel on who they are that might come up and push for jobs if not at the beginning then maybe at Christmas or through the season?
Treliving: Yeah, very, very impressed with Ryan Huska. When I came here four years ago we brought Ryan in from Kelowna, where he was a long-time coach in Kelowna. He’s done a tremendous job with our team in Stockton. We talked to him about our goal on our Stockton team; I said ‘you’re signing on for a difficult job because it’s going to be a young team.’ The goal there is to develop. Yeah we want to have success and we want to win, but our goal down there is to make the 20, 21, and 22 year olds into NHL players. And he’s done a real good job and as we all know it takes time.
I do think coming into this camp we’ve got some legitimate players that are, if you ask them they’re ready and I think that they are ready to push for jobs. Now it will be who does what come training camp. You hate singling out some guys, but certainly last year we had a young guy Andrew Mangiapane who I thought was very good. He was one of the top scorers in the American League all year. We had to shut him down at the beginning of March and he had a shoulder procedure. But on a point per game basis he was really one of the top scorers in the American League.
So I think that Andrew is going to push along with Spencer Foo who we signed as a free agent last year. It took him a little bit of time to adjust to the American League. His first half he played well, he just wasn’t a productive player. He really took off in the second half. Came up at the end of the year and played a handful of games for us and was really impressive.
Another young guy is Dillon Dube. Dillon captained the Canadian World Junior Team last year, and again it is summer and you have to be very careful with that, but knowing the work he’s put in this summer and seeing him at our development camp, just the speed and tenacity he plays with. He’s going to be [another] interesting guy.
But you name a few, you’re always leaving guys out, Morgan Klimchuk, Glenn Gawdin out of Swift Current last year. We have a handful of guys now that I think are at that right time, whether it be a year or two in the American League, have touched sort of all of the steps that you need to touch. I think they are going to come in, and as I’ve said, I think they are going to get the benefit of getting some games while we’re gone, but they’re looking to grab a spot and competition makes everybody better.
Gregor: You have a young defenseman who doesn’t turn 20 until October 26th in Juuso Valimaki who was in Tri-City. I watched a lot of the WHL last season; I thought that he might have been the best defenseman in the league. He’s absolutely fantastic. What are your expectations for him?
Treliving: Juuso is going to turn pro and that is certainly every expectation that we have. We saw what he did at the end of the year last year, outlined that to him, outlined that to Bob Tory and the guys in Tri-City and obviously as we go through camp we will evaluate, but our expectation is that he’s going to play pro. I think that it’s time for him now. He’s had three years in the Western League as you’ve said. He’s really taken a step up each year. Had a couple of nagging injuries last year but I watched him as you did throughout the year and he was solid. Then I got a closer look in the playoffs where Tri-City had a good run. He’s an impressive young player; big guy, and in today’s game, especially on the blue line, you’ve got to be able to move. He has great feet, thinks the game really well, and we’re excited about him. You always have to temper expectations a little bit with a defenseman. He’s still a teenager and it’s a different ball of wax before you get to the pro game, but I’m excited about the young group of defensemen.
Look at him, Rasmus Andersson, another young guy who has now had two years under his belt in the American Hockey League and really again was a dominant hockey player at that level. Oliver Kylington, a Swedish guy, he’s just 21, he’s played three years of pro and when we brought him over after being drafted as an 18-year-old he jumped into the American Hockey League. So of those three young defensemen, I’m interested to see all of them and see where they are when camp starts.
Gregor: You have some cap space if you wanted to add another contract. With that in mind, are you planning on bringing in any PTOs?
Treliving: Yeah, we will. It’s certainly something that we’ve been talking about. You’re always trying to create as much competition and depth as you can. So we feel there is still a spot or two available for our team and we talked about some young guys whether that’s them ready to jump and grab it or someone else. So twofold for us is that as well as one of the intricacies, or interesting parts with this China trip, you have a group going, we’re going to have two teams back here, preparing for camp. Again, primarily you are talking young players and players in your minor league team to fill out that roster, and we’ve got a handful of games to play while we’re gone. And maybe there’s a guy or two that if it doesn’t work out for us here it’s an opportunity for them to showcase themselves to other organizations. We’re in the midst of finalizing the deals, but the expectation is that we’ll have a couple of guys here on PTOs for sure.
The Brock Boeser example was interesting. He didn’t go to China with the Canucks, but got more offensive opportunities in preseason and took advantage of it. The young Flames players will have the same opportunity when they start the preseason at home against the Oilers on Sept. 17. It would be a major surprise if any of them suddenly scored 29 goals as a rookie like Boeser did, but the point about getting more opportunity is valid.
All you want as a young player is a chance to showcase your skills. We’ll see if any take advantage of the unique opportunity this preseason.
On paper the Flames have more scoring depth than they’ve had in years. They will need Travis Hamonic and TJ Brodie to play much better on the backend though. I think the biggest question mark might be in goal. Can Mike Smith stay healthy, and if not is Jon Gillies ready to carry the load?