Assessing the Calgary Flames’ free agent signings under Brad Treliving

Photo credit:Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports
Ryan Pike
1 year ago
Folks, one of the hallmarks of media chats with former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving was him extolling the virtues of building through the draft. And indeed, he tended to lean heavily on drafting and development, and trades involving players the club previously drafted and developed.
In Treliving’s time as GM, he didn’t rely a lot on free agency. Over nine years as GM, he only signed 11 unrestricted free agents to deals with $3 million (or more) of guaranteed money.
For the sake of this discussion, we’re not going to count deals to then-current Flames signed the first two days of free agency, and we’re only counting free agents, so there’s no MacKenzie Weegar or Jonathan Huberdeau here. These are the signings that resulted from Treliving going to the open free agent market.
Here are the illustrious 11.

Deryk Engelland

Signed: July 1, 2014. Terms: three years at $2.917 million ($8.75 million total; $500,000 signing bonus, $8.25 million salary)
A deal that was initially maligned, Engelland’s signing was infamously reported on Twitter by Bob McKenzie like this:
His previous cap hit had been $566,667, so… this was a jump, and perhaps an example of Treliving (a) overpaying for grit and (b) trying to fill in gaps to give the prospects in the team’s system time to develop.
Engelland turned out to be a savvy signing, albeit a bit overpaid given his offensive output. But he fit in well, played the tough minutes with heavy defensive zone starts and penalty kill time, and he fought two Vancouver Canucks at once during the 2015 playoffs.

Jonas Hiller

Signed: July 1, 2014. Terms: two years at $4.5 million ($9 million total; all salary).
Another early signing. The Flames needed a goaltender, and Hiller had a track record as a reliable goaltender and was willing to sign a fairly inexpensive short-term deal and play in a tandem. Hiller… was fine. He had a strong first season in 2014-15, but he struggled with injuries and performance in 2015-16.

Mason Raymond

Signed: July 1, 2014. Terms: three years at $3.15 million ($9.45 million total; all salary), modified no-trade clause for two seasons.
Friends, sometimes you go into things with the best intentions and things don’t work out. The sales pitch was likely “Hey Mason Raymond, come back to your hometown and you can help us bring along our prospects slowly.” Unfortunately, Raymond’s performance wasn’t great and the Flames’ prospects came along much faster than they expected, making Raymond more or less superfluous. He was waived and sent to the AHL midway through his second season, and bought out the following summer.

Michael Frolik

Signed: July 1, 2015. Terms: five years at $4.3 million ($21.5 million total; all salary), modified no-trade clause for every season.
Could this be Treliving’s finest UFA work? Frolik fit the Flames’ playing style like a glove, and he found a great fit alongside Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk (and later Andrew Mangiapane) on the two incarnations of the 3M line.
His play tailed off a bit late in his deal and he fell out of favour with then-head coach Bill Peters, leading to him to slide down the rotation to the fourth line. This led to a Twitter blast from Frolik’s agent Allan Walsh, and eventually Frolik was traded to Buffalo for a draft pick.
Frolik was really effective when he was a Flame and when he wasn’t all that effective, they were able to move him for an asset.

Troy Brouwer

Signed: July 1, 2016. Terms: four years at $4.5 million ($18 million total; $1 million signing bonus, $17 million salary), no-trade clause for two seasons and modified no-trade clause for two seasons.
A Stanley Cup champion who shot right and played a physical style, Brouwer was everything that the Flames felt they needed – they were a year removed from their breakthrough 2015 playoff run, after all. Unfortunately, Brouwer had a lot of miles on his body and his playing style caught up with him, he slowed down, and spent much of his two seasons as a Flame on the fourth line.
Was this Treliving overpaying for grit? Yeah. And for a Stanley Cup ring. If you trim a year or a bit of money off this deal, maybe you can live with Brouwer at the bottom of the rotation. But the Flames bought out the final two seasons of his deal in late summer 2018 to give themselves some cap flexibility.

Derek Ryan

Signed: July 1, 2018. Terms: three years at $3.125 million ($9.375 million total; all salary).
Ryan was almost as good a depth signing as Frolik. Ryan almost never rose above the fourth line, but he was an awesome role player. His line with Andrew Mangiapane and Garnet Hathaway was probably the most effective fourth line the Flames had in years – maybe decades – and he was a reliable penalty killer for his entire tenure.
Did Ryan move the needle offensively very much? Not really, no. But that wasn’t his role, and the things he was asked to do – provide energy and kill penalties – he did quite well.

James Neal

Signed: July 2, 2018. Terms: five years at $5.75 million ($28.75 million total; all salary).
So the sales pitch probably went something like this: “Oh man, imagine James Neal playing the right side of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan! That would be great!”
But that’s not what went down. Monahan was coming off a broken wrist and the thought was they would use newly-acquired Elias Lindholm (who then-coach Peters was very familiar with) to play his wing and take face-offs until Monahan was feeling 100%. Lindholm fit that line like a glove, though, and never left the line.
That left Neal in the bottom six and after two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final, he just didn’t seem to have a lot in the tank. (His playing style also wasn’t really well-suited to two-way hockey, but combined with how much recent mileage he had on him… it didn’t work.) He had one very forgettable season in red and was traded to Edmonton for Milan Lucic.
And now, four current Flames:

Jacob Markstrom

Signed: October 9, 2020. Terms: six years at $6 million ($36 million total; $5 million signing bonus, $31 million salary), no-move clause for every season.
Three seasons in, Markstrom’s results are a bit uneven. Yes, he was the Vezina Trophy runner-up in 2021-22, but that was sandwiched between a couple less good campaigns. Let’s see if he can bounce back.

Chris Tanev

Signed: October 9, 2020. Terms: four years at $4.5 million ($18 million total; all salary), modified no-trade clause for every season.
Admittedly, we were skeptical about this deal for some of the reasons we were skeptical about Brouwer’s – mileage, playing style and injury potential. We figured if the Flames could get value out of this deal, it would be on the front end. Well, they got tremendous value out of this deal on the front end, and at this point it’s hard to argue that the Tanev signing has been anything but a net positive for the red team.

Blake Coleman

Signed: July 28, 2021. Terms: six years at $4.9 million ($28.4 million total; $1 million signing bonus, $27.4 million salary), no-trade clause for three seasons and modified no-trade clause for three seasons.
Would you pay slightly less money than Mikael Backlund makes for a gritty two-way winger with two Stanley Cup rings? That was probably the logic, and Coleman has found a ton of chemistry with Backlund and Mangiapane throughout his first two seasons. His offence hasn’t jumped off the page, but his 200-foot play has been really effective.
So far, so good.

Nazem Kadri

Signed: August 18, 2022. Terms: seven years at $7 million ($49 million total; $11 million signing bonus, $38 million salary), no-move clause for four seasons and modified no-move clause for three seasons.
Kadri’s first season with the Flames was admittedly imperfect, and very representative of the entire team’s 2022-23 season. He was hampered by a short off-season coming off a Stanley Cup win, so it’s yet to be seen how he looks with an entire off-season to recharge, recover, and fully engage in training.

Check out these posts...