This is going to be a really important off-season for the Calgary Flames, with a lot of key decisions to be made before the puck drops again in October. One of the most common questions I’ve been asked – by followers on Twitter, by friends, by my relatives – is whether the Flames will retain general manager Brad Treliving. My level of confidence that he’ll be back varies depending on the day.
But the more I think about it, the more I think this might not be the best summer for a management shake-up.

Taking advantage of entry draft chaos

If you want to point to one aspect of Treliving’s reign that has been an unabashed win, it’s drafting and development. When he came into the job in April 2014, the Flames had an extremely lean farm system. If you look at the roster of the 2013-14 Abbotsford Heat, 28 players played 20+ games that season – of those, just two became NHL regulars (Paul Byron and Micheal Ferland).
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But aside from a 2014 draft class that the organization would probably like to forget – hey, they got Emil Heineman out of the Sam Bennett trade, so there’s that – the next few drafts have produced multiple NHL regulars and players pushing for NHL gigs.
  • 2015: Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Andrew Mangiapane
  • 2016: Matthew Tkachuk, Dillon Dube and Matthew Phillips
  • 2017: Juuso Valimaki and Adam Ruzicka
The most impressive thing about the Flames’ scouting crew is why I’d prefer not to disrupt it right now: their late round success. Mangiapane and Phillips were sixth rounders. Junior goaltending standout (and World Junior gold medalist) Dustin Wolf was a seventh rounder. This coming entry draft is going to be bizarre, with teams having much less information about players than they usually do. In essence, it’s a draft with many, many sixth and seventh rounds in terms of how much of a “book” the teams have on players.
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In theory, a team that’s hit late round home runs could do well in this scenario, and it’s probably not terribly prudent to muck around with that infrastructure this summer.

Maneuvering through the expansion draft

For the second time in five years, this summer is expansion time! The NHL will add the Seattle Kraken as its 32nd franchise on July 21 with an expansion draft. As you may recall, we’ve done a bit of hand-wringing about it around these parts, particularly about what the Flames should do regarding captain, Norris Trophy winner, all-time great and 37-year-old defenseman Mark Giordano.
He had the benefit of a lean roster without many tough decisions to make, but Treliving did a good job with the 2017 expansion draft, only losing pending free agent defender Deryk Engelland to Vegas in the process. Other teams got too clever, or not clever enough. Treliving, by all accounts, wasn’t sucked into the shenanigans Vegas was peddling and came out unscathed.
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The Seattle expansion draft will have more complexities for the Flames than 2017’s did. But the complexities may be an argument to stick with Treliving. It’d be unfair to saddle a first-time GM with the Kraken draft process, and there are just four GMs from 2017’s cycle that are available for jobs: Peter Chiarelli, Dale Tallon, Ray Shero and Jeff Gorton. All due respect to those guys, but if those are the options available – espeically Tallon and Chiarelli – you might as well stick with the guy you have.
The expansion draft is going to be a minefield, so having someone who’s navigated it before seems beneficial.

The challenges of contracts and changeovers

This may feel like an extension of the prior two arguments, but hear me out. When a new GM comes in, they like to bring in their own people quite often – head coaches, assistant GMs, scouts, and so on. Similarly, incumbent hockey operations personnel may depart the organization as part of a GM changeover – either out of loyalty to their old boss, or a perception of such.
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Given that this is going to be a weird off-season with the two drafts that the club has to juggle, enacting a change at the top that could have ripple effects across all of hockey operations would be potentially destabilizing at precisely the wrong time.

Belief in Darryl Sutter (or “they missed the playoffs by four points”)

Dating back to March 2019, the Flames have been aggressively inconsistent. But even with that serial inconsistency, and even with Geoff Ward arguably being out of his element trying to breed that into the club for the first 24 games of this season, the Flames still only missed the playoffs by four points.
Let’s repeat that: the Flames never really got out of first gear and never put together a winning streak longer than three games, and they still only missed the playoffs by four points. If you look at all the points they left on the table with flat starts or poor third periods under Ward alone, that’s enough to make it to the dance instead of Montreal.
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By all accounts, Darryl Sutter is the kind of coach that Treliving has wanted to bring in for years. And for everyone who’s criticized the Flames for not going for a big-name coach, well, they now have one that has two Stanley Cup rings and likely cost a pretty penny. He also seemed to get results, with the Flames playing more coherently and consistently under Sutter than under Ward.
If the Flames bring back the same old team in 2021-22, the Sutter impact alone should be enough to get them into the post-season in a fairly shallow Pacific Division. But if Sutter and Treliving can find common ground on the types of supporting players that the club needs – ones better attuned to the playing style Sutter wants than some of their depth guys were this season – maybe the Flames could finally eke out some post-season success. (Making a bigger splash in the playoffs probably involves some bigger tweaks to the core group, though.)
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If you think Sutter is the right coach for this group, and that Treliving knows this group better than anybody else would be able to heading into the off-season, keeping Treliving in the big chair makes a lot of sense. The team’s frustrating performances of late may have shortened his leash quite a bit, but he probably should get a shot at navigating the team through this crazy summer and finishing the work he started seven years ago.