When thinking of the NHL’s general manager pool, there are varying levels of quality associated with them. There are the upper echelon, the can-do-no-wrong, well respected GMs that are hard to find, then there are the candidates who seem to be maligned for every decision. Then somewhere between those two types, is a middle ground for which a majority of GMs find themselves. It would be easy to pick out a handful of names from this seasons’ crop of GMs and place them in such categories. The others may be more challenging.
Since taking office at the end of the 2013-14, I believe Brad Treliving has been one of the most shrewd, forward thinking, and efficient GMs in the NHL. In terms of pure quality, I would easily say he deserves to be in the positive majority, perhaps even in the upper echelon. His body of work speaks for itself, and he continues to orchestrate decisions unlike many colleagues. The trades of Dougie Hamilton (twice), Travis Hamonic, and Mike Smith show he isn’t afraid to make the tough calls when needed. Most notably, his ability to sign core players to contract extensions shows off arguably his greatest body of work: keeping the team secured long term with reasonable dollar value.
That being said, Treliving’s off-ice decisions have not necessarily translated into on-ice success. In the four seasons under his regime, the team has made it to the postseason twice, with only a total of five wins over those two playoff runs. Each succeeding season, he has entered with more expectations and additional scrutiny, yet he continues to perform his job admirably.
Unfortunately, after an extremely busy offseason, Treliving enters the 2018-19 season on the thinnest ice yet. If things do not go according to plan, there is a strong chance this could be his last season as the Flames’ GM. As ridiculous as it may seem for a young, well respected GM to lose his job, the ownership group may not be as eager to keep the train rolling with Treliving at the helm. This could be a case where one of the best GMs in Flames history is let go due to unfortunate circumstances.
I present a different argument.
What if Treliving has simply been a product of bad timing during his regime? Suddenly GMBT becomes the GM of Bad Timing.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.
2014-15 NHL Season
It seems like forever ago that we were subject to one of the most surprising teams in Flames history. Entering his first full season as a GM, Treliving entered under interesting circumstances. First off, he was inheriting Bob Hartley as the head coach, which is a position GMBT would have likely wanted to fill himself. Hartley was always a coach that extracted as much out of his players as possible, and wasn’t as focused on the newer style of game that Treliving now prefers.
Could he have made a coaching change? Absolutely. But don’t forget that nearly four years ago, Treliving did not possess as much autonomy as he does now. The majority of moves had to go through Brian Burke and Ken King. The level of micromanaging that occurred will never be known, but it is likely that GMBT clearly hindered in his decision making process.
GMBT also added a few notable players during that offseason: Jonas Hiller, Mayson Raymond, and Deryk Engelland. The former two players were both about to enter a severe decline in their careers, unable to justify their contracts signed by GMBT, whilst Engelland was never quite worth the contract given to him. Could he have known this when signing? Not guaranteed, but down the road even he discouraged these first few moves as a GM.
Moving to the actual hockey, Treliving was gifted with a team that won the lottery at almost every turn. Johnny Gaudreau arrived on the NHL stage, Jiri Hudler put together a Lady Byng season, Mark Giordano was playing at a Norris level until his injury, and the team put together enough comeback wins to make people forget about their actual quality of play.
The Flames were able to make the playoffs that season, due in large part to the fact that the Pacific Division was an absolute tire fire. Winning a series against a similar team in Vancouver gave the facade that Calgary was actually a good team. Heck, their top pairing during the playoffs was Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, need I say more?
His first season as an NHL GM wasn’t easy to say the least, Treliving was given a team that shouldn’t have exceeded expectations, but did. Then proceeded to defy those expectations, due to a weaker field than normal, to mask the teams’ glaring issues.
2015-16 NHL Season
Prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, some major events occured. GMBT acquired the aforementioned Hamilton at the 2015 NHL Draft, signed Michael Frolik on July 1st, and had the Edmonton Oilers draft Connor McDavid. While McDavid missed significant time due to injury in his rookie season, the impact McDavid has had and will have on the division in incalculable. As the designation suggests, generational talents don’t come around that often, and in his second season, GMBT had arguably the best player of the modern era go to his divisional rival.
The systems that succeed the previous year were completely unsustainable, and were near impossible for the team to replicate. This alone was cause for Hartley’s firing, but having three goaltenders at the end of their NHL tenures also didn’t help. The Flames also were subject to the untimely claiming of Paul Byron, who turned out quite well for the Montreal Canadiens as he just recently signed a four year contract extension.
Not a whole lot else happened that season, except for crumbling expectations. You could say that GMBT should have been able to predict this collapse based on the previous seasons’ statistics, but what kind of GM would dismantle his team after such a strong season?
2016-17 NHL Season
Now this is the season where the timing aspect really starts to turn things on its head. GMBT entered this season with having no contract in place from ownership to remain with the team. Surprising, but this was one of many concerns that were on the plate for himself entering the season. It’s possible for both GMs and coaches entering the final year of their contracts, that having their job security in the back of their minds impacts their day-to-day positions.
On top of that, GMBT was in charge of finding his own new head coach for the team. He ended up hiring Glen Gulutzan, who was an inspired choice at the time, having limited NHL success. After missing out on Bruce Boudreau and Mike Babcock (not like there was a chance), Gulutzan was clearly a “settle” for GMBT. Not to discount Gulutzan’s body of work, but seeing some additional names being available the past two seasons, GMBT clearly got the short straw with available candidates at that time.
Another notable offseason development was the fact that the league confirmed that the Vegas Golden Knights would be joining the league during the following season. This expansion process, which had been long rumored, would now throw in an additional level of complexity to roster decisions.
Teams would not only have to figure out the current makeup for the upcoming season, but also ensure some players would not be subject to exposure the following summer. The timing of the announcement, in addition to the team needing a roster shakeup, meant being conservative and watching how the expansion draft dealings unfolded was the safest thing for GMBT to do.
The Flames were able to put together a successful season, qualifying for the playoffs, but would go on to be swept by the Anaheim Ducks. Of course, this was easily the closest sweep in recent memory. Calgary was subject to a controversial goal call in Game 3, a series of implosions by starting goalie Brian Elliott throughout the round, and a severe, severe decline by offseason signing Troy Brouwer. All of this came within one postseason; terrible timing for the GM that thought his team was destined for success.
What was key to note during this season, is the developments around the trade deadline. Rumours swirled that the Flames were looking to acquire either Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury to solidify the position for the playoff run and long term. Fleury’s deal was never completed due to him committing to being the Vegas pick that summer, with Pittsburg throwing in an additional pick to ensure that, while Bishop’s trade may not have happened due to GMBT being unable to reach a certain executive before the deadline. A true case of terrible timing.
2017-18 NHL Season
Here’s where the timing gets real wacky.
Last season had the most amount of factors working against GMBT. After another draft day blockbuster deal for Hamonic, in addition to the trade for Mike Smith, the Flames appeared to be set up for a deep run into the postseason. Of course you already know the story by now.
The Flames were one of the best statistical teams on the ice, but fell short when it mattered the most. The team was consistently the better than their opponent on the ice on most nights, dominating play, but somehow found a way to lose. This of course was compounded by the following issues:
- Jaromir Jagr’s unfortunately short tenure as a Flame, which ended early due to injury, as well as inability to slot in the lineup properly
- Kris Versteeg’s injury at the start of the season, completely reconfiguring the powerplay
- Sean Monahan’s multiple injuries that kept him from 100%, ultimately being shut down once the playoffs were out of reach
- Smith’s groin injury that kept him out through the deadline, and ultimately not allowing him to fully heal
- Matthew Tkachuk and TJ Brodie’s concussions that kept them out of the lineup during must-win games
- Frolik’s broken jaw, leading to the 3M line becoming the 2M line + Brouwer for over a month
- Vegas Golden Knights improbable season, leading to the Pacific Division title and another quality team for the Flames to face
- The resurgence of the Sharks and Kings, bolstered by deadline deals for Evander Kane and Dion Phaneuf, respectively.
- The sudden collapse in team play after the trade deadline
I could go on, but the picture is clear. There were almost too many oddly-timed factors that sunk the Flames last year, even after Treliving was so proactive.
As it currently stands
GMBT went through another adventurous offseason these past few months. Aftering acquiring Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin at the exchange of Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox; signing James Neal, Derek Ryan, and Austin Czarnik; buying out the remainder of Brouwer’s contract; and hiring an entirely new coaching staff, GMBT looks to have prepared the team for undeniable success. Have you heard this line before?
This of course was all done before Vegas acquired Max Pacioretty and San Jose acquired Erik Karlsson. This of course goes along with a possible Oilers rebound, not to mention Ilya Kovalchuk signing in LA, Kane re-signing in San Jose, an improved Arizona team that could surprise, and always a threatening Anaheim. The Flames do not appear to be a lock within the Pacific, let alone the Western Conference.
The entire shakeup of the Pacific division is by no means the final nail in the coffin at all, but in the same offseason for which GMBT appears to go all in, the odds didn’t get any easier for him.
There are always multiple sides to a story. One could say that these scenarios appear to be strokes of bad luck, but I don’t think luck should be a contributing factor. One may also say these are just theories to support a GM that may be on his way out. This may also be valid, but that also means you could be discounting the amazing work Treliving has done during his tenure. From the team’s internal salary cap to making Calgary an attractive landing spot for free agents, he’s done more good for the team than not.
He isn’t perfect, as there are many moves that he did and didn’t make that cost this team some valuable experience. As a whole though, he has done his fair share of setting this team up for a potential Stanley Cup run. This shouldn’t be GMBT’s last season with the Calgary Flames, as he has played his cards well over the past four seasons, especially entering the 2018-19 campaign. But if it is, it’s worthwhile to assert that he has has been on the wrong side of the clock: being one step ahead was never quite good enough for his tenure with the Flames.