Prior to last night’s 2-1 loss, GM Brad Treliving sat down with Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet 960 to discuss the season. Through 16 games, the Flames were 8-7-1 and much had, and continues to be made of the team’s lackluster start. This interview was incredibly candid, and is well worth a listen for any Flames fan. Here were the key takeaways:
Evaluating the season
The long and the short of it is this: the Flames have been incredibly inconsistent so far this season. Across the board, the majority of the players on the team have not been playing their best hockey. This is not news to anyone. Treliving added an interesting caveat to this by saying that it is not an on/off problem. It is not that players need to turn on their game, they have moments where they are quite good. Instead it is that they need to find a way to do the good things that they are doing for longer in each game.
It starts right at the beginning, noting that the Flames’ starts have been poor to say the least. The team has not started on time, and as a result have not been able to build momentum. They need to do the little things, according to the GM, including making crisp passes, not turning the puck over, getting the puck up ice, and setting the next line up for success. If the team can start playing the fundamentals properly, they will start winning games.
Treliving emphasized that he does not care as much about the wins or losses, but rather focusses more on the fundamentals. If the team does not get the basics down right, they are not going to be successful. This is the best league in the world, and other teams are selfish and want to win, too. We need to be be willing to dig in and do what it takes to win.
The one thing he kept coming back to through the interview was sacrificing to win. The team is not willing to pay the price, and this was especially clear in their fight for net-front presence. Other teams will make it hard for players to get there and make space, he noted, but if the team is going to be successful, they need to be able to create chances in high danger zones.
This is an opportunity for the team, a chance for them to show what they really are. Treliving said he believed in this group, and knows that they can be better than they have been so far this season.
On the coaches
Like the excellent interviewer that he is, Steinberg asked a key follow-up question about how Treliving assesses the coaching staff. This is their first full year in charge, with Geoff Ward taking over from Bill Peters last November. Treliving noted that his whole system depends on accountability. The management is accountable for creating the best roster and the coaches are accountable for getting the most out of the roster and using the players the best way he can.
He thinks Ward has a good feel for the team but is looking to find the consistency. Treliving then stumbled and said “like everyone else… and I don’t even look at the record of how we’ve played, He[Ward] is looking to find that consistency with the group… and we’re all… we’re all… when I say looking for answers I think we do have the answers it’s a matter of executing on the gameplan…”.
It was in this moment that his frustration with the team really came through. It sounded like he, and the rest of the team are looking for answers that they are just not finding. However, it sounded like he is standing behind his coaching staff, and believes that even if they do not have the answers now, which he believes that they do have, they will find them and work through this slump.
He then went forward to talk about accountability for the players, that the players are responsible for executing on the game plan and working within the given system. “None of us are good enough right now” Treliving said. Players, coaches and management all have a role to play in working through this funk.
On the players
From here the dialogue moved into discussing the team composition itself. GM Treliving singled out Markstrom as being excellent, which he obviously has been. Where he was especially clear was on his professionalism. He is the type of player who comes to the rink early, stays late to work on his game. Markstrom is not tired, Treliving contended, as it is only 16 games into the season. That being said, he noted that David Rittich is an all-star goaltender and they he will be getting more starts down the stretch.
The GM then went on to talk about the other former Canuck Chris Tanev, and notes how much stability he provides to the team’s back end. While there was a lot of criticism when he was first signed, Treliving said he moves much better than everyone expected and is a true professional in the room. He and Noah Hanifin have been excellent, and noted that with Tanev, Hanifin is playing the best hockey of his career.
Going into the season, the coaching staff and management were adament to try Elias Lindholm at centre again. Treliving has been very pleased with it so far this season. He noted that Lindholm is one of the best two way players down the middle in the league. Him playing alongside Matthew Tkachuk has formed one of the best offensive pairs, based on the internal numbers that the team looks at. They created lots of chances, and gave up little. While Tkachuk does have another level to his game, GM Treliving has been generally pleased with both of them.
The big thing that moving Lindholm to centre does is it gives the team more beneficial line matches. Lindholm at centre with Tkachuk can go up against any other team’s top line, and Treliving noted that Lindholm prides himself on being tough to match up against. This then gives the team the ability to give Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan the lion’s share of offensive zone starts. Then they can play Mikael Backlund and his line in the defensive zone. He noted that Backlund was the team’s best player down the stretch and in the bubble last season. This has been generally the way that the team has operated through 16 games this season.
Finally, Treliving turned to the elephant in the room, Sam Bennett. Treliving was adament that his relationship with Bennett and the things that they talk about remains between the two of them. However he was audibly frustrated when he noted the remarks by his agent, Darren Ferris, about Bennett’s need for a change of scenery. Treliving said, “We [The Flames] will determine what [Bennett’s] scenery is and when it will change”. He went on to say that he thinks Bennett is a hell of a player and expects him to be really good for the team down the stretch.
Where do we go from here?
Treliving noted that the team cannot look down the road to games next week, the focus needs to be on each individual game as it comes. It comes down to doing the fundamentals right. This starts with starting the game on time, stringing one good shift into the next, then using that to win hockey games. If the team can develop consistent habits and work more consistently, they will be successful.
It is a very short season and each game is a divisional matchup. The Flames are playing in a very good division, with each game being a four point game. In a regular season, divisional matchups would be circled on the calendar as games the team must win, but each game is like that. The team needs to work on doing the little things right if they want to be successful. While they did end up losing against the Oilers, let’s see if they can have more success in the second half of this back to back.