With a crushing loss to the Oilers on Saturday, the Flames all but eliminated themselves from playoff contention. Any small hope that was still there evaporated with their loss Saturday, as well as the Canadiens recent three game winning streak. They followed that up by putting up an absolute dud last night against Winnipeg, losing 4-0.
Understandably, when a team fails as badly as the Flames have this year, everyone throughout the organization from top to bottom is put on the hot seat. We’ve already seen a coaching change, but maybe it’s time to start looking a little higher up in the organization. In what has become a trend, the Flames are staring down yet another disappointing season under General Manager Brad Treliving.
In his seventh year with the franchise now, it may be time to start pointing fingers at Treliving for the Flames’ recent failures. The coaches have been blamed, the players have been blamed, even the owners have been blamed. However, maybe it’s time to start taking a deeper look at the person responsible for building this roster that has fell short time after time.
Throughout his tenure with the team, perhaps the Flames’ biggest need has been a top six winger. Despite this, Treliving has failed to address this need over seven years, choosing to find short-term cheap solutions instead. Let’s dig a little deeper to see what Treliving has done since being hired to address the teams issues on the wing.
This team can’t score
It’s no secret that the Flames’ biggest issue this season has been their lack of scoring. It’s gotten to the point where the Flames are one of the worst teams in the league at putting the puck in the net. Even strength numbers are courtesy of Naturalstattrick.com.
|GF when trailing by 1||14||27th|
The Flames goals for per game of 2.57 would be their lowest since the 2013-14 season in which they scored a paltry 2.42 goals per game which was 23rd in the league. The teams leading scorer that year was Juri Hudler who had just 54 points. That team had just two forwards finish with more than 40 points. They ended the year fourth last in the league, the worst finish in franchise history. Not exactly great company.
If we look at just goals at even strength it doesn’t look much better. The Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks both have more even strength goals than the Flames. Both of those teams are currently in rebuilds and icing below-average NHL rosters.
To put it into perspective, the Senators are spending just $32 million this year on forwards, while the Ducks are spending just $35.6 million. The Flames are spending $45.6 million. At $45.6 million, the Flames have the 12th most expensive forward group in the league this year, yet sit 26th in goals per game.
What’s even worse is the teams complete lack of scoring when trailing by one. The Flames have trailed by one goal for 449:28 minutes at even strength, which ranks 14th in the league. However, they have scored just 14 goals at even strength when trailing by one, which ranks 27th in the league. If we look at just the teams that have trailed by one for over 400 minutes, the Flames are second last in the league ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings who have 10 goals when trailing by one.
Another trend for the Flames this year has been losing games while scoring under two goals. If we look at losses when scoring one or fewer goals this season, the Flames sit tied for third in the league with the most such instances. They’ve lost 14 times when scoring one or fewer goals, behind only Anaheim with 17 and Detroit with 18.
In all situations, even strength, or trailing by one, the Flames have failed to score this year which is why they sit well outside the playoff picture.
A lack of talent
This team simply has a lack of talent when it comes to scoring goals. The Flames haven’t had an elite goal scorer since Jarome Iginla left. The best one they’ve had since then is Sean Monahan whose numbers have fallen off a cliff. Once a near-lock for 30 goals a year, Monahan has scored just 32 goals over his last 119 games.
Outside of Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau who both did it last in 2018-19, the Flames don’t have anyone else on the roster who has scored 30 goals in a season more than once.
This season, the Flames leading goal scorer is Gaudreau with just 18 goals in 51 games. The team doesn’t have a single goal scorer in the top 40 in the league, with Gaudreau sitting 44th. Elias Lindholm who ranks 47th in the league with 17 is the next closest, but after that? Andrew Mangiapane ranks 114th with 13. In other words, the team has just two players in the top 100 for goals.
If we look at just even strength goals the story is even uglier. Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Mangiapane are all tied for the team lead with just 10 goals at even strength which rank outside the top 70 in the league. The next highest Flames are Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube who both have seven, which sits outside the top 150 in the league.
There is just no scoring depth on this roster. The Flames have just three forwards with over 10 goals, which as a team is tied for 28th in the league. The team’s bottom-six group from last night’s game has a combined 29 goals on the year. Tyler Toffoli who was available as a free agent to the Flames last off-season and signed for $4.5 million a year has 28 goals himself this season.
The long and the short of it is they do not have the talent to score enough goals to win games consistently. They have a lack of goal scoring talent not just in their top six, but in their bottom six as well. The only player on the team who is known as a pure goal scorer is Monahan who has just 10 goals on the season. After that, there isn’t a single player in the lineup who I’d identify as a pure goal scorer.
Head Coach Darryl Sutter has even mentioned various times that this roster doesn’t have the talent to win games by simply outscoring the other team, and will need to find other ways to win. In my opinion, that responsibility lies completely on the person putting together the team.
Failure to insulate the core at forward
This has probably been Treliving’s biggest failure with the team. All you have to do it look at the Flames lineup from last Saturday against Edmonton and last night against Winnipeg and you can tell right away this team lacks depth, especially at forward. In two must win games with the season on the line, the team dressed PTO signing Brett Ritchie, and career AHLer Buddy Robinson at forward. To make matters even worse, Ritchie has been playing on the second line.
The Flames right right wing depth after Matthew Tkachuk, who is a left winger playing on his off-hand? Ritchie, Dube, and Robinson. Gross. In two crucial games for the team, the fact that’s who they have lined up on the right side isn’t very encouraging. It’s not like anyone who would regularly be in a major role was missing from the lineup either. Josh Leivo is out of the lineup with Covid, but he has just seven points this season.
It isn’t just this season that the Flames have had depth issues though. It’s been the case since Treliving got here, and in seven years he has still failed to solve the problem. Signing patchwork solutions like Ritchie isn’t going to solve your depth issues. The problem is patchwork solutions have been a trend with Treliving when it comes to adding depth at forward, especially on the wing.
The team has been trying to find a top six right winger to play alongside Gaudreau and Monahan for seven years now and still hasn’t found the long-term solution. That’s a complete failure on Treliving’s part.
Gaudreau gets a ton of heat for his struggles, but when you fail to insulate your best offensive weapon with a solid supporting cast, there’s only so much he can do. Courtesy of moneypuck.com, Gaudreau has spent the most time this season playing on a line with Monahan and Ritchie, logging 132 minutes at even strength. Both of those players have struggled a ton this year, bringing Gaudreau down with them. Take a look courtesy of evolving-hockey.com
When those are the two players stapled to your most important offensive weapon during crucial parts of the season, you clearly don’t have enough talent up front. The last person to blame for the teams scoring struggles is Gaudreau. He simply does not have a strong enough supporting cast around him to generate offence.
So what exactly has Treliving done over seven years to solve the teams issues at forward? Let’s take a look at the moves he’s made in both free agency and through trades.
Free agent signings
To get a better idea of who he’s brought in, let’s take a look at every NHL free agent winger signing he’s made since being hired in 2014.
|Year||Player|| Contract Length|
|2014||Mason Raymond||3||$3.15 million||Bought out|
|2015||Michael Frolik||5||$4.3 million||Traded|
|2016||Troy Brouwer||4||$4.5 million||Bought out|
|2017||Kris Versteeg||1||$1.7 million||Re-signed|
|2018||Austin Czarnik||2||$1.25 million||Not re-signed|
|2018||James Neal||5||$5.75 million||Traded|
|2019||Tobias Rieder||1||$700,000||Not re-signed|
|2020||Dominik Simon||1||$700,000||Current Flame|
|2020||Josh Leivo||1||$700,000||Current Flame|
|2020||Brett Ritchie||1||$700,000||Current Flame|
Treliving hasn’t tried to bolster his teams top six through free agency outside of three big signings all of which were three or more years ago. Michael Frolik, Troy Brouwer and James Neal were all signed to big contracts, in the hopes they could insulate the teams core players in the top six. Only one worked out.
Brouwer was a risky signing from the beginning. Signing a 31 year old coming off a 39 point season to a long term contract is never a good idea. Signed to be the solution at right wing with 13 and 23, Brouwer never stuck there and was bought out just two years into his contract after failing to put up more than 30 points both years. He still counts against the Flames cap.
Neal wasn’t as much of a risk as Brouwer, as he was coming off a 25 goal year and had scored at least 20 every season of his career. The cap hit and length were both high, but it seemed worth it to add a bonafide goal scorer. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work in Calgary, and he scored just seven goals in his one and only season as a Flame. He was also reportedly not a fit in the locker room. Following the 2018-19 season he was traded for Milan Lucic.
Frolik meanwhile would go on to have great success in Calgary, forming one third of the infamous 3M line. That line would be one of the best in the league while together, with Frolik playing a big part of it. He also played a huge role on the teams penalty kill.
The rest of the names on this list are just depth signings, or hail mary’s. Names like Austin Czarnik, Dominik Simon, and Kris Versteeg were just short term cheap solutions to find a top six winger for the Flames. None of those panned out except for Versteeg for one season. The only big success for Treliving in finding a top six winger was Frolik, as his cheap patchwork solutions have failed to work out.
How about through trades? Let’s see the NHL wingers Treliving has acquired through trade.
|Year||Player Acquired||Assets traded||Status|
|2014||Brandon Bollig||2014 3rd round pick||Not re-signed|
|2016||Hunter Shinkaruk||Markus Granlund||Traded|
|2016||Alex Chiasson||Patrick Sieloff||Not re-signed|
|2017||Curtis Lazar||Jyrki Jokipakka, 2nd round pick||Not re-signed|
|Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland,|
(+3rd round pick)
|James Neal||Current Flame|
Outside of the Lindholm trade, Treliving hasn’t really done anything through trades to acquire top six help on the wing. Most of these trades are very minor, and contain depth players or fringe NHLers at best.
Lucic has had some surprising success with the team, but he’s not a top six winger and is just an okay third liner. In no way is he a solution to the team’s issue at wing in the short term or long term.
Lindholm is the only move where Treliving acquired a player with a real shot at fixing the issue at wing. At the time he was acquired though he was playing mainly centre in Carolina and had a career high of just 45 points making the trade a risky bet. In his first season in Calgary however the team moved him onto the wing with Gaudreau and Monahan where he broke out for 78 points in 81 games. It seemed like Treliving had finally found his top line right wing.
Unfortunately the next year that same line struggled a ton and was broke up. This season the team has stressed that they want to use Lindholm at centre, meaning the team is once again left looking for a top line right wing.
It’s not like Treliving hasn’t had the opportunity to add help through trade of free agency either. It seems like the Flames are always in on every big name winger through free agency or trade, yet always come up empty-handed. During their impressive 2018-19 season, the Flames were apparently very close to acquiring both Mark Stone and Jason Zucker near the deadline.
The team was reportedly one of the favourites to land soon to be free agent and superstar winger Stone. Looking to stack up for a Stanley Cup run while fixing the teams issues at wing, it made complete sense. Unfortunately in the end Treliving wasn’t willing to pay the price of either Juuso Valimaki or Rasmus Andersson and the Flames pulled out of negotiations.
I understand not wanting to part with a top young player on your team for a potential rental, but players like Stone aren’t available often, and if you have the chance to acquire one you have to take a shot. You find the space to sign a player like Stone. Hindsight is obviously 20-20, but I don’t think you’d find a single person who wouldn’t make that deal today. Who knows how the series against the Avalanche would’ve gone with Stone in the top six.
Similarly, Zucker was also almost acquired that year after the team missed out on Stone. Treliving reportedly had a trade completed for Zucker in return for Frolik and a 1st round pick. The trade apparently just missed the 3pm deadline by minutes and was canceled. Zucker certainly would’ve given the team a big boost going into the playoffs as he was coming off a career-best 64 point season the year prior.
Most recently, the team also missed out on acquiring hometown boy Taylor Hall. The Flames were once again the runners-up for the top winger on the market as they attempted to acquire Hall prior to the 2020 deadline. Treliving reportedly had a deal on the table to send Noah Hanifin and Sam Bennett to New Jersey for Hall and Sami Vatanen. In the end the Devils preferred the Coyotes offer instead and Treliving came up just short once again.
On one hand it’s positive to see that Treliving is typically in on every top forward who becomes available. On the other hand, it can’t be a coincidence that he comes up just short every single time. It’s clear that he has identified the issue, so why hasn’t he done anything to fix it? It seems like every season we hear about how the Flames nearly acquired a top six winger, yet they never actually do.
Time is running out
Now in his seventh year with the team, the Flames are once again staring at the same issues as when Treliving was brought on. Throughout his seven years, he has steered towards short-term patchwork solutions on the wing instead of finding long-term solutions.
Time is running out for this core, and it may be too late at this point to fix the teams biggest issue. Years of prime Gaudreau have been wasted playing with the likes of Brouwer, Neal, Bennett, and most recently Ritchie.
This team desperately needs more scoring talent up front, and especially on the wing. If Treliving really wants to turn this ship around before it’s too late, he must acquire a legitimate top six winger before next season. If he doesn’t, it will most likely be the same story again for this core in what may be their final chance together.