Brad Treliving has been a major topic in Calgary this offseason. Over the last few weeks we took a look at both Treliving’s best trades as general manager as well as some of his worst trades during his time with the Flames. Well now it’s time to take a look at his best and worst free agent signings over the past eight years since he was hired. What better timing than after Treliving went out and signed the top free agent on the market in Nazem Kadri last week.
Just like in the trade department, Treliving has seen his fair share of both great signings and downright terrible ones. To keep things positive during the summer of Treliving, we’ll take a took at his most positive ones first.
Below are Treliving’s best signings so far with the Flames.
July 1, 2015 – F Michael Frolik (5 years, $4.3 million AAV)
Treliving’s first major splash in free agency as general manager of the Calgary Flames can in his second offseason with the team in 2015. It also still stands as one of his very best signings to date, if not the best.
Michael Frolik quickly became an integral part of the Flames roster after signing this big deal in Calgary. The five years Frolik got in Calgary is still the second highest term of any free agent by Treliving, behind only the six years Jacob Markstrom got in 2021.
When he was signed to this deal, Frolik was in the middle of his prime at 27 years old and was coming off solid back-to-back seasons with the Winnipeg Jets in which he posted 42 points both times. Throughout his career he also had a history of being a very dependable and underrated two-way player. Adding that type of player to a young roster in 2015 was a great move from Treliving.
Frolik immediately formed a dynamic duo with Mikael Backlund on the team’s second line and top penalty kill. When the duo added Matthew Tkachuk to their line they formed the now famous and dominant 3M line that was one of the best two-way lines in the NHL while together.
He was eventually dealt during the fifth and final year of his contract for a fourth-round pick after finding himself in Geoff Ward’s doghouse. Getting a fourth-round pick for Frolik after four solid years as a Flame was some great work from Treliving and makes this one of his best ever free agent signings.
Overall Frolik played 319 games in Calgary, posting 145 points and logging a CF% of 54.56 and an xGF% of 52.74, per NaturalStatTrick.com. You really can’t ask for much more out of a free agent signing as Frolik provided tremendous value from day one of this deal.
October 11, 2016 – F Kris Versteeg (1 year, $950,000 AAV)
One of the rare cheap fliers at forward that actually worked out very well for Treliving. He’s become infamous for his cheap, patchwork solution at forward over the years with most of the failing instantly. The Kris Versteeg signing in 2016 was a different story.
After taking part in the Edmonton Oilers training camp on a professional tryout, the Oilers let Versteeg walk and the Flames jumped in and signed him to a one-year deal right before the season started to help add depth on the wings. Despite how late this signing was, Versteeg was very much still a useful NHL player and it’s a surprise he was unsigned in October. Here’s his regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart from the 2015–16 season courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.
This seemed like a steal from the start for Treliving, as Versteeg was still a very solid two-way winger at 30 years old and at just $950,000 AAV there was nothing to lose. Add in his experience and veteran leadership on a young roster and this was a home run one year deal for the Flames.
Versteeg would fit right in in Calgary, playing all over the Flames top nine wherever he was needed. He would post a very impressive 37 points in 69 games that season, a 44 point pace over 82 games. Not bad for a under a million dollars. He’d help the Flames get back to the playoffs after missing the previous season and would post four points in four playoff games.
On top of that, Versteeg was phenomenal in the shootout that season, being one of the only Flames to convert his attempts to goals in an otherwise awful shootout year for the Flames.
Versteeg would re-sign the next offseason, but wouldn’t replicate his success from the 2016–17 season. His time in Calgary may have been short, but as far as one-year, $950,000 deals in October go the Versteeg signing in 2016 was about as good as it gets.
July 1, 2018 – F Derek Ryan (3 years, $3.125 million AAV)
Coming off the 2017–18 season, the Flames were desperate for help at forward. The was coming off a year in which they finished 26th in the NHL for goals for and finished 20th in the NHL. To remedy this issue Treliving went out and made two major signings at forward, one of which was Derek Ryan.
At the time of signing Ryan was 31 years old, but had just 153 NHL games under his belt as a late bloomer. Given the lack of miles for Ryan, the three-year term was more than fair despite his age. Ryan was very much an underrated signing at the time, as he had flown under the radar as one of the best defensive centre’s in the NHL over his short time in the league.
He was brought in to help stabilize the teams centre situation in the bottom-six and he did exactly that. Ryan continued his strong defensive play with the Flames, becoming even more of a dominant force at both ends of the ice in Calgary. The peak of his time in Calgary was his incredible 2020–21 season. That season he finished eighth in the NHL among forwards for xGF% at 62.62. Just take a look at his RAPM chart from that season.
Ryan would unfortunately leave the team in 2021 as a free agent to sign with the Oilers after spending all three seasons of his contract in Calgary. Overall Ryan posted 80 points in 192 games in Calgary, along with a 53.36 CF% and 55.05 xGF%. Across those three seasons he was one of the best fourth line centre’s in the entire NHL and a key piece for the Flames.
July 1, 2019 – G Cam Talbot (1 year, $2.75 million AAV)
Free agency 2019 was one of the quietest in recent memory for Treliving and the Flames, as the only major move of note they made was brining in veteran goaltender Cam Talbot on a cheap one-year deal. Coming off their tremendous 2018–19 regular season and collapse in the playoffs, the Flames needed a new goaltender after letting Mike Smith walk in free agency.
With Talbot’s asking price coming in much cheaper than other options on the market, the Flames brought Talbot in to pair with David Rittich in a 1A/1B setup. Talbot was coming off a couple down years in Edmonton, but was lights out during a four-year stretch between 2013 and 2017. On a one-year term at a cheap price, the signing was a decent patchwork solution gamble from Treliving.
To start the season Talbot played second fiddle to Rittich, but as the year went on and Rittich struggled Talbot stepped up in a big way down the stretch and was one of the main reasons the Flames ended up getting into the bubble playoffs.
The playoffs is where he really shone and what made this a great signing in the end. Talbot was outstanding for the Flames in their first round qualifying series against the Winnipeg Jets, and their first round series against the Dallas Stars. Across his first nine games of the playoffs, Talbot posted a .934 save percentage. It’s fair to say he single handedly carried the Flames to Game 6 against Dallas.
Unfortunately Talbot would have a rough start to Game 6, and Geoff Ward would inexplicably pull him in one of the strangest coaching decisions I’ve ever seen. Talbot would leave in free agency following the season. Although he spent just one season in Calgary Talbot posted a solid .919 save percentage in the regular season and was lights out in the playoffs. Like Versteeg, this was about as good as it gets for a one-year veteran deal.
October 9, 2020 – D Chris Tanev (4 years, $4.5 million AAV)
The first and only defenceman on this list. Treliving has usually spent his free agency dollars on forwards, but in 2020 he went out and signed Chris Tanev to a sizeable four-year contract. I think everyone on Earth thought this signing was a mistake when it happened. In what seemed like a desperation move after losing T.J. Brodie in free agency, the Tanev signing was heavily criticized at the time and rightfully so.
Tanev was 30 years old at the time of signing, and had never played more than 70 games in a season as his career had been riddled with injuries. Despite being one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL at one point, his play had fallen off significantly when Treliving signed him. Every sign pointed towards Tanev experiencing a steep decline due to age and injury history so signing him for four years seemed like a massive risk.
However from the moment Tanev stepped on the ice as a Flame, he’s made us all eat our words. His play suddenly took a massive step forward in his first year in Calgary in 2020–21, as he rediscovered his form from earlier in his career when he was an elite shutdown defenceman.
To say his comeback was one of the most unexpected returns to form in recent memory would be an understatement. Tanev has been simply outstanding as a Flame. Since joining the Flames in 2020, he ranks fifth in the entire NHL among defencemen for goals above replacement (GAR) courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.
Even the biggest of Tanev believers couldn’t have predicted his massive turnaround. He’s become an integral part of the Flames’ defence group, as evidenced by the teams lackluster defensive play with Tanev sidelined in last years playoffs.
What’s even more surprising perhaps is Tanev’s sudden ability to stay healthy. He has yet to miss a single regular season game for the Flames, despite never playing a full season across his previous 10 years in the NHL before coming to Calgary. However this will change as he’s on a lengthy recovery path after putting his body on the line during the playoffs, so missing the start of the season is realistic for Tanev.
Still at just 32 years old Tanev should continue to provide the Flames tremendous value for the remaining two years of his deal if he remains healthy. Here’s hoping he can come back healthy and 100% this coming season. The addition of MacKenzie Weegar should alleviate any need to rush Tanev back.
October 9, 2020 – G Jacob Markstrom (6 years, $6 million AAV)
Free agency 2020 was the busiest of Treliving’s tenure in Calgary, as he made major moves for the firsts time on both defence and in net. After years of finding cheap short term solutions in net, Talbot included, Treliving finally pulled the trigger on a legitimate top-end starting goaltender in Jacob Markstrom.
The top goaltender on the market, Markstrom had interest from across the NHL including the Flames’ rivals the Oilers. In the end Treliving locked up Markstrom to the richest goaltending contract in franchise history, and one of the richest in the NHL at the time.
Markstrom was coming off a season in which he posted a .918 save percentage and a 23–16–4 record for the Vancouver Canucks. He also finished fourth in Vezina voting that season, and finished 10th in voting the year before. In other words, he was immediately the best goalie the Flames had on their roster since Miikka Kiprusoff.
His first season in Calgary in 2020–21 was a mixed bag, as he was lights out to start the year but after getting run into the ground by Geoff Ward, he suffered through lingering injuries the rest of the season and his play struggled as a result. In 2021–22 however he stayed healthy and posted elite results for the Flames en route to leading the league in shutouts and finishing as the runner up for the Vezina trophy.
Unfortunately his substandard play across five games against the Oilers in the playoffs is what will most be remembered about his 2021–22 season; however, make no mistake, he was lights out for the Flames for nearly the entire season. He would set a career-high with 63 games played in the regular season and was one of the main reasons the Flames won the Pacific Division.
Markstrom’s two years in Calgary have been up and down to say the least. One season he struggled, the next he nearly won the Vezina. Where his play lands over the next couple seasons will be a big determining factor on how successful this signing was. That said, there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to post elite results behind Sutter’s system and the Flames’ league best defence group which makes this signing a big win for the time being.
This was the type of deal that you’re willing to take a hit on at the end of the contract as long as you get solid value for the first couple years. So far so good I’d say. This contract should be considered a win based on the sheer fact we don’t have to suffer through the likes of Karri Ramo/Jonas Hiller type 1A/AB pairings anymore.
Turning it around for Calgary
Treliving has struggled in free agency over the year, however that doesn’t mean he hasn’t hit some home runs with his signings. In particular over the past couple years he’s finally seemed to nail some of his longer term deals. The Tanev and Markstrom contracts both seem like big wins right now as they’ve both become crucial parts of the Flames roster.
Will the newest addition to his long line of big free agent deals in Nazem Kadri join this list one day? Only time will tell, but if the Flames can continue to build on their success from last season with Kadri in the fold, there’s a good chance Treliving has nailed another free agent signing.