With the new NHL soon to arrive, news surrounding free agents is tapering off. All the big names are gone, and remaining players looking for teams to sign onto. The Calgary Flames made a splash in free agency adding Nazem Kadri, and aren’t done yet.
Earlier in the month, we’ve looked at general manager Brad Treliving’s body of work on the trade front–assessing his best deals as well as his worst trading mishaps. Now, we’re onto Treliving’s best and worst free agent signings. We took a look on the positive side earlier in the week with his best free agent signings, so it’s now time to break down his worst free agent signings.
The Flames’ fumbled free agent signings
Free agency hasn’t exactly been kind to Treliving over the years, as most of his big signings have turned into disasters almost right away. This earned him a reputation among the fan base as someone who makes more mistakes than good decisions when free agency rolls around.
He’s certainly had some hits over the years when it comes to free agents, but his misses are what most people remember as he’s had some big ones. Let’s take a look down memory lane.
July 1, 2014 – F Mason Raymond (3 years, $3.15 million AAV)
Treliving’s first summer with the team was a busy one. With the Flames in a full-on rebuild, veteran help was needed at every position, especially at forward Treliving went out and signed Mason Raymond to a three-year deal.
At the time, Raymond was just 28 years old and was coming off a 45-point season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. All said, this seemed like a solid signing for a rebuilding team that desperately lacked veteran talent up front. I think it’s fair to say most people were on board with this move when Treliving made it. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there.
Raymond would struggle right away in his first season in Calgary, managing to get into just 57 games due to injury while posting only 23 points. In the playoffs his struggles would continue, posting just two assists across eight playoff games. The next season things would go from bad to worse. On the eve of the 2015–16 season, Raymond cleared waivers and was sent to the AHL. Not a great sign in only his second season as a Flame.
That year Raymond would get into just 29 games with the Flames, posting a measly five points. He was once again placed on waivers at the end of the season and was eventually bought out with one year remaining on his contract.
In what seemed like a solid move at the time, Raymond just never found his footing in Calgary and managed just 28 points in Calgary. In the end they preferred to pay him not to play for them.
July 1, 2015 – G Karri Ramo (1 year, $3.8 million AAV)
Signing Kari Ramo during the 2015 free agency period was somewhat of a surprise, as most expected the Flames to let their former goalie walk that offseason. Instead, Treliving circled back and brought back the veteran on a one-year deal. Needless to say that was a mistake and he should’ve stuck to his original plan.
Ramo had posted decent albeit average results across his two previous seasons in Calgary, posting a .911 save percentage and 2.63 GAA across 74 games from 2013 to 2015. With Jonas Hiller still around and youngster Joni Ortio ready to make the jump to the NHL, Treliving created a crowded situation by bringing Ramo back as well.
Before the 2015–16 season even began the move already caused some ripple effects that would come back to haunt Treliving. With the Flames inexplicably carrying all three of their goalies into the season, Treliving was forced to place Paul Byron on waivers. Byron was of course claimed by the Canadiens and very quickly became a key player for them in their bottom-six.
Ramo meanwhile would post his worst results as a Flame in 2015–16, playing 37 games and putting up a .909 save percentage and just 17 wins. Unsurprisingly the Flames would finish 27th in the NHL that season. Ramo left in free agency after the season and hasn’t played in the NHL since. Treliving would’ve been much better off letting Ramo walk during the 2015 offseason, but at least the contract was only a one year deal.
July 1, 2016 – F Troy Brouwer (4 years, $4.5 million AAV)
You knew this one would show up here. This was Treliving’s first big swing in free agency after signing Michael Frolik in 2015, and it really couldn’t have gone any worse. From the moment this deal was announced, it looked like a massive mistake.
Troy Brouwer was 31 years old at the time of signing this contract, and was coming off a year in which he posted just 39 points, his lowest total since the 2011–12 season. Just based off those facts alone, handing out a four-year, $18M deal to Brouwer seemed like a bad move before he even stepped on the ice as a Flame. At the time it was the largest average annual value (AAV) Treliving had handed out in free agency with the Flames.
To no one’s surprise, Brouwers time in Calgary was a disaster. In his first season with the team he posted just 25 points, failing to be the solution to the team’s right wing issues in the top-six. In the playoffs he managed two assists in four games. The next year was even worse, as he put up only 22 points. By this point it appeared Brouwer’s career was nearing its end just two years into his deal.
I mean just take a look at his regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) graph from the 2017–18 season courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com. Truly remarkable stuff.
Following the 2017–18 season, Brouwer was bought out just two years after signing his big contract with the Flames. The coming 2022–23 season will be the first one since he was bought out that he won’t count against the Flames’ cap. End of an era.
This is arguably the worst free agent signing of Treliving’s tenure with the Flames, as literally nothing went right. For his other mistakes made during free agency you could at least see the merit behind the signing and work out why they made sense at the time, but the Brouwer signing made zero sense from day one, or even before day one.
July 2nd, 2018 – F James Neal (5 years, $5.75 million AAV)
Like the Brouwer signing, the James Neal signing will forever be mentioned as one of Treliving’s worst free agent moves ever. This one was an unmitigated disaster for a plethora of reasons. That said there was at least more of a reason to have faith in this deal than the Brouwer one when it was first announced.
Coming into the 2018 offseason Neal was one of the top wingers available on the market. The Flames meanwhile had a huge need for goal scoring wingers. This seemed like a perfect match at the time. Neal was coming off a 25-goal year with the Vegas Golden Knights and had scored at least 20 goals in all 10 of his previous seasons in the NHL.
He was handed a massive five-year, $28.75 million contract by Treliving. The total dollar value is the third highest handed out by Treliving in free agency behind only Jacob Markstrom and most recently Kadri. Neal’s incredible consistency throughout his career made the hefty term and AAV palatable at the time, as it seemed like a good bet he could help the Flames with their goal scoring woes even for a couple years. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, at all.
His first season in Calgary is truly the stuff of legend for all the wrong reasons. Neal went from scoring 20 goals for 10 straight seasons to managing just seven across 63 games for the Flames in 2018–19. In the playoffs, he was even worse, scoring no goals across four games and being scratched for a must-win Game 5.
The below WAR percentile timeline courtesy of JFreshHockey shows just how dramatic his fall from grace was as soon as he became a Flame.
On top of his poor play, it was also reported that he was not well liked in the Flames room, and didn’t fit in at all with the rest of the roster. As if his play wasn’t already bad enough, his complete lack of chemistry with the rest of the lineup was the nail in the coffin. He would be shipped off the Edmonton for Milan Lucic in a swap of terrible contracts just one year into his five-year contract.
In what seemed like a good bet at the time, Neal never managed to settle in Calgary on or off the ice. His production took a shocking dip as soon as he arrived, and the Flames were forced to trade him for the buyout-proof Lucic contract that still hinders the team to this day.
You can’t win them all
It’s no secret that Treliving has had some pretty big blunders in free agency, with some of his mistakes causing ripple effects that are still felt to this day. You can’t fault him for trying to fix his team through free agency, but caution certainly isn’t something he’s been known for when it comes to the free agency period.
Three of the four names on this list were signed to contracts with term by Treliving, but none of them made it past the two year mark as Flames. In total the four players managed a combined six more seasons in the NHL after leaving the Flames through buyout, trade, or free agency.
That said, Treliving seems to have learned his lesson lately as his last big blunder came all the way back in 2018 with the Neal signing. Since that mistake, he’s been more careful where he spends his money and he’s had much more success in free agency. Here’s hoping it stays that way for a long time.