The Calgary Flames are in Toronto for the first time this season, which means they are lined up to play against their former general manager, Brad Treliving, since his departure from the organization last spring.
With the Flames on a two-game winning streak and Dustin Wolf being called up to the NHL, this isn’t the biggest storyline but one that will surely either be sweet or stinging at the end of it all. Surely the Flames would love the win with how their season has been going, and surely Treliving needs a win after the last few games for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Now the Calgary Flames season is far from over, but it sure is looking like it’s going to be an uphill battle for months to get to a playoff spot. That is also with the season just being over a month old. It’s a terrible place to be in, but it’s the situation they find themselves in.
Part of the reason why is the mess that Treliving left the organization in. Let me explain.
Self-inflicted wounds from Treliving
Now let me be clear that this is not a complete indictment of Treliving’s tenure as the Flames’ GM. In my personal opinion, he was by far one of the best GMs this team has seen. Sure that may not be saying a lot, but based on his repertoire of work combined with the quality of human that he is, the team was spoiled to have him for as long as they did.
Yes, you can go through all of his best and worst moves throughout almost nine seasons and critique them all, but overall I would say that his strengths outweigh his weaknesses when compared to the average NHL GM.
But that being said, the biggest overarching theme of Treliving’s tenure was that most of his time was spent cleaning up his own messes. Those self-inflicted wounds came back around to bite Treliving time after time, and unfortunately, now his biggest mistakes are going to hurt this team for a long time.
Case in point, one of his worst moves as GM was prioritizing the signing of Michael Frolik over the long-term signing of Matthew Tkachuk. That move snowballed into not having enough cap space to sign Tkachuk, which led to Tkachuk strategically planning his exit two summers ago, which led to a massive shakeup of the Flames franchise’s direction.
Although some may have praised (at the time) that the Tkachuk trade haul was a massive win for Treliving, it was a cleanup of a mess that he caused himself.
With his departure, his biggest messes have been left to Craig Conroy to deal with.
A messy situation left in Calgary
During his final year as GM, Treliving committed a lot of money and futures for someone who was potentially thinking of leaving the organization. As a GM, your job is to set the team up for success, which during the summer of 2022 was clearly what he was doing, but so many decisions were being made years into the future it’s surprising the organization allowed him to execute them.
Giving $84M to Jonathan Huberdeau, trading a first-round pick and Sean Monahan to make room to give Nazem Kadri $49M, and signing Darryl Sutter to a two-year extension before the season even started are moves that look like absolute lemons.
There is no denying at the time these were shrewd moves that were all consistently applauded to have the Flames go from potentially rebuilding to potential contenders. But with hindsight being 20/20, to have a GM make that many crucial decisions with an expiring deal is almost foolish.
You could imagine a world where the team went into last season with Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar unsigned, retained Sean Monahan, and almost hit the reset button then. Instead, they are left with some serious anchors trying to cross the ocean that is NHL success.
In reality, now the team has a massive amount of salary cap space committed to older players, has the potential for the first-round pick to turn into a high draft pick based on team performance, and had to end up hiring a first-time NHL head coach to justify the cost savings with paying Sutter for two more seasons.
Treliving made those moves with the best intentions, but surely someone in the organization had to think those would cause headaches long-term.
A complicated legacy
You don’t make moves as a GM to see them until the very end. That’s not the job.
It’s key to note that there was zero chance Treliving was going to make it to the end of Huberdeau or Kadri’s contracts, but the signing of the deals and subsequent moves were done almost cavalierly. The blame isn’t solely on Trelving, as the rest of the hockey operations leadership could have stepped in knowing his contract was expiring, but I think everyone was under the impression he wasn’t going anywhere.
Perhaps the organization assumed Treliving would be around to fix things had they gone wrong, but his departure has left them cleaning up a mess they aren’t entirely responsible for.