Gonna be another long one. So long I’m breaking it into parts.
Another NHL season is almost in the books and GMs like Ray Shero(New Jersey), George McPhee(Las Vegas), Bob Murray(Anaheim) and Steve Yzerman(Tampa Bay) survey the kingdoms they have built, and analyze their burgeoning prospect pools. They manage teams that are either on the upswing, or have managed to remain near the top in spite of the natural progression of NHL contract attrition that we now see plaguing Stan Bowman(Chicago) and Dean Lombardi(Los Angeles).
There have been a lot of calls for Pete Chiarelli’s head in Edmonton. The Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle trades loom heavy over the head of a man who honestly hasn’t done a particularly poor job (we’ll get to that in a future installment).
Jeff Gorton found himself to be the Captain of a slowly sinking ship. He’s managed to patch the hull, but now it remains to be seen if he can get the engine going once again and get the ship headed to its intended final destination. The charts and course have been set for him by the likes of those who are about to steam into the NHL post-season. Can he follow their charts and plot a true course?
And yet, Gorton and Chiarelli might be the big time distractions that keep the NHL media lens from zeroing in on some General Managers that should either be in the hot seat, or the unemployment line. In a matter of a few short years, salary cap implications and a change in culture have the changed the NHL into a league where long-term success depends on a team’s ability to draft well and find young, inexpensive talent to replenish veterans seeking their “big boy” contracts in greener pastures. At the career prime ages of 27, 28 and 29, NHL players are testing the waters of free agency, rather than give a home town discount. This means the cost of keeping a player like Erik Karlsson or John Tavares becomes astronomical, as their current club must attempt to speculate and match, or convince the player not to take their fair market value. The era of buying a cup on July 1st is over. Honestly, you can’t even buy yourself a playoff spot in free agency anymore. Some GMs have learned that sooner than others. Those who have been slow on the uptick are getting left in the dust and their franchise with them.
One guy who should be on the hot seat, is Brad Treliving in Calgary. Treliving might only have 4 drafts under his belt, but of the 25 players he has picked since arriving in 2014, only 2 have made NHL impacts. There’s a couple real gems still in system for Calgary that fans can look forward to seeing someday. Dillon Dube, and Adam Fox had excellent years in the WHL and NCAA respectively. Both had good showings at the World Junior Championship this year also. Meanwhile in Stockton, Andrew Mangiapane, Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson all had good years and should contend for jobs in 2018 preseason.
So if the prospect system isn’t failing, why is Treliving so bad? The answer, is: contracts and trades. He could be forgiven for giving Michael Frolik the overpay that he gave him in 2015 because Frolik was literally the best right-winger available, but he followed it up the following year by overpaying Troy Brouwer. I’m not entirely sure what Treliving was thinking in inking a 31 year old, slow, power forward-type player to a 4 year, 18 million dollar contract with a no-trade clause. If he missed having an aging power forward that badly, he probably could have called up Curtis Glencross and saved 4.5 million in cap space over the next 4 seasons. In addition, there’s the Giordano contract. There was a lot of air about how this deal needed to get done and it was a good deal, but Mark Giordano was already 33 the day this contract kicked in. Yes, the year this deal was done Giordano was a 56 point, 82 game defender. He’s only missed 1 game since the contract started paying out, but he has a combined 77 points over 161 games. That’s a 30% drop in point output in the first 2 seasons of a 6 year deal that pays out 6.75 million dollars annually to a guy who’s already 34. Now granted, Giordano is one of the better Corsi% defensemen in the league AND he still averages big minutes while doing it. But Calgary found itself well below league average in Goals For and power play conversion percentage while also surrendering an above average number of shots on net. Giordano sees major power play minutes and in previous seasons has been a primary offensive catalyst for the Flames. If his offensive numbers continue to trend downwards, it will have a trickle down effect to the rest of the team. This shows in the team’s 28th ranked Goals For statistic this season. The track record for defenders in their later 30s doesn’t trend towards increased point production. Giordano’s contract could become a boat anchor on the franchise much sooner than anyone predicted when the deal was inked.
Aside from the contracts there’s also the trades:
– Sven Baertschi shipped out-of-town for a 2nd rounder. [When healthy, Baertschi has brought consistant scoring to a struggling Vancouver team]
– Markus Granlund to Vancouver for Hunter Shinkaruk straight up. [Granlund has become a solid depth forward capable of playing any spot on the line while Shinkaruk has played a total of 14 NHL games with 4 points in the last 3 years]
– Gave up 2 picks (2016 2nd, conditional 2018 3rd) to St. Louis for Brian Elliot. [Elliot failed to live up to expectation]
Calgary has, on paper, one of the best defensive units in the league, but 3 of those pieces (Hamonic, Stone and Hamilton) cost the sum total of 8 draft picks (2015 1st round, 2015 2nd round, 2015 2nd round, 2017 3rd round, 2018 1st round, 2018 2nd round, 2018 conditional 5th round, 2019 conditional 2nd round)
Treliving has made some good trades also. He acquired picks at the trade deadlines for players on expiring deals (Russell, Hudler, Glencross), but then he tried unsuccessfully to replace them with big splash trades and free agency moves (Frolik, Brouwer, Stone, Hamonic) .
Through all this wheeling and dealing Calgary is no closer being a consistent contender than they were when Treliving took over in 2014. His first season as GM, the Flames managed 97 points and made it to the second round of the playoffs. In the following 3 seasons, they have failed to exceed the 97 point total (77, 95 and currently 82 this season), and when they made the playoffs with 95 points, they were swept out of the first round. This barely treading water should not be acceptable to a team that sports the talent of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. With defenders in the prospect pipeline its possible Treliving has the assets, on defense, to make a big trade to add a talented young winger to round out his top line. One has to wonder though, if he’s the guy to pull it off, or if it’s time for Calgary to let someone new take the wheel.