Back in September, if you would have talked about the Calgary Flames even considering adding players at the 2015 Trade Deadline, they’d have sent you to the Quiet Room. But that was when new general manager Brad Treliving was still trying to figure out exactly what kind of roster he’d taken over, while the rest of us were simply picking the Flames to be a 14th or 15th place team in the West.
“I would say there are more pieces here than I originally thought,” Treliving told me back in September, from behind his desk at Flames HQ. “To what degree, or how high they’ll play? I’ll start learning that in camp.”
Well, haven’t we all learned a thing or two about these Calgary Flames?
The National Hockey League’s comeback kings find themselves in a fascinating position as the March 2 deadline approaches, evidenced by Thursday’s revelation by pending UFA winger Curtis Glencross that the club has asked him to give them a list of teams to which he would accept a trade. Glencross was supposed to be that veteran who would insulate this young group, then perhaps go for a draft pick as a deadline rental.
What has transpired however, is quite the opposite.
Despite poor production from Glencross this season (only eight goals in 49 games) the Flames find themselves in second place in the Pacific Division heading into play Thursday. This tear-it-down rebuild has skipped the rock bottom stage altogether, and is a legitimate playoff contender far sooner than even their own front office thought was possible.
Now, they might try to package Glencross to bring in a player for right now, rather than a prospect or draft pick for later on.
“Did I figure we would be looking to potentially add at the deadline? A lot of things would have had to go right for that to happen,” Treliving admitted this week. “But our team has a good chemistry. I want to be very cautious.”
If there is one word that sticks with you after spending 20 minutes on the phone with the affable Flames GM, it is the word “cautious.” Just because the season has gone real well, he lets it be known, it should not provide impetus at this trade deadline to abandon the long-term vision that was agreed upon back in September.
Sure, there is a legitimate chance to make the playoffs here. But it is no time to “expedite a rebuild,” a troika of words that have become oxymoronic in hockey, as pretty much every man who has spoken them has failed in his quest.
The chief author of that quote is Treliving’s boss, Brian Burke. Today he must wince as he views from afar the scorched earth that remains of Burke’s impatient rebuild attempt in Toronto.
As a draft-and-develop guy whose roots remain high in the corners of junior rinks across the hockey world, Treliving is simply unwilling to unload draft picks at the deadline to acquire rental players. It’s not in his DNA, and considering how everything Treliving has touched has turned to gold this season, who in Calgary is willing to second guess the GM?
“The players have put us in a great position, and sure, you try every day to make yourself better,” he said. “But big pieces that cost you picks and players? I don’t have an interest in doing something that may — may — help us for a few days here. We want to be very careful.
“A bunch of young players or picks going out the door for something that you (think) is going to help you? Mix and chemistry, those are a big part of our group right now,” he continues. “There is a plan to build a team here. You’ve got to know when to keep your powder dry, and when to empty the chamber.”
With Ladislav Smid’s return from a neck injury questionable, Treliving is down a defenceman. Fill-ins such as Raphael Diaz and Corey Potter could certainly use some upgrading at the deadline, and his asset list includes that D pairing, plus Glencross, Sven Baertschi, perhaps a David Jones, or maybe even a Mikael Backlund, a first round pick from 2007 who has been passed by numerous Flames prospects.
The problem is, the trade deadline has come to define two specific teams: the seller who trades useful players for draft picks; and the buyer, who wants the useful players, but only gives draft picks or minor league prospects in return so as to keep their current roster intact for a playoff run.
The Flames find themselves as a tweener, unwilling to give up draft picks to win today, but with a group of tradeable assets that — history tells us — are likely only going to accrue draft picks in return. Unless Treliving can make a deal with his former boss, Don Maloney in Arizona, that works for both now and the long-term.
Then there’s the school of thought that asks, “Why would you change anything in Calgary right now?”
I belong to that school. There is some magic in Southern Alberta this winter.
Why mess with it?