New Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving wants to get this straight and on the record:
“The path to Calgary is going through Adirondack,” he said, referring to Calgary’s new American Hockey League affiliate. “Too much time in the minors is never (a bad thing). A young player very, very seldom can be overcooked. The ramifications are not like that in the opposite scenario.”
So, just days into Treliving’s tenure in Calgary, we’ve hit on his first challenge: build a group of forwards inside the Flames dressing room that is good enough that Johnny Gaudreau can not walk in and immediately crack the lineup. And while Treliving is at it, amass a defensive corps that 21-year-old Tyler Wotherspoon can not make, and find a backup goalie that will afford Joni Ortio 65 AHL starts next season.
Let’s make this simple. Whomever the Flames draft with their No. 4 overall pick, if he’s playing in the NHL next year, then Treliving might be eating his words on that Adirondack edict.
It’s easy — and correct — to say that players should cool in the minors the way they have in Detroit, New Jersey, and Anaheim for a long time now. But there’s a cycle involved here too. When you are picking in the Top 4 — wisdom alert — it’s because you’re finishing in the bottom four. That means you’re getting a better player with that first round draft pick then the good teams draft, and he’s walking into a lineup that, obviously, isn’t nearly as strong.
Edmonton is the most recent example of a team that drafted three No. 1 overalls, each of whom was better than what they had on the big club's roster, so they couldn’t send them back. It hasn’t helped Edmonton in the standings, and we’ll never know what a couple more years of junior hockey and two more in the AHL would have done for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Taylor Hall.
In Treliving’s case, he walks on to the job with the elevator at Floor 1. The Flames inspired all who watched them play last year as perhaps the toughest out among the Western Canadian teams, considering the roster. But the fact remains, they were a 27th place team on Year 1 of a long rebuild. You might even say, with Treliving just taking the job on Apr. 28, that Year 1 has yet to begin.
“We’re crawlin’ here right now,” he says. “It’s about accumulation right now. Identifying, internally, your core. Identifying who we have in Calgary, in Adirondack, and our reserve list. Is this a core player? Is this a good player? Is this a support player? And looking at how do we accumulate (assets). We’re in the accumulation stage right now.”
Calgary, like Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver, any anyone else who has faced a rebuild, are where they are because of poor drafting. The Flames scouts missed too often — or the GM traded away too many picks — between 1999 and 2009, and now the organization is talent poor. It’s as simple as that in Alberta today: The Oilers and Flames suck because of their work at the draft table. End of story.
“And it’s what you do after you call their name,” Treliving adds. “In our (cap) system, you have to draft your players, you have to develop them, or you have zero chance. I don’t want to make it as simple as that, but it’s as simple as that.
“If you don’t have players on your team that you’ve grown, you’re going to be chasin’ it. It doesn’t work. It won’t work.”
So, how many core players does Treliving have?
“Don’t know that yet,” he says with a laugh.
Mark Giordano is one, for sure. Sean Monahan is almost certainly another. Defenceman T.J. Brodie might be one. Same for former Maple Leafs centre, the 6-foot-5 Joe Colborne. Emile Poirier’s shoulder surgery will delay his ascension, but not too seriously. Is Sven Baertschi the real deal? Great question.
And what about Gaudreau, who is good enough to be thrown over the boards for Team USA at the World Championships with their goalie pulled and the tournament on the line? Can he jump from the NCAA to the NHL?
“I’ll say this,” Treliving said after six weeks of examining the depth charts here. “There are more interesting assets here than I thought there were. Now, we haven’t played a game since I’ve been here yet either.”
Obviously the draft is important, but that’s tomorrow stuff. Treliving’s biggest challenge in the here and now will be to sign Cammalleri. His 26 goals from last season would take a ton of pressure off the rest of the group offensively. It would also afford one more prospect the chance to spend time in Adirondack.
Treliving and Cammalleri's agent Ian Pulver have spoken, and the door isn’t closed. But UFA’s don’t often choose rebuilding clubs that might not make the playoffs for three years, let alone compete for the Cup.
Will he choose the Flames? If he does, it’s a step in the right direction for the new GM in Calgary.