PENTICTON, B.C. — The interview with Brad Treliving was barely over when he started kicking doors in.
OK, he wasn’t really kicking doors in. But we’d retreated to a stairwell at the South Okanagan Entertainment Centre for some peace and quiet while the warmup music blared through the arena, and now that the interview was over we were locked in there. I probably should have checked on that before I said, “Step into my office, Brad.”
Now, the “Security Officer” was standing in plain view, checking his phone, digging the tunes, and generally not paying attention as the general manager of the Calgary Flames was locked out of his own team’s Young Stars Rookie Tournament opener.
Treliving, a hockey man to the core, finally got his attention with the few flicks of a stylish brogue. Now, can he find the right place on his team’s collective posterior to place that same strategic kick?
We bring you, Stairwell Wit with Brad Treliving, edited only for brevity:
SN: Do you have enough scoring? Or will better goaltending and defence mean you won’t need as many goals?
Treliving: Part B, you hope. If there’s one thing that keeps me up at night it is, are we going to get enough scoring. That’s what everybody talks about. The encouraging thing for me is, we’re not coming off a year where six guys had career years. If anything, we had guys under (achieve). That gives me some comfort. But you’re always worried about it. Whoever scores the most goals wins. That’s still how they keep track.
Do we have enough? We’ll see. We’ll see.
SN: You’ve now signed a few of your best young players to their second contracts, and Matthew Tkachuk is up next. How does a GM budget in today’s NHL?
Treliving: I say to our players all the time: “I want to look after you, but you’ve got one mouth to feed. I’ve got 23.”
What’s most unique now is the first one or two years, and I’ll use Matthew Tkachuk as an example. Last year at this time, I’d be lying to you if I said I thought he’d make our team. A year later you’re saying, “What’s his number going to be like in two years?”
It emphasizes the importance of player evaluation, and player projection. That’s really what the job is. Now factor in, we didn’t project any (raise in the) cap. So the squeeze is happening.
SN: In the end, goaltending wasn’t where it had to be to win last spring. Take us through the hunt for a goalie, and how Mike Smith finally became a Calgary Flame.
Treliving: Since I’ve been in Calgary (this will be his fourth season), we’ve changed over our goalies three times. That’s certainly not the plan. I also think Brian (Elliott) and Chad (Johnson) have taken some bullets. We don’t get into the playoffs if not for them.
How do we get to Mike Smith? We went out to the market and looked at all the available goaltenders. Cost, prices, contracts… our decision with Mike … although he’s 35, it’s a low odometer. He’s reached a stage in his life, maturity-wise, where he’s made a lot of money … and he’s ready to win. And winning is all that matters.
SN: Some unsettling elements converged at the start of last season: New contracts for your two top forwards. A new coach. A rocky start. But from Dec. 1 on you were a top-10 team. Should that be the expectation this season?
Treliving: I find you get in trouble setting expectations. Ours is about setting standards. Saying what you’re going to do is fool’s gold. It’s every day: “Here’s the standard we’re going to play at, and we’re going to live at. Here’s how we’re going to eat, to sleep…”
Do that enough? Put enough really good days in a row? The points will find a way to collect themselves.
SN: Define your playoff ouster last season. Was it an accurate gauge of where Calgary stood against a Cup contender like Anaheim?
Treliving: History will always say, it was a four-game sweep. You can’t change that with a “Yeah but, yeah but, yeah but.” We lost in four, OK?
Now, I don’t think it was a traditional sweep. In Game 1 we were the second best team on the ice. In Game 2, if it was a boxing match, the judges give it to us on points. And I think we were the better team in Games 3 and 4. But that, and a buck-fifty, gets you a latte at Starbucks.
SN: Sean Monahan. How good can he be, and will the rest of the league — outside of Western Canada — be surprised when he gets there?
Treliving: I think the people from Alberta West are the only ones who really (appreciate) him. Sean came into the league, he scored 22 his first year, 31 and 27 the next two years. But what he realized is, you get judged on … the points for the team. I think he’s becoming a much more effective 200-foot player. Stevie Yzerman was getting 100 points and finishing on April 5 every year. Then he started getting 80 points and winning Stanley Cups.
SN: Travis Hamonic. Define what that trade does for your club.
Treliving: What it does for the team is, (players know) we’re pushing, we’re pushing. We gave up a price, but we’ve been amassing draft picks the last few years, and we can take this risk. The right side of the defence when we got there (was lean). Now you’ve got Dougie Hamilton, Travis Hamonic, Mike Stone. They’re in their prime, and they give us a base to build our team. Everyone talks about defending? To me it’s about getting it the hell out of your end so you’re playing in the other end.
SN: Edmonton — for years Calgary has been the best team in Alberta, but the Flames never really capitalized on that. Now, the standings have the Flames in the chase position. Is that a positive or negative in your dressing room?
Treliving: You focus on yourself, but you’re naive to not know what’s going on up north. (Connor) McDavid. Does he motivate us, or scare the hell out of you? Whatever analogy you want to use, they’ve done a great job up there. I grew up watching this rivalry, so I think it is meaningful. It’s our Division. You either stay the course or you get left behind.