CALGARY — Less than 24 hours after replacing Johnny Hockey with Jonny Huby, Flames GM Brad Treliving wanted to set the record straight on the horrific predicament he managed to turn on a dime.
No, Matthew Tkachuk’s decision last Sunday not to extend his contract in Calgary had nothing to do with Johnny Gaudreau’s decision to leave via free agency.
No, his club will not alter its approach to acquiring American players.
No, there was no other deal out there that came close to the impressive haul he got for Tkachuk.
And, no, neither player’s decision to leave is a reflection on Calgary or the Flames.
“A lot has been written, talked about and discussed over the last week about Calgary, and quite frankly I think the city and the organization have taken some body shots,” said Treliving, going on the offensive after weeks of speculation and abuse.
“Quite frankly, it pisses me off.
“I think anybody that lives here is privileged to live in a wonderful community.
“People have the right to pick and choose where they may want to go, but as a community and organization we do not have to apologize for anything.
“We’ve got a team I thought was a top team in the league — a team that is competing every year to be a Stanley Cup champion, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
They can do so, thanks to the four-player haul Treliving received from the Florida Panthers late Friday that included winger Jonathan Huberdeau and defenceman MacKenzie Weegar, as well as 21-year-old centre Cole Schwindt and a first rounder in 2025.
Looking a whole lot more energized than he was for the presser less than two weeks earlier when the ashen-faced GM addressed the 11th hour departure of Gaudreau, Treliving said he’d received a barrage of texts from excited players who suddenly had life injected back into a reeling organization.
He credited Tkachuk for being honest and up front with a decision not to re-sign that the 24-year-old called to inform him of last Sunday.
It set the wheels in motion on a collaborative effort between Tkachuk, his representative, and the Flames to find a destination and fit that worked best for everyone.
Five days later he pulled off a blockbuster, despite the fact two of the handful of teams Tkachuk listed as desirable immediately declined interest.
“He could have put us in a more difficult situation, for instance, if we were only allowed to deal with one team,” said Treliving.
“I appreciate both Matthew and Craig (Oster’s) willingness to work with us.
“He made a decision to move on, I appreciate his honesty. A week ago this was not the plan we had — we were not looking to move Matthew Tkachuk. But we also were put in a position where we had to do the best thing for the organization. He chose the path we had to go down and we had to facilitate that as best we could.”
The teams Tkachuk was willing to sign with, therefore maximizing return, knew of Treliving’s dwindling leverage, yet somehow he managed to pull off a swap that has the hockey world heralding him as the easy winner.
“We feel by a long shot this was the very best deal we could get — it wasn’t close,” said Treliving.
“Once those names became real we pursued that.”
History will determine how well Treliving did, as both Huberdeau and Weegar are unrestricted free agents next summer.
He said he’d already spoken to both players’ agents, but admitted it’s too early to start discussing whether he had a feel for whether either would consider staying long term.
“We’re certainly aware of the circumstances around both players contractually,” he said.
“A lot has happened in the last 24 hours. We’ve got to let everybody take a deep breath and we’ll continue to move forward here.
“We’ll get after that at the appropriate time.”
In the meantime, the Flames are suddenly positioned to be every bit as formidable as they were when they won the Pacific division last season.
Weegar is hitting the prime of his career at age 28, a right-handed shot who played on the left side of the Panthers’ top pairing en route to the Presidents’ Trophy.
“We look at him as one of the top defencemen in the league, quite frankly,” said Treliving of the 28-year-old Ottawa native.
“He’s underrated, quite frankly. His ability to close plays, his ability to kill plays, not only in the defensive zone, but the ability to do so through the neutral ice, the ability to transition pucks, the ability to get it going north-to-south, the ability to get it going the other way is at one of the highest rates in the league … his ability to deny zone entries. We think we’ve made our defence a significantly stronger defence.”
It certainly opens the door for him to play with Rasmus Andersson, returning Noah Hanifin alongside Chris Tanev.
Plenty of time for more moves, and decisions to be made.
Huberdeau is a sizable addition who is every bit as gifted a playmaker as Gaudreau, kills penalties and makes everyone around him better, à la Gaudreau.
Both breathe new life into an organization that appeared on the verge of having to tear it all down if the return for Tkachuk wasn’t significant.
Schwindt, 21, is projected as a middle six centre who has size, is deft at faceoffs and comes loaded with character.
As far as reflecting back on what the Flames could have done differently to potentially extend Gaudreau and Tkachuk in town, Treliving was philosophical.
“A lot of the narrative out there is incorrect,” he said of the disheartening double defection he’s had to navigate the team through.
“We tried to sign Johnny last year. Johnny’s moved on. We’re not going to get into that. We made a decision at that particular time, based upon the conversations that we were having that they were legitimately interested in being here, and we tried to follow through on that process. We made the decision to sign Matthew to the contract we did at the time we did knowing what his rights were going to be at the end of it. At the end of the day the players make decisions.
“You always reflect back on how you go through a process. I feel very, very comfortable that the ownership of this organization, the management team here did everything possible to have these players sign and stay. They chose, they didn’t want to. Not a lot you can do about that so you move forward.”