Brad Treliving was blown away by the impact the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft had on last week’s scouting combine.
Not only was attendance up among front-office types, but the types of conversations being held were abnormal. Meaning: more deal-focused and productive.
“It’s busy in the sense that everyone’s trying to make themselves better,” Treliving told Sportsnet 960 The Fan’s Boomer in the Morning Thursday (listen below).
Like the rest of his peers, the Calgary Flames general manager has invested much time developing an expansion draft strategy.
Treliving counts the Flames among a group of 20-some clubs that won’t face a serious expansion problem and are in a near-frozen state with their rosters until Vegas makes its picks on June 21.
Other teams are either in danger of losing a key contributor (see: Ducks, Anaheim; Rangers, New York) or are looking to add to their rosters before submitting their protection lists by 5 p.m. ET on June 17.
“There’s a bunch of teams that either have room to add players or have protection issues. Where Vegas is spending a lot of their time is with those teams, to be perfectly honest,” Treliving explained.
“The thought that a team is just going to give a player [with a bad contract] away for a seventh-round pick in 2024 — that’s not reality.”
So while there’s plenty of chatter between teams right now, most trades are in a holding pattern until after Knights GM George McPhee selects his 30 skaters. (Treliving noted that “parking” players — shuffling them to another team and back again in effort to skirt Vegas — is prohibited by the NHL.)
“There’s going to be moves made,” the GM assured.
Treliving himself has conducted three mock drafts and has been updating the protected lists monthly. Like the good folks at CapFriendly.com, Treliving expects the Knights to have more trouble filling out its front end than its blue line.
“They’re going to have a wide range of goaltenders available,” he said. “They’re going to get some good defencemen. They’re hard to find in this league.”
Plenty of No. 4, 5 and 6 D-men will be available to McPhee. His centres will be flawed, and we should see “higher salaries” on the wings.
“The players Vegas drafts, not all of them are going to play for Vegas. It’s not so much an expansion draft for them as it is an accumulation of assets,” Treliving said.
He expects McPhee to gather the best young talent, then immediately set to work flipping some extra defencemen and goalies to the other 30 teams in exchange for draft picks in 2017 or down the road. In order words, many of the Golden Knights unveiled on TV in two weeks will never slip on a sweater.
Treliving’s job adds a new wrinkle the moment the protection lists are released to the public.
“How can we get a player through Vegas?” he said. “How do we capitalize on an opportunity here?”
During Treliving’s extensive radio interview, he also touched on the Flames’ No. 16 pick, Kris Versteeg, Micheal Ferland, the goalie search, and that silly Alex Ovechkin rumour. Here are the highlights.
Flames willing to trade down at the NHL Draft
Treliving believes the Flames would not have qualified for the 2017 playoffs without renting defenceman Michael Stone from Arizona at the trade deadline for a third-round draft choice. He also believes acquiring Ottawa centre Curtis Lazar was worth giving up defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka and a second-round draft pick.
Fair enough, but this leaves Calgary with a first-round pick (16th overall) and a long wait until Round 4 of the draft. So does his mean he won’t trade his first-rounder, too?
“A move-down scenario is something we’re looking at,” Treliving said. “If I was to crystal-ball it, I think we’re picking at 16.”
The GM envisions drafting an imperfect, but good, player at that position, what he terms a “risk-reward” pick.
This is Calgary’s chance to swing for the fences on a flawed skater with a high ceiling.
About that Ovechkin trade report from overseas…
“You can’t do a 36-hour shift at Tootsies and start tweeting trade rumours,” Treliving said.
“Anything from Belarus probably should be taken with a grain of salt.”
General managers are not permitted to speak about players under contract by competing clubs. But Treliving at least called the Capitals to inquire, right?
“I talk to everybody,” he said. “Lots of friends.”
Another summer, another goalie search
“It’d be nice to not have to look at it on the to-do list each year,” said Treliving, fully aware of his depth chart’s gaping hole in the blue paint.
He praised his two impending unrestricted free agents, Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, for their excellent stretches of play returning Calgary to the post-season. There was improvement in net, but there’s room for more.
“We haven’t closed the doors on any options relative to our goaltending,” said Treliving, who’s been linked in trade rumours to Marc-Andre Fleury and, most recently, to Mike Smith. “I haven’t ruled out anything with the goaltending.”
It’s possible the Flames re-sign Johnson and/or Elliott, although extending the latter would mean sending a third-round draft pick to St. Louis as compensation. Treliving admitted surrendering that asset is “a bit of a consideration.”
Treliving believes Calgary’s goalie prospects, led by Jon Gillies, need more time to simmer in the minors, so the smart money is on Calgary signing two experienced netminders for 2017-18.
“I’m real careful not to just jam [young goalies] into the league. You can do real harm that way,” he said. “But you’d always love a surprise and someone [grabbing] it.”
Calgary wants Versteeg back
A bargain pickup in last summer’s free agent market, the 31-year-old winger over-delivered on his one-year, $490,000 prove-it deal. Treliving recently spoke with Versteeg’s agent. Both sides want to find a financial fit, but Treliving needs to figure out his goaltending and blue line before giving Versteeg a raise.
“We’d like to have Kris back,” the GM said. “We haven’t made any bones about that.”
Jankowski’s future in his own hands
Centre prospect Mark Jankowski squeezed into one lonely NHL game in 2016-17. Treliving said Jankowski is “knocking on the door to grab a spot here,” but it’s all about the 22-year-old’s attitude and the works he invests to improve this summer. Jankowski will determine whether he plays in the NHL or AHL in 2017-18.
A Ferland arbitration case could be on the horizon
Treliving extolled the virtues of 25-year-old Ferland. He’ll be back, but considering the restricted free agent is coming off a career season, his $611,667 cap hit will rise one way or another.
“We’ll get a contract done with him,” Treliving said. “He’s got arbitration rights. If nothing else, I assume they’ll file on his end.”