BOSTON – Amidst a flurry of trade activity involving every team in their tightly-packed division, it was an early afternoon press release from the NHL that said plenty about where the Calgary Flames would focus their attention.
It announced that after scoring five times and adding an assist in three games, Andrew Mangiapane was the league’s third star of the week.
Although seemingly inconsequential, it was Mangiapane’s second line perch that GM Brad Treliving had spent the previous couple months hoping to upgrade.
Besides, ever since the team reverted back to last year’s lines after the all-star break, scoring hasn’t been a problem for the Flames.
Defensive lapses have been the club’s bugaboo of late, likely stemming from a significant injury issue on the back end.
So instead of paying inflated prices for offensive additions, Treliving was able to refocus his priority on shoring up his banged up blue line with a pair of relatively inexpensive rentals.
They weren’t sexy moves aimed at keeping up with the Joneses, but they were a concerted effort to address his biggest concern on a tight budget.
“I think a big thing to remember is that strategically, we may have had to change gears the last three weeks with our injuries on defence,” said Treliving.
“So you’re sitting here and saying, ‘Ok, if you are going to look to add to your team, and you have specific assets to use, what’s the best way to use them? Andrew’s done a really good job… he certainly has started to carry a lot of load in an area that we needed. I would say (his emergence) lessened the need (for offence) a little bit. But part of that was we felt we needed to add on the blue line.”
Mark Giordano’s injured hamstring has kept him out nine games and counting, while Travis Hamonic’s upper body ailment has caused him to miss seven, with no end in sight.
“We wanted to go to the room and say, ‘Look, we’re trying our best to help,” said a peckish Treliving, doing his best to explain how he tried to maximize return on a low budget.
“You know when you go to the grocery store and you have no milk, but then you get some milk before you go to the grocery store and now you run out of soup, and you only have 10 bucks to spend?
“Well, you buy the soup because you have the milk. We were missing players on the back-end so we had to buy some soup and hopefully the milk up front will carry us through. That’s sort of how I look at it.”
Soup to nuts, his two acquisitions included 27-year-old Derek Forbort — a 6-foot-4, 220-pound mountain of a man from the L.A. Kings whose forte is holding the fort. Price tag: a conditional fourth rounder in 2021.
He then sent a third rounder in 2020 to Chicago for Swedish veteran Erik Gustafsson, 27, who quietly finished sixth amongst all defencemen last year with 60 points, including 17 goals.
“Erik is a premier power-play player – that’s really his bread and butter,” said Treliving, who resisted the urge to spend a first or second rounder on a rental.
“We felt that was an area, up top, that we could address and a job that we could fill and he could help us. And then we look at Derek, who has fought some injuries this year, is back playing, is healthy and he’s sort of a big rangy defenceman.
“He adds some weight. He adds some size. He adds some defending ability. He’s very good on the penalty kill. So we looked at that as two ways not only to address personnel that is out, but then when [Giordano] comes back in, maybe there is a way to lessen his workload on both sides of [the] special teams.”
He can play on the right side with ease, which was a big factor for the Flames large group of lefties.
Forbort spent several years alongside Drew Doughty, learning plenty along the way.
Earlier in the day Giordano took first PP reps while the team practiced at Boston University, signaling what would appear to be a rather imminent return. Days not weeks, as Treliving confirmed.
There isn’t as much optimism Hamonic (upper body) will be back anytime soon, which helps explain why the two lefties were brought in – that and the fact the team was previously counting too heavily on youngsters like Kylington, Andersson, Brandon Davidson, and Alexander Yelesin to log regular minutes.
Treliving concluded trade day by sending Yelesin back to the AHL and Davidson to the San Jose Sharks for futures, leaving the Flames with plenty of back-end depth to help get them to the playoffs and help them once there.
None of his moves on Monday were as saucey as Vancouver’s Toffoli addition, the Robin Lehner or Alec Martinez adds in Vegas, Arizona’s Taylor Hall rental, Winnipeg’s Cody Eakin or Dylan DeMelo deals, or Edmonton’s headline-stealing trio of Tyler Ennis, Mike Green or Athanasiou.
But it was a calculated focus on tightening up around two goalies who’ve been victimized by a squad that has a penchant for mismanaging pucks.
And he did it without subtracting from a team he wanted to keep intact.
“We wanted to go to the room and say, ‘Look, we’re trying our best to help,” said Treliving.
“Part of this, too, is we’ve had young players emerge. I didn’t want to come in here and, all of a sudden, put the Mangiapanes and the (Dillon) Dubes in the backseat. You’ve got to keep giving them opportunities.
“You can always look outside or you can say, ‘OK, let’s shore up, let’s give ourselves some depth, let’s put some confidence in the people you do have.’ Our big bullets, in terms of draft picks, we saved in our holster. I’m excited. I’m excited that we addressed some areas of need, which was our blue line right now.”