Emotionally drained following the most shocking face plant of the NHL’s stretch run, Brad Treliving knows he’s facing a summer of significant change.
However, the fourth-year Flames GM insists that as he dissects all that went wrong in the final month of the season the reality is, “Things are never as bad as they seem.”
“Is there more to be done that I would have thought two months ago? Certainly that’s probably a fair assessment,” said Treliving of the significantly new outlook on a team that won four of its last 17 games since it last appeared in a playoff position Feb. 25.
“How we’ve finished is not lost on me. But the answer is going to be found once the emotion subsides and the dark cloud dissipates and you can look with a clear mind. But there’s no question there’s work to do.
“You can also make mistakes by saying, ‘Everything is wrong and let’s stick a stick of dynamite in this.’ The first instinct is we have to blow the whole thing up. I don’t think we’re in that mode.”
Local fans who watched the Flames stumble to one of the league’s worst home records (16-20-4) certainly feel major change is in order, especially after goalie Mike Smith pointed to cracks in the foundation.
After a rare, intense Battle of Alberta game Saturday that saw Smith exchange punches with Milan Lucic, the frustrated goalie said it was “sad” that veteran call-up Tanner Glass was the only one to step to Smith’s defence by fighting the Oilers tough guy.
It spoke to a belief leadership and character are in short supply in the room, especially after Smith added how refreshing it was to be part of a game in which his team was “emotionally engaged.”
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview, Treliving’s first public comments in several weeks included taking no issue with Smith’s frank comments.
Nor does the GM believe Smith meant to throw any of his teammates under the bus.
In fact, Treliving is on a similar wavelength with the 36-year-old goalie in terms of what ails this team most.
“There’s an emotional level you have to get to to assist you in winning and we have to look into that,” said Treliving, stung tremendously by the stunning turn of events that included losing seven straight until Saturday’s win.
“Are we emotionally invested enough? We’re missing something. I think we’ve got to find a way to be more emotionally engaged. We’ve got to be a harder team to play against. That can mean a lot of different things, but we’ve got to define the identity of our team. We’re missing something.”
Simply put, there aren’t enough guys like Smith, Matthew Tkachuk and Travis Hamonic who hate to lose.
Conspiring against the Flames during their post-all-star game meltdown was a stagnant power play, horrific goaltending, the inability to win at home, injuries and a season-long void of offence from the bottom two lines.
The guy who seems to care most in the room – Tkachuk – has been dearly missed since going down with a concussion March 11 when the playoffs were still a possibility.
A fragile bunch that seemed to let one breakdown turn into a comedy of errors (23 times this season opponents have scored twice on the Flames in a two-minute span) the obvious scapegoat would appear to be coach Glen Gulutzan.
One year after a four-game playoff sweep in the first round by Anaheim, Gulutzan’s club digressed into being eliminated form the playoffs with several weeks remaining.
“I’m not getting into any of that,” said Treliving when asked about the coach. “That’s an easy thing in sports to do. The first thing is to look at the coach. I think we’ve got a good coach. We’ve got some good players, but we’re all subject to scrutiny when a season goes like this.”
Treliving said he has been doing plenty of introspection, assessing his role in all this.
“Number 1, it certainly wasn’t good enough. I put myself squarely out front of everything. I put everything in place here,” said Treliving, who signed a contract extension last summer and is in no danger of being a fall guy in all this.
“Sometimes the best laid plans don’t work. But you better first look at the job you did, and didn’t do, and everything spurns from there.”
The hallmark of his club this year revolved around never being able to rise to the occasion, and failing when the spotlight was the brightest.
Treliving plans to delve deeply into those games and discern which players failed to aid the cause.
“When it matters the most, who rises and who doesn’t?” he said. “I do believe it’s at the heart of correcting it. That’s how we can start to figure out how to fix it.”
Some of the passengers will be trade bait this summer as Treliving looks to shore up his depth up front with what will likely be a shakeup of his once-vaunted blue line.
As one who has always taken losses hard, the franchise’s surprising setback has been hard on the 48-year-old.
“The emotion is disappointment. The emotion is anger,” said Treliving of the spectrum of reactions he’s had throughout their fall. “Any time you have expectations and you feel you are capable of more – much more – there’s a great sense of loss in a lot of ways.
“Sometimes you’re just not good enough, but what’s disheartening to me is I think we are good enough. But that’s not reflected in our record.”