This is the most dangerous time to be Brad Treliving.
The Calgary Flames general manager has very little time to save his team’s season, at a time of year when National Hockey League trades are rare. Few other teams are as desperate as Calgary, so from a Flames perspective, the opportunity to make a very risky deal will never be higher for Treliving.
For that reason, you couldn’t find a hockey man on Monday who’s GM had not heard from Treliving on the weekend. Or a GM who wasn’t admitting that, yes, he was also aware that Treliving was racking up his cell bill in pursuit of a deal.
Treliving is working the phones like his players once worked in their own zone — OK, that’s a cheap shot — though all the Flames GM would say when asked Monday was that he is simply “doing what everyone is doing, trying to make the team better,” he offered via email.
No small trade is going to fix his Flames, who are entirely broken right now, and word is out that Treliving is willing to talk about a very big deal if he can find one. We even heard that his conversation with Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman was all about the Lightning’s obvious issues with signing soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos.
The Flames would be willing to deal a top young player, perhaps Sam Bennett, to acquire Stamkos at this point. That’s risky but wise, in our opinion. But there’s one problem: This early in the proceedings (a full five months prior to the NHL trading deadline) the conversation from Tampa’s end would start with centre Sean Monahan, who we believe to be the most untradeable Flame.
We have no doubt that Treliving is asking about Stamkos — why wouldn’t he? — and he’s not the only GM interested. If everything was perfect in Tampa, Stamkos would be signed by now, and the fact he isn’t makes us wonder if Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is resigned to losing him, and as such, will try to trade the asset.
(Our personal feeling is that no one will meet Yzerman’s price, he’ll sign Stamkos in Tampa, and if the two sides can’t mend fences then a trade will be found that will largely be controlled by Stamkos and his agent Don Meehan. That way Stamkos gets market value and goes where he wants — Tampa or elsewhere —and the Lightning are not left empty-handed.)
Meanwhile, Treliving’s Flames are now 1-5 after an embarrassing 6-2 home-ice loss to Washington on Tuesday, and dead last in the West. Their game is in a shambles with just 16 games left before American Thanksgiving (10 on the road) — a date that has become THE major early-season milestone in the NHL.
Since the 2005-06 season, NHL teams in post-season position entering the American Thanksgiving holiday have gone on to make the Stanley Cup playoffs 77.3 per cent of the time, according to STATS. So, if you don’t have a spot by Nov. 26 this season, you’ve got a 22.7 chance of sneaking in — which covers teams that are within two or three points.
That’s why this is the danger zone for Treliving.
Who is as desperate to shake thing up as the Flames are? Columbus (which changed coaches Wednesday), then who? Anaheim? The Ducks wouldn’t make a major trade with a Flames team they faced in Round 2 last spring, would they?
The rest of the league is willing to talk with Treliving from a position of strength, and here’s what they’ll be hearing:
• Defencemen Dennis Wideman has been available, literally, for three years in Calgary. He had an excellent season last year, but that is still seen as an aberration. With an AAV of $5.25 million (one year left after this one) Wideman’s presence may make it hard to sign pending UFA Kris Russell.
• Russell is available, and on Monday I couldn’t find a scout or GM who didn’t admit to quite liking this player. Treliving is the rare GM today who can afford to deal a defenceman for a forward, a huge luxury in a 30-team league where about 27 teams feel like they need more defencemen to have success.
• Pending UFA Jiri Hudler’s contract demands, believed to be in the $7 million range with term attached, far outstretch his perceived value in Calgary. Hudler was exposed to a degree against the bigger Ducks last spring. If he’s not going to be a leading component then he is a complimentary part, and $7 million is too much for one of those. He is available in trade, but returns on a 180-pound, 31-year-old will not overwhelm.
• Another option becomes a trade of unwanted contracts. Calgary has buyer’s remorse over the three-year, $9.45 million deal handed to Mason Raymond prior to last season. The only foreseeable return for Raymond, however, is someone else’s contract dump.
Treliving’s problem is that captain Mark Giordano hasn’t been the player he was last season, and newcomer Dougie Hamilton has seriously struggled.
Throw in below average goaltending from both Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo, plus that untenable three-goalie system that includes young Joni Ortio, and you’ve got the recipe for a 1-5 start, the Flames worst in franchise history.
Now, the GM is faced with making a major deal to right the ship, from an obvious position of vulnerability.
It’s a recipe for failure, and the Treliving we know won’t do anything dumb.