Flames free agency primer: Expect a few additions to bolster core

Calgary Flames centre Sean Monahan. (Sam Hodde/AP Photo)

CALGARY – With almost $18 million in salary cap space, Brad Treliving certainly has the flexibility to make a big splash at the draft or in free agency.

The signing of Jacob Markstrom or even Alex Pietrangelo are not completely out of the realm of possibilities.

Longshots, but doable.

A significant player, or two, will undoubtedly be added to fill holes in net and on the blue line.

But when chatting about the state of his team and its playoff developments, the Calgary Flames GM doesn’t sound like a man who is on the verge of doing much to his core to significantly alter the course of his club.

After all, his team was less than a dozen seconds away from having Dallas on the ropes, before the Stars clawed back to claim the series and get within two wins of the Stanley Cup.

“Do I think about being 11 seconds away from being up 3-1 and the puck that hit three skates and went in?” deadpanned Treliving.

“No, I haven’t thought about that at all the last month, waking up screaming.”

He jests.

Kind of.

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“It shows you the league is this close,” he said.

“Some people may think you’re a million miles away from it, but it shows we’re a good team and we had an opportunity to put that team on the ropes. We didn’t, and you look at the run they had. But you can’t get lost in that. We need to get better. We weren’t good enough to win that series. We can say ‘11 seconds,’ but the reality is we weren’t good enough. It gives you hope, but the reality is we have to find ways to get better.”

Treliving has the biggest say in that, by deciding which, if any, of his unrestricted players he’ll attempt to re-sign before they hit the open market Friday.

But if you’re waiting for this to be the year he trades Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan, you may be sadly disappointed.

He points to the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning as an example of how a team can turn past playoff failures into future success.

Heck, the last three Cup champions provide solid examples of how sticking with a core can eventually pay off.

“It goes to show you’ve got to keep knocking on the door,” he said.

“(The Lightning) had great disappointment, as we did, a year ago. They made some changes throughout the year, but the core group has been there for a while. I give (GM) Julien (BriseBois) and Coop (coach Jon Cooper) a lot of credit – they stayed the course. You look externally how to change your team, but more often than not a big change you have to do is not necessary in changing players, but people taking a step and changing how players play and what they value. I saw that in Tampa.”

No one, including Treliving, is comparing the previous accomplishments or high-end talent of the Lightning to what the Flames have cobbled together.

The point is, if you have confidence in the core group, perhaps the biggest change needed comes from within.

The Flames did a nice job starting that evolution in the bubble where they embraced a radically different style of play, focused on grit, determination and defence.

The Lightning went through a different philosophy change.

“Jon made a really good statement, saying a year ago that his team wasn’t happy beating you 3-0, they wanted to beat you by six, seven, eight or nine,” recalled Treliving.

“But they learned how to play the game you need to play in the playoffs, and they were consistent in that. That’s the takeaway for me. They’ve continued to mature. Individually, that core group has taken a step to play the right way not just when it matters the most, but consistently through the year.

“We’ve got players that have to continue to evolve and grow their games, and young players that are going to continue to mature and take on bigger roles. Then it’s the manager’s job to try to improve the team, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

So, what can the Flames hope to achieve via free agency?

“Our two biggest needs now, when you look at our expiring contracts, is figuring out our goaltending and defence,” confirmed Treliving.

He currently has 13 players under contract, including nine forwards ($42 million), three defencemen ($16.25 million) and David Rittich in net at $2.75 million.

That leaves $17.805 million to spend on signing a goalie (roughly 3.5 million), re-upping Andrew Mangiapane (roughly $3 million), and a pair of significant defenders.

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Treliving said he’d be very happy to bring Cam Talbot back, but finding his value is easier said than done given the long list of capable netminders available via free agency or trade.

Markstrom would be the belle of the ball, if that’s where Treliving wanted to make his splash.

Alas, Talbot was the team’s playoff MVP and his familiarity with the city and team make him the most sensible target. The two sides have spoken, but an offer has yet to be made.

Treliving said Friday the NHL marketplace is bogged down by cautiousness, as GMs try hard to peg player values given a flat cap world full of uncertainty.

While the emphasis should be on inking the team’s second right-handed defenceman, the Flames were just fine in the bubble playing with five lefties at the back.

Pending UFAs T.J. Brodie and Erik Gustafsson can play both sides and are still very much in the Flames picture, depending on their price tag.

Torey Krug is a lefty, who would also be a major addition, albeit for big dollars.

Perhaps a right-handed Tyson Barrie, or the veteran Chris Tanev are more logical possibilities.

The Flames’ top nine is carved in stone up front, unless the GM agrees with a growing number of fans who believe it’s time for Johnny Gaudreau to be traded.

Or perhaps he’s the very player the organization needs to work on most to change his game, a la the Lightning.

“We’re not going to ship out good players to say we’re different,” said Treliving.

“The idea we’re going to blow it up doesn’t make sense to me. Certainly we’re open to change, but what is that. You don’t want to be different and worse. If you’re going to be different you want to be better.”


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