Flames not making excuses for challenges in luring top players to Calgary

Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter, centre, directs his team during first period NHL hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets in Calgary, Monday, March 29, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

One week away from training camp, it appears the Calgary Flames will return to action without the shakeup they craved.

The shakeup they need.

Setting his sights as high as Jack Eichel, GM Brad Treliving scoured the trade landscape all summer long with an eye on altering a core that has repeatedly struggled to live up to expectations.

Alas, what he settled for was a handful of depth players brought in to fit the Darryl Sutter mold.

Outside of snagging top-six winger Blake Coleman via free agency, there weren’t many other options for the Flames’ seventh-year architect.

“I know everybody screams for change, and we talked about that, but we can only do things that are available to you,” said Treliving, whose challenging off-season included losing captain and top defenceman, Mark Giordano, via the expansion draft.

“I can’t click my heels and make things happen. You have to have a trade partner. Nobody is ever done in this business — you’re always looking for ways to improve. But it has got to make sense.

“It doesn’t make any sense for us to give a player away for 50 cents on the dollar. It’s great to say, ‘go get this guy.’ Problem is, this isn’t fantasy hockey. The idea that you can go pick ‘this player’ off the player tree … it doesn’t happen that way.”

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After missing the playoffs last season, the stocks of many top-end players in the organization have diminished, complicating chances of swapping one star for another.

Johnny Gaudreau’s appeal as a one-year rental was diminished by a second-consecutive season below a point-per-game average. Sean Monahan’s worst professional season can be attributed to a hip injury that required off-season surgery, scaring potential suitors. Matthew Tkachuk was a shadow of his former self, as were several others.

And so, with an eye on giving this group yet another shot at redemption, the focus turned to getting players Sutter can rely on, or who he’s relied on in the past.

Veteran forwards Trevor Lewis and Brad Richardson, who both won Cups with Sutter in L.A., will start the season with fourth-line roles. Brett Ritchie and Michael Stone, whose careers were resurrected following Sutter’s arrival last year, were both re-signed as depth charges.

“We brought in some players that will fit an identity we want to have with this team,” said Treliving, who added plenty of size and brawn to the mix, including rugged defenceman Erik Gudbranson.

“You want to be a team that is limiting chances against and is hard to play against. We want to be structured defensively and focus on details.

“All the guys we brought in are all guys who bring an edge to their game and I think they’ll fit into the way the coach coaches. Lewis, Richardson and Coleman have all won Cups, so experience was added.”

Hulking Nikita Zadorov was acquired from Chicago (for a third rounder) to play top-four minutes on the back end and Tyler Pitlick was acquired from Seattle (for a fourth rounder).

Outside of Coleman and Zadorov, all the newbies are depth players aimed largely at shoring up the right side of the blue line and forward ranks.

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So why couldn’t the Flames land any bigger fish via trade or free agency?

Well, as explained, few Flames players drew significant interest from around the league.

Calgary is proving to be a tough sell to many players, given the dated arena, winter weather, high taxes, the team’s lack of playoff success, the scrutiny in a Canadian market and a coach who scares some players off.

Zach Hyman, for example, was pursued by the Flames before the former Leafs favourite chose to play alongside the world’s best player in Edmonton’s fancy arena.

Given how attractive so many teams are in places like Florida, Vegas, Dallas and even Seattle, it’s getting harder and harder to lure players here.

“That’s not an excuse for us,” said Treliving, who paid $29.4 million for six years of Coleman’s services.

“I think it’s a really attractive market, but players look at different markets for different reasons. They want to get paid, they want a lifestyle. Not every market is for every player.

“I think it’s an unbelievable experience to play in a Canadian market and in this market, but it may not be for everybody to play in Canada. We get that. But that’s not a barrier to try to go out to make the team better and do the things you’ve got to do. We’re certainly not making any excuses that we have challenges in our market. We’re not playing that card.”

What they will be playing is Sutter hockey, which may be the biggest reason for optimism that they can bounce back in the league’s weakest division.

NOTES: As players arrive in town, one thing the organization doesn’t have to worry about is the possibility of a player refusing to be vaccinated.

“We’re 100 per cent vaccinated,” said Treliving. “We don’t anticipate any issues with our group.”

Treliving said Monahan’s recovery from surgery has been excellent.

“We’ll get the official word when he gets through all the medicals, but our guys have been working with him all summer,” Treliving said of his 26-year-old centre who had 10 goals in 50 outings last year.

“He’s ahead of schedule, he’s doing really well, and had no setbacks. He’s been fully skating and full-go training the majority of the summer. I anticipate him being full-go for camp. The focus is making sure he’s ready for Game 1.”


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