On the same day he confirmed the bad news – that No. 1 goaltender Karri Ramo would be out for the season as a result of a torn knee ligament and defenceman Dennis Wideman’s 20-game suspension was upheld – Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving also issued an unofficial state-of-the-union report on his underachieving NHL team.
While acknowledging how disappointed and frustrated he was to be so far out of the playoff chase, Treliving also made it clear he wouldn’t deviate from the master plan, which is to focus exclusively on the big picture.
“We know there are moves and changes that need to be made going forward,” Treliving explained Wednesday. “You’d like to click your heels and have it all happen at one time, but that’s not reality. We’re going to continue to build it the right way.
“But no question, as we sit here today, we expected to be in a better position, standings-wise, so we’re going to work to change that.”
Treliving is nearing the end of his second full season as the team’s general manager and last year, he oversaw a 20-point season-over-season surge that unexpectedly got the Flames into the playoffs.
Reality set in this year, when most of the players who enjoyed career seasons in 2014-15 reverted to the mean. Among their core pieces, only second-year pro Johnny Gaudreau, who has flirted with the top-10 scoring list all season, along with rookie forward Sam Bennett and emerging defensive star T.J. Brodie are meeting or exceeding expectations.
The net effect of the poor showing has left Treliving in a position to dangle some attractive rentals on the market, with the NHL trade deadline Feb. 29.
The Flames have a trio of pending unrestricted free agents, led by defenceman Kris Russell, who led the NHL in shot-blocking last season, and forward Jiri Hudler, who was the league’s eighth-highest scorer a year ago.
Russell is considered a heart-and-soul defender, a little undersized, but the perfect fit for a team seeking depth on defence, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Los Angeles Kings.
Hudler has had a mediocre season, although his game has recently picked up significantly since coach Bob Hartley reunited him on the top line with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
At a time when goal-scoring is at a premium, a low-maintenance rental who scored 31 times in the NHL last season should command some interest, even if Hudler, at 5-foot-10, is also considered a little undersized.
The Flames also have right winger David Jones available, a reliable big-bodied winger who once scored 27 goals for the Colorado Avalanche.
“A lot gets made about buying and selling,” Treliving said. “You’re trying to make your team better. Sometimes, you’re trying to make your team better tomorrow. Sometimes, you’re trying to make your team better today.
“If we can help ourselves in the future – with picks, prospects or people we think can fill holes moving forward – we have a great deal of interest in that.”
Ideally, Treliving would like to stockpile additional draft choices and/or prospects in advance of the 2016 entry draft. A year ago, that strategy yielded the extra draft choices needed to acquire defenceman Dougie Hamilton, whom they consider a core piece on defence, in the deal with the Boston Bruins. This year, he may need to go shopping for a new No. 1 goalie, given Ramo’s injury and the fact that the two other goalies on the NHL roster, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio, are both on expiring contracts as well.
On Wednesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman denied Wideman’s appeal of his 20-game suspension for crosschecking linesman Don Henderson three weeks ago. Wideman would have been considered possible trade bait if his suspension had been commuted in a meaningful way. As of now, the Flames will need to hope for relief from a third-party independent arbitrator, a process that will take a minimum of another week to play out. Wideman has already served seven games on the sidelines.
Treliving characterized this year’s trade deadline chatter as “typical – lots of talk and lies and all that sort of stuff.
“You make your calls and do your work and start all over the next day,” he said. “In a lot of cases, there’s such a tight bunching in the standings that people are still trying to make a decision about the way they’re going to go here.
“You’re trying to let people know your thoughts and find out what they’re trying to do and see if there are fits and matches. We’re in communication with everybody; and have a good sense 13 days out, of what teams are looking for.”Report Typo/Error