It is 54 days now since Brad Treliving took over as Calgary Flames general manager, 54 jam-packed days to move into his office, conduct amateur and pro-scouting meetings, attend the draft combine in Toronto, relocate a minor-league team and settle into a new city. It’s been a whirlwind for him, and the only good news is that he’s not the only one adapting to a new job on the fly.
Since the NHL season ended back in April, there has been an unprecedented turnover among the league’s general managers, with fully a fifth of the league making major front-office changes. When the general managers gathered for their quarterly meeting in New York during the Stanley Cup Final, Treliving was joined among the newbies by Jim Benning (Vancouver), Brian MacLellan (Washington), Ron Francis (Carolina) and Ron Hextall (Philadelphia) as well as Jim Rutherford, the former Carolina GM who is now running Pittsburgh.
Moreover, a handful of others – such as Tim Murray in Buffalo, Jim Nill in Dallas, Jarmo Kekalainen in Columbus and Craig MacTavish in Edmonton – have all been on the job 18 months or less. It means new lines of communications are being opened, and fresh pipelines between organizations are being developed. In short, a lot of managers are flying by the seat of their pants, trying to figure out what they’ve inherited – and then where to go next.
“There were just a lot of tasks to do rather than sitting back and doing a lot of analyzing,” Treliving said. “But from where I was back on April 28, I feel much more comfortable in terms of the knowledge I have of why things have happened; the personnel we have off the ice, the staff; and with what we have and don’t have on the ice.
“Next up is addressing the needs. But I feel much more comfortable that the view and opinion is becoming more insider than outsider.”
It’s a good thing, too, because things are starting to get interesting around the league. The Florida Panthers’ Dale Tallon says the first overall pick in next week’s entry draft is up for grabs, and a trio of front-line NHL centres – the Ottawa Senators’ Jason Spezza, the Vancouver Canucks’ Ryan Kesler and the San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton – could all be on the move. It could offer a great opportunity to a first-year general manager trying to make his mark.
“If you’re asking, ‘Could this be a wow summer in the NHL?’ I think the answer is yes,” said Treliving, who’s preparing for an NHL draft in which he holds the No. 4 overall pick. “I don’t remember a spring as volatile as this one – where you have a bunch of new guys like me, trying to figure out what’s going on internally in their organizations.
“The system now, when you talk about a cap going up to where it’s being speculated being at [around $70-million U.S.], it lends itself to being a busy, active summer.”
This week the Flames interviewed a number of top prospects, including defenceman Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts, who will not last until the fourth pick. Edmonton has the draft pick just ahead of the Flames, and the Oilers will almost certainly grab Ekblad, if the Panthers and Buffalo Sabres don’t do so themselves. A lot of NHL teams have watched the 2014 playoffs unfold, and the success of teams such as the Los Angeles Kings, the Chicago Blackhawks and others have reinforced the value of a true No. 1 defenceman who can dominate games.
That’s enhanced Ekblad’s value, to the point where the Panthers have received calls from more than half-a-dozen teams to see what the asking price would be to move up. The value of being in Calgary’s position – or Edmonton’s for that matter – is that the Panthers wouldn’t have to drop too far down in the draft order if they swapped the first pick. So there’s an interesting cat-and-mouse game going on there, one that will test all these new GMs.
One thing to keep in mind: Treliving is working for a president of hockey operations in Calgary, Brian Burke, who twice previously has made impact deals at the draft to move up – once to get Chris Pronger when he was general manager of the Hartford Whalers, another time to land the Sedin twins for Vancouver. Organizationally, the Flames will not be afraid to make a move if they see value there.
“Some years, you’ve got a debate over the first two guys,” Treliving said. “This year, there are probably five or six guys who have been talked about a lot. If we do nothing, I [still] like our position.
“You’re always looking at opportunities and if it makes sense to go up or go down. I don’t see a scenario in terms of a move down that makes sense for us, but yeah, I think we’re in a good position. No matter what happens ahead of us, we’re going to get a good player.”
For a team such as Calgary, with salary-cap space to spare and a willingness to spend if the right deal comes along, there may be opportunities to land some major pieces to its rebuilding puzzle.
“That’s what we’re trying to determine,” Treliving said. “I think there is. Now we’ve got to see if that’s reality and if it is, can we capitalize on it?”