Under Pressure: Brad Treliving

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Heading into next season, there are a ton of Calgary Flames who are under pressure, but it all comes back to GM Brad Treliving.

Treliving is the person, after all, who:

  • Hired Glen Gulutzan, then fired him in favor of Bill Peters. Peters failed to take the Hurricanes to the postseason during his time in Carolina, so Treliving is taking a leap of faith.
  • Traded for Mike Smith last summer, and is sticking with Smith as Calgary’s starting goalie despite the netminder being at the not-so-tender age of 36. The Flames didn’t add an experienced backup, either. The Smith situation ranks as, what, three leaps of faith?
  • Treliving also made the franchise-altering trade that sent Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. (Treliving then signed Lindholm to a robust contract and still needs to come to terms with Hanifin, who’s an RFA hoping to build off of a breakthrough.)
  • There were plenty of other courageous moves. Treliving pulled the trigger to land Travis Hamonic during the 2017 off-season, a swap that seemed sensible at the time, but so far looks like a huge win for the Islanders. That summer was a rough one beyond Mike Smith working out, as re-signing Michael Stone seems to be a blunder. The Flames also bought out Troy Brouwer, one of Treliving’s worst signings.
  • Not enough risk for you? The Flames also signed 30-year-old winger James Neal this summer. Neal’s one of the league’s most reliable scorers, but the aging curve isn’t always kind to snipers like Neal. Did we mention he’s already 30?

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Three Questions | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Generally speaking, Brad Treliving isn’t lampooned like some of Canada’s most-mocked GMs.

Swing and a whiff

He’s lost trades, sure, but they didn’t feel like unforced errors on the same scale as the blind piñata swings by Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin. At least, they didn’t feel like forehead-slapping gaffes the moment they happened.

It’s also crucial to remember that, while the Flames have missed the playoffs in two of four seasons and only won one playoff series under Treliving, they were in a truly abysmal place when he took over following the 2013-14 season. Thanks to errors by Jay Feaster and Darryl Sutter, the Flames were in a cap mess, and they also suffered a five-year playoff drought from 2009-10 to 2013-14. Treliving deserves a lot of credit for the strides this team made.

Trading away Dougie Hamilton is fodder for debate, yet Treliving also acquired the defenseman from the Bruins in one of his best moves. Treliving also deserves ample credit for signing Johnny Gaudreau to one of the NHL’s best non-rookie-contracts, and generally hashing out team-friendly deals for many of their core young players.

That said, if you were to argue that just about everyone has an “expiration date” with a team – aside from maybe the truly elite performers and executives – then Treliving stands as a possible textbook example.

That bulleted list at the top of this post hammers home that argument, as even an above-average decision-maker can see mistakes start to pile up.

Sunk costs

As a rule of thumb, GMs don’t get a ton of cracks at finding the right coach. Treliving didn’t hire Bob Hartley, but he did select Gulutzan and now Peters. If Peters doesn’t work out, Treliving is likely to get a pink slip in the process.

Former Flames executive Brian Burke discussed Treliving’s reputation as a “riverboat gambler,” and provided some delightfully Burke-like analysis to the Calgary Sun’s Eric Francis:

“In this job you’ve got to be a riverboat gambler,” Burke said.

“I think that phrase is misconstrued. They take great chances, but they’re informed chances and that’s why they continue to gamble on riverboats. Being called a riverboat gambler is the ultimate compliment. He’s not afraid to take risks. You can’t do this job if you are.”

Well, if the ship sinks in 2018-19, the Flames might throw Treliving overboard.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.