Treliving enjoying early success as Flames GM
Brad Treliving was missing the Valley this week. It’s not because he doesn’t like his new gig as the Calgary Flames GM. He loves it.
"It’s everything I expected it would be," he said.
So what’s the problem? One of his expectations was the November weather in Calgary, and it hasn’t disappointed. The daytime high temperature was 9 degrees on Tuesday. Same thing on Wednesday. The wind chill? Treliving has become reacquainted with the reality that numbers go lower than zero.
"Let’s just say I’m not doing a lot of golfing," he said.
There wouldn’t be time for that anyway. Since leaving his post as the Coyotes assistant GM to take his first turn in the big chair, Treliving said life has been a whirlwind of meetings, the NHL Scouting Combine, the Draft, free agency, more meetings, training camp and now the season.
What a season it’s been. Despite preseason predictions that had the Flames languishing near the bottom (or at the bottom) of the Western Conference standings, Calgary is off to a 9-6-2 start and sits fifth overall in the West with 20 points. If not for the Nashville Predators, the Flames would be the surprise of the young NHL season.
"Watching this team from the outside last year, you gained a lot of respect for how hard they worked. They were a tough out and they really established that as their identity," Treliving said. "We knew we were going to make some changes so the challenge for us was not letting that slip.
"It obviously helps build the belief when we’ve had somewhat of a decent start, but we’ve got a long ways to go here so we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We know we have to be a really hard working team to give ourselves a chance."
Treliving knew he had to make some changes to the Calgary lineup. Veteran mainstays Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff were long gone and the Flames needed an injection of youth and skill.
But Treliving also saw market opportunities in goalie Jonas Hiller and soon-to-be restricted free agent defenseman T.J. Brodie, so he signed Hiller to a two-year, $9 million deal to strengthen the goaltending alongside Karri Ramo.
He re-signed Brodie to a five-year contract worth $23.25 million. He added forward Mason Raymond, tough guy Brandon Bollig and signed defenseman Deryk Engelland to a three-year, $8.7 million contract that many analysts felt was too much for a guy outside the top two pairings.
"When you looked at this team, one thing we needed to add was a presence around our net; a physical, strong guy who adds an element of toughness," Treliving said. "We knew we’d be young so we wanted to make sure we’d have support for our young players to not be physically overwhelmed.
"Deryk is a pro, too. He creates a culture for the younger players to look at how he lives his life, how he trains and the work he puts in."
You’d be hard pressed to argue with any of Treliving’s moves so far. Hiller is 11th in the NHL in save percentage (.925) and has had some spectacular games, like a 49-save effort to spearhead a 2-1 overtime victory over the Blackhawks at United Center.
Brodie is second on the team in points (14) to defenseman Mark Giordano (19 points) and the two, who play in all situations, have formed arguably the best defensive pairing in the NHL in the early going.
Then there are the young forwards. Calgary is skating without three of its top centers since Mikael Backlund (upper body), Joe Colborne (upper body) and Matt Stajan (lower body) are all injured, but 20-year-old Sean Monahan (six goals, 11 points) continues to emerge, Jiri Hudler (five goals, 13 points) has been a stabilizing veteran force and 2014 Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau looks like a dynamic player for the future despite standing just 5 feet, 6 inches.
"He’s got special stuff and when you’re under-sized you need special talent," Treliving said. "He thinks the game at a very high level, he has great quickness and that ability to be elusive, so he’s agile enough to turn away from traffic and stay away from those big collisions."
Despite the early success, Treliving says he still has much to learn and he still leans on his mentor, Coyotes GM Don Maloney, for advice.
"I probably call him more times than he wants to be called," Treliving said. "When I was there, I had all these genius ideas for him and he’d look at me cross-eyed. After a little while on this job, I realized maybe not all of those ideas were as good as I thought they were. I still have a lot to learn."
Treliving admits it will be a little emotional to see Maloney, Tippett, the players and a lot of his old friends when the Coyotes play in Calgary on Thursday.
"Most of what I learned was in Phoenix from Don and Tip," he said. "I think Don is one of the best managers in the game. He is so good at taking little steps to improve the team. Everyone wants to make the big splash but taking small bites of the apple can be just as successful as taking one big one.
"With all the things that went on with that franchise and all the chaos that was going on around us, he showed me the importance of having that steady hand at the wheel — a guy who is able to think clearly and not let emotion rule the day. I have a lot of respect for Don."