On April 28th, the short-lived Brian Burke era of the Flames ended with the hiring of Brad Treliving as general manager. More known for being the son of the Boston Pizza and Dragons Den guy Jim Treliving rather than the Arizona Coyotes’ assistant GM, Treliving’s arrival brought mixed reactions. He initially sounded like a Brian Burke puppet: too insignificant and inexperienced in the hockey world to not take orders from one of its most revered figures.
Besides some of his initial moves, Treliving has distanced himself from the truculent Burke view and quietly made the Flames a better team heading forward, but with some concerns. We’re going to take a look at his major moves this previous season and offseason, and try to judge the impact they will have on next year’s Flames.
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The crucial first step in a rebuilding season is the draft. History has shown (read: Edmonton 2007-onwards) that there are many, many, many ways to completely mess up a draft, even if you draft high.
The 2014 draft was the highest the Flames have ever drafted, and their first pick ever in the top four. There were four bona fide superstars waiting to hear their names called, but there were still doubts that the Flames management would do the right thing. There were initial fears that the Flames would pass over the big four of Ekblad, Reinhart, Draisaitl, and Bennett for the big, overaged, one-good-season Nick Ritchie due to a single Brian Burke quote.
Brian Burke grouped Nick Ritchie with Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart & Leon Draisaitl this morning when discussing draft prospects.— Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) June 5, 2014
This was a real problem: the Flames could easily miss a potentially elite player and opt for a player riding the high and beautiful wave of one good season. Sam Bennett’s infamously poor performance at the pull-up bar further fuelled speculation that the Flames might ignore him for the streaky winger.
That fear thankfully never came to be realized, as the Flames came up and selected Sam Bennett fourth overall. In a short sample size, Bennett has been everything the Flames wanted. Out of position for most of his stint, Bennett played with energy and poise, looking like he had been in the league for years. He generated 20 shots in the playoffs: fifth on the team.
However, you don’t get points for not screwing up. Treliving’s first move as GM was the right one because it was the only move to make; if you don’t get Ekblad, Reinhart, or Draisaitl, you pick Bennett. Anything else would be a massive mistake. If we are judging Treliving at the draft, we really have to discuss what he did the next day.
With two second-round picks and two third-round picks, it was a good time to cash in on some future depth. The second pick was head scratching. While many expected Bennett’s teammate Roland McKeown to come off the board to build defensive depth, Treliving opted for goalie Mason McDonald, who didn’t appear to be very good. Despite playing for one of the worst teams in the stupidly offensive QMJHL, his high GAA and SV% numbers didn’t really warrant the #34 pick.
It became more confusing when the Flames already had two of the best goalies in their respective leagues: Joni Ortio and Jon Gilles.
The second pick of the second round let us know who was really still in control of the team. Hunter Smith, #54 overall, was picked for his size and grit more so than his offensive production. They couldn’t disguise it otherwise, and they really didn’t try to:
The third-round produced Brandon Hickey, a local AJHL player headed to Boston University, and arguably the best pick in the draft since Sam Bennett. He seemed to be a TJ Brodie esque pick-up: low risk but high reward. Hickey was one of the Terriers’ key players as a freshman, gaining a defensive advantage with his size and offensively producing with a powerful slapshot. Having Jack Eichel didn't hurt, either.
The other third-round pick mysteriously disappeared, which we’ll discuss later.
With no fourth or fifth-round picks (traded for Joe Colborne and Kris Russell), the Flames were absent until round six. There, they selected Adam Ollas Mattsson, another very low risk defenceman, but more of a stay-at-home player.
The final pick was spent on Austin Carroll, an overaged Victoria Royals winger. Carroll was never really impressive at the WHL level, but he was a big player that the Flames really didn’t want to pass up on, despite the fact he would probably be available as a free agent this offseason.
Overall, Treliving’s first draft was a bit confusing. While Bennett and Hickey were very good picks thus far, others have never really lived up to expectation, begging the question of who was in control for the draft. Not a single player was below six feet tall, and three were over 6’5". All weighed over 175 pounds, and three of them cracked over 200. Burke’s fingerprints were all over the draft, which is concerning for a team that found success this season with smaller, speedier players.
Ideally, you would want all of your draft picks to play in the league, but realistically you should only expect three or four to become regular NHLers. The 2014 draft seems like maybe two will come out of it successful.
It is definitely too early to declare whether or not these players will produce, but initial results look disappointing for Treliving. Then again, you have to ask if it really was his draft.
In the next article, we'll take a look at the trades Treliving made during his first year as general manager. Be sure to tune in tomorrow!