Calgary Flames: Fast-Tracking the Rebuild and Making a Playoff Push

It’s been a crazy two weeks for the Calgary Flames. My message to Brad Treliving, and I mean this in the kindest way possible: Turn your phone off for a while. Go on vacation. We common folk need a break.

In case you’ve been under a rock for two weeks, let’s recap. The Calgary Flames acquired Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan, James Neal, Austin Czarnik, and several more depth pieces that nobody has heard of. So far they’ve only disposed of Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland. That’s a lot more addition than subtraction. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that some of our regulars from last year will not be around this season.

The common projected lineup for 2018-2019 looks something like this:

Gaudreau-Monahan-Neal
Tkachuk-Backlund-Lindholm
Bennett-Ryan-Frolik
Mangiapane-Jankowski-Czarnik

Giordano-Brodie

Hanifin-Hamonic

Kulak-Stone

Smith / Rittich

When they said to expect the Calgary Flames to be active in free agency, they weren’t kidding.

Let’s flash back a year. After paying a healthy sum for Travis Hamonic, the word on the street was that the Flames were in win-now mode.

Now flash back to April. After the Flames’ season ended in an ash heap, the general sentiment was that major changes needed to be made. Nobody has actually used the word “rebuild”, because it’s bad for business. But Ryan Leslie did refer to it as a “transformation” in a recent interview with the GM, and Kristen Anderson called it a “retooling” in the Calgary Sun.

With all these new faces on the roster, do the Flames still consider themselves a contender for a deep playoff push? Or are they in a rebuild? Their current situation is showing signs of both.

Rebuild

All serious hockey fans have heard the term rebuild, but I don’t think they would all agree on what it looks like. Does a team need to “blow the whole thing up and start over” to be in a rebuild, or does making a few key trades count? Are a couple seasons of suffering necessary, or is a “rebuild on the fly” considered legitimate?

The Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, and New York Rangers are undergoing rebuilds, and nobody wants to be lumped in with that group right now. But the Calgary Flames did bring in a new coach, and got significantly younger in the dramatic Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland trade, choosing to invest in potential by giving up some talent. Those are textbook “rebuild” moves.

This projected roster is almost unrecognizable from last year. They didn’t hit the reset button on the same scale that the Rangers did, but it sure looks like a rebuild.

The Flames, however, are doing their best to reassure fans that there will be no hiatus before they bounce back into playoff contention.

And they may be right.

Playoff Push

New forwards Lindholm, Neal, Czarnik, and Ryan are expected to replace Michael Ferland, Matt Stajan, Troy Brouwer, Curtis Lazar, and Garnet Hathaway. That’s 130 points in 242 games replacing 100 points in 345 games. On paper, Brad Treliving has made the team’s offence instantly better.

Neal and Ryan will both be 31 years old at the beginning of next season. That move isn’t much of an investment for the future, but it does add a scoring punch right now. Let’s not forget that bringing in these veterans has come at the expense of roster spots that could have been filled by prospects like Spencer Foo.

In their initial Flames TV interviews, both Derek Ryan and James Neal have gone on the record saying they’re confident that Calgary is poised to go far next season.

“I want to win, and I think we’re right there … We’ve got a great core of guys. We’re really close to winning, and I want to be a part of that. I want to win the Stanley Cup, and there’s no better place to do it than Calgary.” – James Neal

That’s significant. Remember, this statement is coming from a 31-year-old who has never won the Stanley Cup despite getting to the Finals twice. He had plenty of options as a coveted free agent, but he chose to come to Calgary because he felt like they could make a splash in the playoffs.

Maybe there won’t be a “tough rebuild” after all.

The Take: Brad Treliving is a Mad Scientist

Brad Treliving is under a lot of pressure to build a contending roster, and fast. Dean Molberg and Ryan Pinder speculated on their radio show that he could lose his job if the Flames don’t exceed expectations in 2018-19. His multi-year contract extension makes that less likely, but still possible.

Although the Calgary Flames appear to be going through a rebuild, it’s clear that they have every intention of making a deep playoff push right away. In the words of Willy Bank from Ocean’s 13, they don’t want the labour, just the baby.

Attempting to skip the growing pains often results in worse growing pains four or five years down the road. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen here.

Treliving has made some big gambles this offseason, and his job may depend on those bets paying off. This team is his lab experiment. Can he, in a span of two weeks, build an instant contender out of the average team he painstakingly built over the course of four years? We’ve given the mad scientist plenty of cap space.

I guess we’re about to find out.

P.S. Brad, if you’re reading this, let’s do something about that bottom D pair.