Well, you wanted a rebuild.
The Calgary Flames restructured their core this offseason after a disappointing Second Round series loss to the Edmonton Oilers in five games left General Manager, Brad Treliving, with a few options— stay the course, blow things up or swing for the fences.
Stanley Cup contenders aren’t built in a day, but they are improved upon over the course of an offseason or an entire year.
No General Manager in the National Hockey League walks into their office on their first day with the organization looking at the roster assembled before them saying “yep, this team is going to win it all this season”.
There was a reason why the last GM was fired or not extended, after all.
Even Julien BriseBois didn’t walk into his role as General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sept. 11, 2018, completely convinced the team he inherited from Steve Yzerman could get it done after Yzerman resigned.
BriseBois made two acquisitions during the 2018-19 season with a minor move involving the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 18th in which the Lightning gave the Ducks future considerations for a minor league prospect that never made it to the NHL, then a somewhat major tweak to the eventual 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup champion Bolts rosters by sending Slater Koekkoek and a 2019 5th round pick (151st overall, later flipped to Arizona via Pittsburgh) to Chicago for defender, Jan Rutta, and a 2019 7th round pick (198th overall, Mikhail Shalagin) on Jan. 11th.
After the Columbus Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world and swept the regular season record tying 62-win, Presidents’ Trophy clinching Lightning in the 2019 First Round, BriseBois sent goaltending prospect, Connor Ingram, to the Nashville Predators for a 2021 7th round pick (211st overall, Robert Flinton) on June 14th and later acquired Marek Mazanec, a 2019 3rd round pick (71st overall, Hugo Alnefelt) and a conditional 2020 1st round pick (20th overall) from the Vancouver Canucks for J.T. Miller on June 22nd.
Vancouver’s 2020 1st round pick came in handy when Tampa later added leading up to the 2020 trade deadline by flipping the pick as well as left wing, Nolan Foote, to the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 16th for Blake Coleman.
At the 2020 trade deadline itself on Feb. 24th, BriseBois sent the San Jose Sharks Tampa’s own 2020 1st round pick (31st overall, Ozzy Wiesblatt) and Anthony Greco for Barclay Goodrow and a 2020 3rd round pick (originally belonging to Philadelphia, 85th overall, Maxim Groshev).
And thus, the 2020 Stanley Cup champion Lightning were fully assembled.
The following season, BriseBois kept most of the band together— trading Braydon Coburn, Cédric Paquette and a 2022 2nd round pick (64th overall, Filip Nordberg) to the Ottawa Senators to clear cap space by acquiring the contracts of Marián Gáborik and Anders Nilsson that were destined for the long term injured reserve upon training camp.
BriseBois’ biggest move occurred in the buildup to the 2021 trade deadline on April 10th, when the Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings helped piece together a three-team trade that saw Columbus acquire a 2021 1st round pick (32nd overall, later flipped to Chicago) and a 2022 3rd round pick (96th overall, Jordan Dumais) from the Lightning, while the Red Wings brokered even more salary cap retention on David Savard’s contract and added a 2021 4th round pick (128th overall, later flipped to Vegas).
Tampa, meanwhile, acquired Savard and Brian Lashoff from Detroit in the deal.
Savard was a pending-unrestricted free agent with a significant cap hit that was made manageable for the Lightning to add after the Blue Jackets retained 50% of Savard’s salary in the deal with Detroit before the Red Wings retained an additional 50% of Savard’s new cap hit with Detroit before sending him to Tampa.
In simple terms Savard had a $4.250 million cap hit with Columbus, which became a $2.125 million cap hit with Detroit and finally landed on a $1.0625 million cap hit for the Lightning.
And thus, the 2021 Stanley Cup champion roster for Tampa was fully assembled.
Prior to the 2021-22 season, BriseBois lost Coleman via free agency to the Flames, traded the rights to Goodrow to the New York Rangers for a 2022 7th round pick (223rd overall, Dyllan Gill), flipped Tyler Johnson to Chicago with a 2023 2nd round pick for Brent Seabrook’s LTIR-destined contract, sent Mitchell Stephens to the Red Wings for a 2022 6th round pick (169th overall, later flipped to Los Angeles) and more to keep the Lightning cap compliant and able to re-sign Brayden Point to a massive eight-year contract extension worth $9.500 million per season— thereby continuing Tampa’s Cup-winning core into the future.
As it is, Erik Cernak, Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev all received eight-year extensions this summer that don’t even go into effect until next season (2023-24).
Of course, the Lightning went on to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final where they lost in six games to the Colorado Avalanche after acquiring Brandon Hagel from Chicago on March 18, 2022, for Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk, a conditional 2023 1st round pick and a conditional 2024 1st round pick and adding Nick Paul from the Ottawa Senators two days later for Mathieu Joseph and a 2024 4th round pick.
BriseBois also acquired Riley Nash from the Arizona Coyotes for future considerations and made one more minor move at the 2022 trade deadline itself on March 21st.
The Lightning have made the Stanley Cup Final in the last three seasons, while the Avalanche are the current defending Stanley Cup champions.
The NHL is a copycat league and if you don’t think other playoff teams are clamoring for pieces of the Tampa and Colorado rosters from 2020-present or equivalent players then you must be part of a rebuilding organization that’s focusing on other endeavors like tanking for Connor Bedard right now.
We haven’t even touched on what BriseBois added in free agency during Tampa’s recent success and we aren’t even talking about the masterclass Joe Sakic put on as General Manager of the Avs prior to winning it all this year and being promoted to President of Hockey Operations, while Chris MacFarland takes the reins as General Manager.
But in way more words that you probably wanted to read, Treliving is well aware of how to make a playoff team turn into a Cup contender.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Treliving signed Coleman to a six-year deal worth $4.900 million per season and Trevor Lewis to a one-year, $800,000 on July 28, 2021— the same day he acquired the rights to Nikita Zadorov from Chicago for a 2022 3rd round pick (originally belonging to Toronto, 90th overall, Aidan Thompson) and Dan Vladar from the Boston Bruins for a 2022 3rd round pick (91st overall, later flipped to Seattle).
Coleman is quite literally one of the former pieces to Tampa’s back-to-back Cups in 2020 and 2021, while Lewis brought his two-time Stanley Cup champion winning experience with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, to Calgary’s bottom-six forwards.
Both Lewis and Zadorov were re-signed this summer with Lewis signing up for another season and Zadorov earning a two-year deal (both players were signed at the same cap hit they had in 2021-22).
Last season, Treliving added a major component to his roster well in advance of the 2022 trade deadline when he acquired Tyler Toffoli from the Montréal Canadiens in exchange for Tyler Pitlick, Emil Heineman, a conditional 2022 1st round pick (26th overall, Filip Mesar), a 2023 5th round pick and a conditional 2024 4th round pick (the condition was not met).
For added depth, Calgary acquired Calle Järnkrok from the Seattle Kraken in exchange for a 2022 2nd round pick (originally belonging to Florida, 61st overall, David Goyette), a 2023 3rd round pick and a 2024 7th round pick on March 16th and added Ryan Carpenter from Chicago for a 2024 5th round pick at the deadline on March 21st.
Järnkrok and Carpenter were rental pieces that were not re-signed this offseason with the former ending up in Toronto and the latter joining the New York Rangers.
The additions of Coleman (2020 and 2021 with Tampa), Lewis (2012 and 2014 with Los Angeles) and Toffoli (2014 with Los Angeles) brought in more of a Cup-winning pedigree to the Flames locker room while Milan Lucic (2011 with Boston) and head coach, Darryl Sutter (2012 and 2014 with Los Angeles), already have experience in what it takes to win it all and can provide a touch of wisdom for the rest of the team.
Sometimes it takes a shift in the faces of the franchise to stabilize the foundation of a legitimate Cup contender.
Flames fans have been through it all this offseason with the departure of Johnny Gaudreau in free agency to the Blue Jackets and subsequent aftermath in the NHL’s first ever sign and trade event whereby Matthew Tkachuk inked an eight-year extension with Calgary before immediately being dealt to the Florida Panthers.
Gaudreau left on a seven-year deal with the Blue Jackets worth less than what Calgary was offering— agreeing to a $9.750 million cap hit with Columbus through 2028-29.
Erik Gudbranson would leave the Flames for the Blue Jackets via free agency as well on a four-year contract worth $4.000 million per season— well above the cool $1.950 million cap hit he carried with Calgary last season and matching his career-high $4.000 million cap hit that he once had on a three-year extension that he originally signed with the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 20, 2018.
Tkachuk, meanwhile, was packaged with a conditional 2025 4th round pick to Florida in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt and a conditional 2025 1st round pick.
Losing Gaudreau after a career season in goals (40), assists (75) and points (115) hurts, but replacing him with Huberdeau— who also set career-highs in assists (85) and points (115) while matching his previous high in goals (30)— certainly takes the sting of watching a fan favorite leave for nothing.
Adding Weegar on the heels of a career-year in goals (eight), assists (36) and points (44) as a bonus for trading Tkachuk to the Panthers is the icing on the cake (with the conditional 2025 1st round pick being like its own “baker’s dozen” bonus 13th doughnut from Tim Horton’s or something).
Gudbranson, who, despite reaching highs in all three scoring categories with 6-11—17 totals had *checks notes* 27 points fewer than the versatile Weegar.
As for Tkachuk, the 24-year-old broke into the league in 2016-17 with 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 76 games with the Flames after being drafted 6th overall in 2016.
Injuries kept him to 49 points in 68 games in 2017-18, and if it weren’t for Mark Giordano’s existence, Brian Burke, then President of Hockey Operations for Calgary (who would leave upon season’s end) while Treliving was in his fourth full season as General Manager, was ready to name Tkachuk captain based on his work ethic alone.
In 2018-19, he had 77 points in 80 games, then he dipped to 61 points in 69 games followed by 43 points in 56 games in 2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively. Both seasons were altered due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Last season, he exploded for career-highs in goals (42), assists (62) and points (104) in 82 games, but will he hit it off with Aleksander Barkov like how Florida’s captain used to play with Huberdeau?
There’s no question Tkachuk will be a prominent NHL player, but he didn’t want to stay in Calgary forever and that’s fine.
Treliving maximized the return— and then some— in what he got for Tkachuk like how the Bruins fleeced Burke for a 2010 1st round pick (2nd overall, Tyler Seguin), a 2010 2nd round pick (32nd overall, Jared Knight) and a 2011 1st round pick (9th overall, Dougie Hamilton) in the Phil Kessel trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs back on Sept. 18, 2009.
It pays to learn lessons from Mr. Burke.
Don’t ask what Boston did with all three players afterwards. They still won the Cup (with Seguin) in 2011, at least.
But that’s not all that Treliving got done this summer as he notably signed Huberdeau to an eight-year extension already worth $10.500 million per season that’ll begin in 2023-24, making Huberdeau the highest paid player in Flames history in the salary cap era in the process.
Gaudreau could’ve been a member of Calgary for most (if not all) of his career and at 29-years-old he had every right to seek a change of scenery and make it easier on him and the family that he is planning for to hop on a flight back to New Jersey or invite his friends and relatives out to Columbus to see a game.
Huberdeau is also 29, so there’s no loss in maximizing the potential considering both players are already within their prime years.
In 671 career games with the Panthers, Huberdeau had 198-415—613 totals or about .914 points per game, while Gaudreau recorded 210-399—609 totals (1.01 points per game) in 602 games with the Flames.
There’s a slight offensive advantage for Gaudreau, but Huberdeau has been more of a two-way player in his career and could receive more Selke Trophy attention in the years to come as five-time Selke winner, Patrice Bergeron, enters the twilight years of his storied NHL career with the Bruins.
Huberdeau’s playing style could benefit Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane if Sutter wanted to create a “super” line to overpower his opponent in a particular shift.
Though Gaudreau had ten more goals than Huberdeau last season, Huberdeau had ten more assists than Gaudreau and you know that either type of point (a goal or an assist) counts as a goal for someone on your team, right?
Huberdeau’s playmaking ability might keep Lindholm’s 42 goals in 2021-22 from being a one-off fluke and Mangiapane’s 35 goals last season as just the beginning.
Lindholm is 27, while Mangiapane is 26. Both players are part of the core moving forward with the former under contract through 2023-24, and the latter signed through 2024-25. They should each remain a priority long-term.
If Treliving stopped there, he would’ve made his point clear— that the Flames aren’t going to rebuild anytime soon under his watch— but then he signed Nazem Kadri to a seven-year, $49 million ($7.000 million per season) deal on Thursday.
Kadri brings one more Cup ring to the dressing room, having won with Colorado in June.
In 739 career NHL games with the Maple Leafs and Avalanche, he has 219-293—512 totals as a two-time 30-goal scorer and one of the better second line centers in the league.
He solidifies Calgary’s lineup down the middle, had a career-high 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) last season and adds a significant chunk to the Flames’ payroll since he’ll carry the highest cap hit on the roster for 2022-23, but at 31-years-old, he’s in his prime and will help beg the question that remains to be answered— can you win another one?
To afford Kadri, Treliving made what is perhaps his only bad trade of the summer by sending Sean Monahan and a conditional 2025 1st round pick to the Canadiens on Thursday.
Injuries limited Monahan to 8-15—23 totals in 65 games last season after recording 28 points in 50 games in the 56-game 2020-21 season, as well as 48 points in 70 games in the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season.
His production peaked in 2018-19, when he set career-highs in all scoring categories including goals (34), assists (48) and points (82) in 78 games, but now at 27-years-old there’s a chance his ceiling potential has been lowered despite being healthy for the first time in a while.
With one-year remaining on his current contract and a $6.375 million cap hit, Monahan gets the chance to have a fresh start in Montréal and can either stick around for the emergence of something new and exciting within the Canadiens organization or skip out on a rebuild.
In any case, he’ll get his best chance to prove himself given Montréal had an opening for a second line center.
At worst, he’ll be the next Mike Cammalleri and spend parts of a few seasons in a Canadiens jersey while sputtering out into a bottom-six/third line forward role.
The addition of Kadri and subtraction of Monahan leaves the Flames with about $2.137 million in cap space that they’ll surely want to try to add a little more wiggle room to.
Despite Lucic’s veteran presence and experience having won a Cup before 11 years ago, his $5.250 million cap hit on an expiring contract at season’s end could be used to bait a team in taking him while upgrading Calgary’s fourth line.
Perhaps this is where a reunion with the Bruins comes into play if the Flames are a destination on, say, Nick Foligno’s modified no-trade clause?
Lucic’s size would bolster Boston’s fourth line with some added size and bring more to the table than Foligno’s offensive output last season (Lucic had 10-11—21 totals in 82 games to Foligno’s 2-11—13 totals in 64 games).
Of course, Lucic would have to approve of a trade in compliance with his modified no-trade clause as well, but it’s well known that he still has a place in his heart for Boston.
Both players are 34-years-old and Lucic— though he may want to win another Cup— has already won it before. He wouldn’t be going back to the Bruins just for a reunion with fellow 2011 Stanley Cup champions in Bergeron, David Krejčí and Brad Marchand, but he would join a team that’s in a fight of their own to reclaim some former glory.
Lucic has also evolved since the days of his, at times, undisciplined style.
Foligno, on the other hand, has yet to even appear in a Stanley Cup Final since making his league debut in the 2007-08 season.
Every good Cup contender has that one veteran that has never sniffed an appearance in the Final and Foligno could be very well be someone to rally around in the “C of Red”.
So, after a few years of staying the course while developing along the way and experiencing crushing heartbreak after heartbreak from one season to the next, Treliving made a choice.
He’s going all in and his actions are clear to his players— are you ready and willing to go all in too?
Calgary’s average age might be nearing 30, but many veterans on the roster have already won at least one Cup ring. What would you be willing to do to win another?
Entering the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flames were one of the hottest teams in the NHL all season long (both in name and given their stature as not only the regular season Pacific Division winners, but the leaders of the entire Western Conference with a 50-25-7 record and 107 points on the season).
Calgary thumped Colorado in a, 4-0, shutout on home ice for Game 1 of their 2019 First Round matchup.
Then the Flames lost four straight games and were handed an embarrassing five-game series exit.
They took the lessons they learned and made it through the Qualifying Round in 2020, defeating the Winnipeg Jets in a best-of-five series 3-1 before losing to the Dallas Stars in the 2020 First Round in six games.
After missing the playoffs in 2020-21, the Flames and Stars had a rematch in the 2022 First Round— only this time, Gaudreau sent Calgary onto the Second Round where they were crushed by their Alberta rival, the Edmonton Oilers in five soul-sucking games.
They have not been back to the Western Conference Final since 2004— the same year they went on to the Stanley Cup Final and lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
Currently, only Lewis and Lucic were alive the last time Calgary won the Cup in 1989. Lewis was 2, while Lucic was 1.
Surely the Avalanche are going to be as dominant as they were on their way to the Cup. They’ll likely have to face the Flames at one point or another in the 2023 postseason.
What better chance to go for it all then to sign the guy that was playing center on the second line of the defending champions (Kadri) that once made a mockery of your rise to power in the Western Conference (2019) than by throwing them off the top of the mountain in the process?