From the outside looking in, Brad Treliving knew the Calgary Flames were building something. “The played hard in every game last season,” he said, having watched them as an assistant general manager with the Phoenix Coyotes. “I wondered if that would carry over into next season.”
Treliving was hired in April 2014 as the Flames’ new general manager. He was the only person Brian Burke interviewed for the gig.
Was he well-known? Well, his name was: His father Jim Treliving is co-owner of the Boston Pizza empire in Canada and an investor on “Dragon’s Den,” the show that begot “Shark Tank” in the U.S.
But now, with the Calgary Flames currently and surprisingly in a playoff position in the Western Conference, you might be hearing more of Brad Treliving’s name as a rising star among GMs.
“We had a little rough stretch in December, but we’ve been pretty consistent,” he said.
We spoke with him recently about the Flames’ success, Mark Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau, his relationship with Brian Burke, the Coyotes’ struggles since he left and how the Flames’ team building compares to that of the Oilers.
And here … we … go.
Q. You talked about having an outsider’s perspective. Is there anything in particular you think this helped with for the Flames?
TRELIVING: I knew Mark Giordano was a really good player. I didn’t know what kind of leader he was. He pulls and drags this team along with him. That’s been a revelation for me.
I thought T.J. Brodie was a young, emerging player, and he’s played at a level higher than where I thought he’d be at. Once we saw that on a regular basis, we moved to get him signed and locked up long term.
I saw Johnny Gaudreau as a college player. Knew he had a special skill set. Elite sense. Did I predict it would translate this quickly? No, we didn’t.
We wanted to stabilize the goaltending, give us a base to build upon. I thought Kari Ramo was solid last season, especially down the stretch. Adding Jonas Hiller gave us a foundation for goaltending.
I knew we had some missing pieces. We had some young players that were evolving. What kept me up at night was who was going to score for us.
When I talk about the outside perspective, I had a pretty good idea on some people. But we have a number of players that have exceeded expectations or been really good stories and have muscled their way into the picture.
All that said: We haven’t done anything. We’ve just sorta put ourselves in the mix.
You mentioned the young players being leaders on this team and carrying the water at times. Where does that come from? How come these young players have that kind of confidence and other teams, like the Oilers for example, have what feels like a culture of losing?
First and foremost, it’s the job Bob [Hartley] and his coaching staff have done. He’s put a real belief system in place here. He’s trusted young players.
We had a situation about 10 games into the year. We went from our opening day roster … we lost Mikael Backlund for two months. We lost Joe Colborne for six weeks. We lost Stajan for a month. Mason Raymond got off to a good start, but then he was out.
We woke up and realized that half the core group from opening night was gone. We had no other choice. We put young players in. And I think that really was a part of our season where we could have been like, ‘Hey, we’re young.’ But two things Bob demanded were that there were no excuses. We plug in the next player and we expect you to perform. And the showing confidence in those players. They’ll make mistakes. But they’ll go back out and away they go again.
And then there’s the leadership group, led by Mark. He didn’t let excuses creep it. We were going to go out there and play like a son of a gun.
There are going to be comparisons draw with the other team in Alberta. Do you think the success of the Flames is validation that the way you guys have rebuilt is better than they way the Edmonton Oilers have gone about it?
I get it, but we don’t compare. There’s a lot of ways to build teams. I don’t compare us to anyone else’s. It’s a difficult league and a difficult thing to do.
You need talent. You need ability. But coming in here, a big part of that process was started last year. There was an identity for the team. A difficult thing to do and maintain is finding and establishing that identity, and they did that: Be a hard working team every night. The coaches demanded it. The players understood it, with the time they put in before and after practice. A lot of work went into this foundation, but that’s all it is right now: a foundation. It’s difficult to get to step two if you don’t have step one in place.
We put our work boots on. We know we’re not going to be successful every night. But it won’t be for a lack of will or effort.
You once said that Mark Giordano “willed” himself into becoming a better player. What did you mean by that?
I thought he had a great line at the draft, when he said ‘whatever team drafts me, I’ll be indebted, because it’ll be the first team that ever drafted me.’
You hear it all the time that your best player is your hardest working guy, but this is a great example. It’s great that we have him as a player, but it’s also great that he’s an example for the younger players.
Yes, it takes god-given talent to be successful in this League, but it also takes sweat equity. We don’t have to write essays to young players about it; we can just point to Mark and say ‘be like him.’
Speaking of that All-Star Game: How would have reacted if Johnny had gotten the green light to set his stick on fire?
[Laughs] That it didn’t cover his body and go wrong.
I didn’t hear about it until after the fact. Sounded like a good idea. But I’m glad that common sense ruled the day there.
Were you surprised by him when you met him? He’s got the while Johnny Hockey thing going on, he’s a flashy player.
You got the Johnny Hockey thing, and people compare it to the Johnny Football thing, and when you meet him he’s just the most unassuming kid. Very well-mannered.
This was not a self professed label that he’s demanding everyone refer to him be. His teammates gave him the name and he begrudgingly goes along with it.
He’s a rink rat. He’s the most comfortable at the rink, on the ice, screwing around with the puck. And he’s a ferociously competitive kid. Anyone that’s been told he’s too small since he picked up a stick … I don’t think he’s trying to prove anyone wrong, but he’s done it at every level: Just be who he is and go and play.
This whole aura, especially in the U.S. … what you probably think of in your mind’s eye when you hear this nickname couldn’t be further from the truth.
And obviously coming from your family, which understands the value of a trademark, you must be proud of him for copyrighting his nickname, right?
[Laughs] That one was … yeah, it caught us a little bit.
I get it. I think it was Johnny’s representatives. It started with some stuff that was being produced with profanity on it, and they just wanted to get a handle on it. His advisors looking over his best interests.
What’s the dynamic between you and Brian Burke like?
It’s been excellent. And he’s the reason I’m here. I thought it was an ideal situation for a first-time manager. I was involved in all aspects of the Coyotes, but once you get in that manager’s chair you want that support system with you. And I saw working with Brian as someone who’s gone through all this. We all think we have the best idea in the world; to be able to bounce it off of someone that’s done this before is invaluable.
Since day one, he’s allowed me to do my thing. He’s involved in the decision making process. It’s a great asset. A perfect situation.
Has it been hard seeing what the Coyotes have gone through this season, having helped build that team?
I’ve got a lot of friends over there. Real close friendships. Don [Maloney] is one of the best managers in the game, Dave Tippett is one of the best coaches. And they’ve been through a lot over there.
But to me their struggles are a blip for them. There are some really good pieces on that team. Knowing the people involved, they’ll get it turned around in short order.
Finally, you’re a team that’s admittedly ahead of schedule in Calgary; how do you manage the trade deadline?
Obviously in certain cases you have teams that are selling that are identified already.
We have a long-term approach we’re taking here. I have no appetite to move young assets for a player that would help us for a short period of time.
Having said all that, you’re constantly evaluating your team. Everyone that’s in a management position with a team wants to help. But you have to separate that emotion based on what the cost is. What the asset’s price? What’s that going to cost us in the future?
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