The Calgary Flames were reportedly a finalist for the services of malcontent superstar Jack Eichel. The chatter of a hefty package, which included forward Matthew Tkachuk, was ultimately were debunked. Still, the acquisition cost paid by Eichel’s new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, seemed within the Flames purview to match. Obviously, salary cap implications complicated things for Calgary. However, in the end, Brad Treliving finds himself in the familiar position of missing out on a star player and finishing runner-up in a blockbuster trade.
Treliving’s Track Record of Failed Trades
Treliving has developed a reputation for being in on everything. Despite this, he has had a rough go in terms of completing trades. The Flames were reportedly in on the Mark Stone sweepstakes, being outbid by the very same Golden Knights in 2019. A trade that would send Nazem Kadri to Calgary fell through in the summer of 2019 when Kadri vetoed it. They reportedly lost out on Jason Zucker at the following trade deadline and had an interest in Josh Anderson before he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens. Calgary also took a swing at acquiring Taylor Hall in 2020. Regardless of the players involved, the recurring theme of Treliving’s recent trade endeavors has been his inability or unwillingness to meet the final acquisition cost, often leaving him as the runner-up in any given deal.
In their pursuit of Eichel, Elliotte Friedman described the Flames as “always there” but ultimately never all that close to making it happen. It’s a refrain that is becoming common. TSN’s Pierre Lebrun noted that Treliving had done his “due diligence” and that the Flames “certainly tried” to acquire the 25-year-old star center. As speculated by Friedman, the deal may have been decided by Buffalo’s preference for Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch, but in the final analysis, this is not the first time Treliving has finished second or as a finalist in a big trade.
Treliving’s attempts to acquire forward talent indicate he has identified an area he’d like to improve: mostly scoring but in the case of Eichel and Stone, elite talent. It begs the question of why he has left this need mostly unfulfilled following these long courting periods. The most perplexing aspect of Treliving’s failed trade pursuits has been the lack of follow-up. After the Golden Knights landed Stone, the Flames decided to stand pat. They were then promptly ousted in five games by the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs.
The Flames continued to stay the course in the 2019 offseason with few substantial additions outside of Milan Lucic, who certainly wasn’t acquired to address talent. The 2020 offseason was committed to defense and goaltending in the form of Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom. This summer, Blake Coleman was signed to help boost the forward group, but the primary need, another elite level forward, has been left unfulfilled.
Improving the scoring talent via trade has been a sore spot. Since acquiring Elias Lindholm in the summer of 2018, the forwards acquired via trade have been purely to fill out the bottom six. The Flames have also long needed a top-line center. The decline of Sean Monahan has only highlighted this need further. Even with Lindholm’s stellar play, the Flames are lacking elite talent down the middle.
Do the Flames Go After Another Forward?
It will be interesting to see if Treliving breaks his usual cycle of over patience and pursues another top forward in Eichel’s stead? Again, he must believe the team needs a boost to the core forward group if he is continually after such assets. The Flames, despite an excellent start to the season, would greatly benefit from more scoring talent. Treliving cannot afford another season of playoff failure if and when the team qualifies for the post-season. Given his injury status, the acquisition of Eichel would have functioned as a trade deadline addition.
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Treliving needs to act on a secondary plan after losing out on Eichel. The Flames have tried standing pat before. The difference this season may be coach Darryl Sutter, but it is time for Treliving and Flames to address this need. More broadly speaking, if they wish to be a legitimate contending team in the next handful of years, they still need to address the core issue: acquiring a top NHL center. If, come the trade deadline, the Flames are still playing well and lock down a playoff spot, Treliving needs to take the plunge and make something substantial happen. The aforementioned 2018-19 season, where the team was the best in the Western Conference and still failed miserably in round one, should serve Treliving as a cautionary tale of the danger of playing it too safe.
Implications for Tkachuk and Gaudreau
The salary cap maneuvering that would have had to take place to have Johnny Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Eichel, all while trying to get Andrew Mangiapane signed, likely would have been next to impossible. However, not landing Eichel begs the question: where does this leave Gaudreau and Tkachuk in their desire to sign long-term in Calgary? Tkachuk was never actually involved in the trade discussion and Gaudreau has stated his desire to sign an extension with the Flames. However, likely what both players want is to play for a contending team throughout their next deals.
Landing Eichel would have been a sign that the Flames are committing to competing for a Stanley Cup once and for all. If Treliving doesn’t push some chips in at the trade deadline to boost the Flames roster heading into the playoffs or if the Flames aren’t even in playoff contention near the trade deadline Gaudreau and Tkachuk may be hesitant to stick around for the foreseeable future.
Also worth considering is how Tkachuk feels after being involved in multiple trade rumors over the last six months. While the rumors of his involvement in a possible Eichel deal were debunked, the constant rumblings and speculation hopefully are not brewing tension between Tkachuk and management. Tkachuk declined to divulge details but did mention he and Treliving debriefed on the eve of the Eichel trade and that things were “all good.”
Regardless of the Eichel situation, the Flames are nearing a crossroads. Do they convince Gaudreau and Tkachuk to stay and make more moves at the deadline or offseason to push the team further into a window of contention? The alternatives are either to continue to cling to the current group and hope coach Sutter can push them to playoff success or begin to move in a new direction and move on from core players. The time is coming for Treliving to make big decisions and answer lingering questions.
Michael Wilson is a born and raised Calgarian covering the Flames for THW.