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Unsatisfied: Flames GM’s Work Just Getting Started

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They exceeded their minimum goal, but few members within the Calgary Flames organization are viewing the 2021-22 season as a success.

And that’s fine. Satisfaction is death in professional sports.

But Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said it best in the minutes following their crushing NHL playoff exit. The players were still wiping tears from their faces after an emotional overtime loss in their Round Two elimination game against the Edmonton Oilers when Sutter closed his podium interview.

What do you say to this group of guys after a loss like that?

“Get your chin up and your chest out and walk out proud,” Sutter said. “Did a hell of a lot more than anybody said they’d do, to be quite honest. The team that beat us was a favourite coming into the year and we weren’t even close. So (they) did a good job.

“Sure they’re disappointed but that’s this division, against those guys.”

To be clear, the Calgary Flames head coach is addressing the big picture. The Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights were considered the teams to beat in the Pacific Division coming into the year. And after missing the playoffs altogether last spring, the Calgary Flames were on nobody’s radar to win it.

Likely not even their own.

They set a goal to make the playoffs. That’s where it started.

“We made that goal so it wasn’t a complete failure,” Matthew Tkachuk said Saturday while reflecting on the season. “But at the end of the day, we’re sitting here and talking to you and there’s still a few teams playing, so it’s not a success either.”

That’s the thing about goals. Once you reach one, there’s already another one set. The Calgary Flames made the playoffs, then had their sights set on the division. They’ll hang that banner next season – but that’s not the banner that became their ultimate goal.

“I think everybody that’s having an exit meeting like this and not in the locker-room cheering and drinks and celebrating, they’re not thinking of it as a success,” said goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

“It’s a step in the right direction if you look from the previous year. If you look at the group and myself, I think we took some steps in the right direction. But I think it’s a sour taste and people are going to be hungry to come back next year.”

Enter Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving – the guy who must figure out who and how to bring the right players back.

Treliving said Saturday there’s “an empty feeling” because he felt his team had more to offer and never played the game that got them there once they made it to the second round.

“It was a hell of a regular season. I think our team took a step in our first round. It was a tight series, we had to overcome some things – we were behind in the series and (experienced) some things that, quite frankly, this group hasn’t done. We played a Game 7 and found a way to win a Game 7. So, there’s certainly some things you can look back to and be proud of as the group,” Treliving said. “There’s an empty feeling today because I think there was more there. I look at that series and the team that played the best won the series. I think you have to acknowledge that. What’s empty for me is I don’t think we put our game on the ice.”

Feeling like the team is close, the onus is back in his hands. Johnny Gaudreau (UFA) and Matthew Tkachuk (RFA) are about to become free agents. So is 35-goal-scorer Andrew Mangiapane (RFA) and arguably the most improved Flames player Oliver Kylington (RFA). They all need raises to stay.

Most of the bottom six forwards and the five/six defence pairing of Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov are unrestricted.

Prioritizing the top four will certainly mean the end for a few others. Sean Monahan has a huge cap hit and his injuries have prevented anywhere near an adequate return on investment in recent years. Milan Lucic provides an element they need but his cap hit may also need to be sacrificed to make everything else work.

“Every contract is intertwined,” Treliving said. “At the end of the day, you live in a cap world where you’ve got 23 mouths to feed. You treat everybody fairly, but not everybody gets treated the same. Or they’d all make the same. It’s a puzzle.”

Every year, only one NHL ultimately has a puzzle that’s complete.

And, boy, is it a tough one to figure out.

“There’s 31 other selfish buggers out there that are trying to win, too. It’s a pretty competitive business, right? The fact that we have people need new contracts that are top players, that’s always a challenge,” Treliving said when asked if this will be his most challenging offseason to date. “But there were challenges a year ago. Last year, we sat here and we were going through expansion draft and we had to make a difficult decision with our captain, right? There’s going to be challenges a year from now. That’s just the nature of the business.

“You just put your head down, you pick away at each file and you try and make your team better every year. That’s my job.”

An important one, but not an enviable one.

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