Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fantasy Island: Flames GM Explains Why Trades Are More Difficult Than You Think

In pulling off three deals in a span of just over 24 hours, Chicago general manager Stan Bowman is making trading in the NHL look easy.

But it's not, insists Brad Treliving, who spent some time with me recently to explain the nuances and many challenges involved in consummating a deal.

"I call it Fantasy Island. Well let's just go get this guy and this guy and that guy. Whether those players are even available is one thing. Then what is the cost of them," says the Flames GM.

"People say let's go out and make a bunch of trades. But there's more to it than that. First, you need to have a willing partner. Then, what you want they may not want to give up, and what you are looking to part with, they may not like, want or be able to afford."

Roadblock No. 1 - Salaries and/or the Salary Cap

Treliving says the many unknowns such as how much you're going to be able to spend on payroll from one season to the next complicates things.

"It's like setting up a family budget," he explains. "You say, 'Kids, we don't necessarily know what the costs are going to be but we're going to make some decisions.' The child says, 'OK, I'm going to get an allowance of X, I don't know what it is yet but I'm going to go out and plan on what I'm going to spend next year. Then you realize you were expecting $10 and Dad only gave you $4."

Sure, they have some idea what the salary cap will move to, but it's a moving target.

"You plan and you run different models of what you think the cap is going to be but you also have the variance in the world markets right now when you look at where the dollar is at and how that's going to impact you," says Treliving. "There's a whole bunch of different variables you have to consider."

Option to Retain Salary

"The process of making a deal. It starts, first and foremost, in finding fits," says Treliving. "I'm looking for X so you have to go find an X that someone is willing to part with. Inevitably, if you want X and they want Y, are you prepared to part with Y?"

Agreement at that point is just the start. The money changing hands is the next thing to sort out.

"For instance. You have player X, I have player Y, we like the fit, but oh yeah, by the way, now there's the financial component. You're either a cap or a budget team and you want to trade me X or I want to trade you Y but in terms of dollars, we can't do that. So to make it work, you have to take back this contract, but I can't take that one. It's finding the fits both from a playing standpoint, roster standpoint, positional standpoint, but it also has got to fit financially."

Where shrewdly managing the dollars and cents is key is around the option to retain salary. As part of the CBA, a team is allowed to retain up to half of a traded player's salary over the duration of their contract. A team can do this for up to three players.

For example, Dennis Wideman's five-year/$26.25M deal works out to an annual average value of $5.25M. To make a deal to a cap-strapped contender more feasible, Calgary could retain up to $2.625M for this year (pro-rated) and next.

"It all goes into the equation. If there is a deal you're looking at and you have to retain. How much, for how long, and how does that impact your overall structure?"

Roadblock No. 2 - Waiting for the Dominoes to Fall

One of the more frustrating trade deadlines for Flames fans recently was two years ago and the Mike Cammalleri deal that almost everyone expected but never came to fruition.

Now there were a lot of contributing factors in this example. For one, there was Cammalleri going ice cold before the trade deadline.

At Christmas, Cammalleri led the team with 12 goals in 29 games. He had 20 points, which was second on the team to Jiri Hudler. Then his hands turned to stone as he amassed just one goal and no helpers in the next 15 games leading up to the trade deadline.

Of course, after the trade deadline passed, he heated up again with 12 goals and 23 points over the final 19 games.

Waiting for Vanek

Another factor was how long it took Thomas Vanek to get dealt. Arguably the top winger available that year, Vanek didn't get moved from the New York Islanders to the Montreal Canadiens until just before the deadline.

"I remember that deadline quite well. I was in Phoenix and it was an odd deadline in the sense that there were a couple of potential bigger things going on for players that a number of teams were in on that held up the market," recalls Treliving.

Given how late the Vanek deal closed, it left teams that missed out on him very little time to re-group, turn to Plan B or C and pull off a deal for a winger in that next tier below -- such as Cammalleri.

"Teams were likely saying we've got interest in Mike, but we're in on something else but if that doesn't happen... But then when they found out it didn't happen, the clock is already striking midnight."

What bodes well for the Flames is the early trade of Andrew Ladd this year. Considered the No. 1 winger on the market. Because he's no longer available and with that deal completed over 72 hours before the deadline, teams that were chasing Ladd now have plenty of time to reset and turn their focus to other winger options such as Loui Eriksson, Mikkel Boedker and the Flames Jiri Hudler.

Roadblock No. 3 - Limited Markdown

There are also some common business best practices that enter the equation when you've got something for sale.

"You have to maintain price standards," says Treliving. "If you go to a store and you want a new pair of shoes and they're $10 but you know that if you wait until 11 o'clock, they'll give them away for $1, you're probably not going to buy them at $10."

You can bet that's what happened with Cammalleri. Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, interim GM at the time, set a price tag for his top trade chip and for the benefit of future dealings, wasn't going to just cave in and accept a fifth or sixth round pick for him at the 11th hour.

"That's played a large role in how we have done business moving forward," says Treliving. "We're going to be an organization that stands by what we're looking for."

All Eyes on the New Guy

A consistent approach is especially important for Treliving, still relatively new in his role as an NHL GM and still building his reputation.

"You need to establish the manner in which you do business. With each day or year that goes by that you're dealing with the other managers, you become more familiar with how people do business," he says. "If you say, no matter what, we're going to do business a certain way and we feel the market for player X is this and you stand by it, if someone feels at the end of the day that I just have to wait him out, you have to have a history of saying you know what, no, I'm asking for this.

"If you say this is what I'm prepared to do and we're going to stand strong with that. If your actions are such, people will take notice and your word will have that much more volume with each year that goes by."

That said, Treliving recognizes that there is a balance.

"Now, you also have to do what you feel is best for the organization. You can't be too stubborn. If you ask my wife, she'll say there's some stubbornness with me. So you also have to know when it's time to move."

Sticking with the Plan

Bottom line, know that Treliving knows where his team is at. It's become strikingly obvious now but even a couple weeks back when we chatted when the Flames weren't so far out, the direction was still clear.

"You understand where we're at. We are very clear in that our goal is to be to be a playoff team this year. But we are not about to start throwing out young assets at the trade deadline," said Treliving. "We're not about to start handing out first round picks and those types of things for short term gain. That's just not happening."

With the trade deadline 48 hours away and the Flames in possession of some of the higher profile pending UFAs still remaining, it sets up to be an interesting next couple of days. While the conditions seem ideal for Calgary to move out players like Hudler and Kris Russell, should only one of them get dealt, know that there's way more to why that may have happened than meets the eye.

"It should be fun," adds Treliving in closing.

No kidding, fun for all of us.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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