Flames recent college signings don’t signal makeover, GM says

The Flames signed free-agent defensemen Connor Mackey from Minnesota State University-Mankato and Colton Poolman from University of North Dakota to one-year contracts March 20.

They have five defensemen — TJ Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson and Michael Stone — that can each become an unrestricted free agent after this season and another — Oliver Kylington – that can become a restricted free agent.

“We know our contractual situation,” Treliving said. “We look at it more like these were two young defensemen we could add to our group and we’ll see how it sorts out. Us signing these two guys doesn’t mean all our UFAs are gone. They go into the mix and they’re young guys we think have a chance and you can never have too many defensemen. They’re hard to find so you try to find as many as you can.”

Among their defensemen, the Flames have captain Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson signed for next season. Highly regarded 21-year-old Juuso Valimaki, who has missed the entire regular season after knee surgery, is also signed for next season.

Mackey and Poolman add depth to the pool of defensemen.

“The advantage of these signings, as everybody knows, is that it doesn’t cost you an asset and they’re also mature players,” he said. “They’re not 18- or 19-year-old kids. They’re physically developed, socially developed.

“With Connor, we think he’s got a chance to challenge as early as next year. He’s a big man, moves really well, thinks the game and sort of does everything well. Colton, he’s a two-year captain in North Dakota and his character is off the charts. Mature physically and again, I think they’ve got a real chance.”

Mackey, 23, had 61 points (18 goals, 43 assists) in 118 games during three seasons with Minnesota State. Poolman, 24, had 75 points (18 goals, 57 assists) in 146 games in four seasons with North Dakota.

 

[RELATED: College free agents signing with NHL teams | Season Snapshot stories]

 

Their signings have been the one bit of business as usual for the Flames while they and the entire NHL are in a pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Treliving said he’s had very little time for reflection on the first 70 games of the regular season. Nor has he had any chance to revisit the status of coach Geoff Ward, who replaced Bill Peters in late November when Peters resigned after he admitted he used racial epithets in the past.

“That’s on the [to-do] list,” Treliving said. “When Geoff took over, I said to him until further notice you’re in charge and the plan is to put all our focus into this year and get the team to the level we think it’s capable of.

“And now everything just stops. So, there’s a bunch of things that fall into this category, things you’ll have to address. We’re still focusing on hopefully us getting back and playing at some point. I think Geoff’s done a really good job under chaotic and unique circumstances.”

The Flames are 36-27-7 at the pause, third in the Pacific Division, four points behind the second-place Edmonton Oilers.

Treliving said that he’s spent most of his time during the pause trying to make sure players and staff are safe and settled and trying to keep the organizational communication lines open.

“This has been like doing a 100-yard dash in an 80-yard gym,” he said. “You’ve been kind of dealing with the day-to-day things, the personal side of looking after your family and making sure everything’s good there and then looking after your group.

“For us, we’re trying to keep our players and staff updated on a daily basis on what’s going on and there’s not a lot there. I find it’s tense for everybody and we understand the enormity of it, but we’ve tried to get into our little cocoon and try to keep information flowing.”

Treliving said he senses plenty of anxiety within the organization and the community in general, the product of all the uncertainty.

“When you’re uncertain, it goes from frustration to anxiety to fear to excitement, all sorts of things,” he said. “Everybody recognizes and we understand this is bigger than us.

“We’re trying to keep our bodies and our minds active. And in times like this, it’s important to be active for mental health, too, to keep yourself sane a little bit. The biggest question is just the uncertainty, about playing, contracts, the regular season, the playoffs. And you find yourself saying, ‘I don’t know,’ a lot but sometimes just talking, or texting or sending a regular update … sometimes the answer ‘We don’t know yet but it’s getting worked on,’ keeps them up to speed as much as possible.”

Treliving said that he’s trying to set aside a little time for himself each afternoon to watch some video, of past games, current players including possible free agents, and of prospects.

More time at home in Calgary with his wife Julie and daughters Ryann, 17, and Reese, 13, has led to some new dynamics.

“Everything’s good,” he said with a laugh. “After about two days of having me around more, I’ve enacted my own social distancing. Lot of weird looks and sometimes two or three of them congregating. I’ve lost a lot of 3-1 votes in the house.”

He said everyone at home and at the Flames offices is trying to keep a focus on bigger issues.

“That’s our community,” he said. “It’s easy to lead when the waters are calm. In times like this, leadership is required. We believe we need to provide that kind of leadership and set an example and No. 1 is caring for everybody. That’s the most important thing.

“This has caught all of us off guard, but you’ve got to provide hope that let’s just stay the course here and follow directions, everybody do their part and we’ll get through this. But we’re certainly thinking of everybody going through a difficult time, some more than others.”

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