BOCA RATON, Fla. â€” No matter how many times Brad Treliving told Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan not to worry about their big, shiny new contracts, the Calgary Flames general manager still sensed a burden affecting the franchise’s two cornerstones.
“You can talk to people until they’re blue in the face,” Treliving said. “They’re competitive guys and they care a whole bunch. So no matter what I say there always is pressure.”
After a slowish start to the season the Flames dynamic duo has turned things around, surging during Calgary’s sizzling 12-2-1 streak â€” one that’s solidified their playoff standing in the Western Conference. Gaudreau has 15 points during the 15-game run, and Monahan scored six times and added seven assists while winning almost 54 per cent of his draws.
Monahan signed a seven-year deal worth more than US$44 million in mid-August, Gaudreau locked in for six years and more than $40 million almost two months later.
Whether it was the pressure of those new deals, an adjustment period under a new coaching staff or racing to catch up after missing training camp â€” Monahan with a back injury, Gaudreau because of a contract dispute â€” neither player burst out of the gate.
Monahan, who registered a career-high 63 points last season, had only five goals and eight points after 24 games, failing to register his first assist until the 14th game. Gaudreau was a touch better with 11 points in his first 17 games, a far cry, however, from the career-best 78 point-pace of one year earlier â€” tied for sixth best overall.
“We signed you to these (contracts) because we believe in you and you don’t need to be any different,” Treliving said he kept insisting to both players. “It’s because of what you’ve done and what we know you’re going to do going forward.
“But when you care and you’re competitive and you want do well it’s natural (to feel pressure),” Treliving said. “And you’re young and you think, ‘Oh gosh. A big commitment’s been made there’s always that feeling I’ve got to live up to it.'”
Treliving couldn’t point to any “aha” moment when it clicked into gear for either player, noting that both were still young and vulnerable to ebbs and flows in performance. Monahan won’t turn 23 until October, while Gaudreau is due to celebrate his 24th birthday on Aug. 13.
“I’ve got to remind everyone sometimes how young they are,” Treliving said during a break at the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.
“You still circle their names before games,” he said in an earlier conversation. “They get heavy matchups and they’re still young players. They’re finding their way of being top young players on a team. There’s lots of responsibility that goes with it. There’s lots of attention, in terms of game-planning by other teams. And they’re finding their way through it. They’re going to be just fine.
“They’re going to be just fine,” repeated Treliving once more for emphasis.
Treliving contends that the Flames recent run is fueled by “belief”, one that took time to develop under first-year head coach Glen Gulutzan. Calgary was an up-and-down outfit during the first half, their new goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson failing to deliver stability following a season that saw four goaltenders suit up in mediocrity.
It was just before the club went on this impressive run â€” which has seen it outscore the opposition 47-35 â€” that Gulutzan blasted his team, describing their effort in a loss to Montreal as “pathetic”.
Beyond increased production from Gaudreau and Monahan and continued effectiveness from the line of Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, is a real spike in effectiveness from Elliott. The 31-year-old is 10-1-1 since Jan. 26 with a .927 save percentage and .934 clip at even-strength.
Elliott had a .893 save percentage in 23 games previous with an ugly .903 showing at even-strength.
“I think there’s a real belief,” Treliving said of his club’s performance. “And it’s sort of the chicken or the egg. If you have some success it builds belief. Do you build belief before you have some success? We’ve got a group that believes in each other right now and is having some success because of it.”
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press