So much for waiting until the playoffs for the Calgary Flames to demonstrate they have some pushback in them.
Brad Treliving went on the offensive Thursday, hosting a hastily-called online availability to address chatter he felt the need to dispel.
In particular, the Flames general manager wanted to defend Johnny Gaudreau, who some national observers have speculated arrived in camp out of shape.
“Johnny Gaudreau has never looked better,” said Treliving, whose club has been the subject of endless conspiracies due to their odd training camp groups, which have separated players like Gaudreau, Milan Lucic, Andrew Mangiapane and Cam Talbot into a group of nine, far from the main group of 23.
“For us to focus on one guy is completely unfair. I can’t speak highly enough about the work he’s put in. He’s absolutely flying out there. He’s in a great frame of mind. I’m totally ecstatic (about) where Johnny Gaudreau is.”
Where he is, is far from linemates Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm, who have shrugged off the notion they’re missing valuable time to build chemistry as a trio.
Gaudreau said the same Thursday, pointing out he and Monahan have played together his entire NHL career.
Still, Treliving felt the need to address a less than ideal situation exacerbated by the league’s mandated rules prohibiting clubs from elaborating on absences from camp. The Flames refuse to discuss the circumstances that forced them to change groupings a week before camp.
“I know you’re not getting all the info you normally would, but I would caution everyone speculating in this environment,” Treliving said.
“The groupings we have today on the ice are 100 per cent not conditioning issues or because anyone is in trouble or done anything wrong. Quite the contrary. We couldn’t be more happy with the conditioning levels they came to camp in.
“Rumours are part of the business, and we don’t address every one of them, but it’s gotten to the point where I felt I need to defend my players.”
Not a bad idea at a time when team-building of any sort is needed.
Gaudreau would have entered camp with the spotlight on him anyway, given how ineffective he was each of the Flames’ last two playoff series, in which he’s accrued three assists in nine games.
A poor series by the Flames top line of Monahan, Lindholm and Gaudreau, like last playoffs, would likely mean the Winnipeg Jets will make quick work of the Flames in their best-of-five play-in starting Aug. 1.
“I guess we’ve been off sports for a while, so when a reporter gets some buzz they try to run with it,” said Gaudreau, who added he doesn’t pay much attention to media reports.
“As long as I’m prepared and ready to go. I know I will be. I’ve never not been prepared for the start of a season. I feel good, I feel fresh. I did a good job keeping up with exercising and eating well, and the other things away from the ice. I’m excited about being in a group of nine because I’m getting lots of reps, which will help us in the long run.”
Never known for his fitness levels, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger said he bought a Peloton bike the first week of the pandemic-induced pause and did daily rollerblades and bike rides with his folks and girlfriend.
One thing he didn’t do was cut his hair, which brought quite a smile when asked if he was indeed sporting a man bun.
“There haven’t been barber shops open in New Jersey – it’s been terrible,” Gaudreau said with a laugh. He isn’t legally permitted to go anywhere in Calgary other than the rink and his home, due to Canadian quarantine rules.
“My niece is four or five years old – she dyed her hair blue and so she wanted to dye mine blue. It didn’t come out blue, it came out bleached, and now it’s yellow, and now I don’t know what to do. It has been a wild three months at home at the Gaudreau house. I need a barbershop to open up and I need this quarantine to end to get out of my condo and get a fresh cut.”
Treliving and coach Geoff Ward have said the groups will look a lot more normal soon, paving the way for intrasquad games as early as Sunday (the team is likely off Saturday).
“We have a pretty good idea, but I don’t want to say ‘this date’ and for whatever reason it’s not, and then the speculation runs rampant again,” said Treliving, whose team has missed Dillon Dube and Buddy Robinson since the start of camp, and skated without Derek Ryan and Mikael Backlund on Thursday.
“We’re probably being overcautious. In today’s world we’re being cautious and letting safety rule the day and leaning on our medical professionals. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do. I’m not the least concerned we’re behind. The joke is already going that Team B is going to be skating circles around Team A when they get together.”