• Elite Hockey Experience
 

Visiting the Office Of...Travis Fleming

2019-02-07

  

Welcome to another edition of "Visiting the Office Of...", an interview series brought to you by the Elite Hockey Experience.

This time around, we'e going in-depth with Travis Fleming, GM of the Vancouver Canucks.

Enjoy!


When did you join the Elite Hockey Experience, Travis?

I joined in March 2016, just a few weeks before the trade deadline in season 2. 

Before you were hired, the Canucks had already had two general managers in less than two seasons. What was the state of the team when you took over?

The Canucks were in a precarious position at the time of my hiring. They were just outside the playoffs, so I needed to decide whether I was going to make a push for the postseason, or tear it down and rebuild. 

The team also had a large number of quality centres, but virtually no wingers. If I recall correctly, my best winger was Erik Cole, so if I had any hope of reaching the playoffs I knew I'd need to find a way to resolve that.

Ultimately, I decided that since the team was just a few points out of the playoffs it was silly to give up and tear it down. I had some solid pieces in Ryan O'Reilly, Shea Weber, John Carlson, and Tuukka Rask, so I knew if I added the right players I could make the team a contender.

Overall, how did your first season go in the GM's chair?

My first season went very well all things considered.

Like I said, when I took over the team they were outside the playoffs and had some serious holes. Before the trade deadline I addressed the lack of wingers by dealing Alexei Emelin for Kris Versteeg and trading a large package of youth that included Nick Ritchie, Anthony Beauvillier, and my first round pick for Max Pacioretty. 

The moves paid off in a big way. The team went on a tear and I ended up finishing third in the Pacific, easily making the playoffs. I then pulled off a couple upsets over Arizona and LA to make the Conference Finals. I wasn't able to get past the Dallas Stars, but considering where the team was when I started I was more than happy with where I finished.

The next year the Canucks again made a run to the Conference Finals, but unfortunately bowed out in yet another tight series. What kept your team from getting to the big dance in two consecutive seasons?

Honestly, both seasons I just ran into better teams.

In my first year the team kind of overachieved a little bit. Something clicked after the Pacioretty deal and the team just started playing amazing. But then I ran into the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Stars were one of the deepest and strongest teams ever assembled in the EHE, and I just didn't have the firepower to compete with them.

The same was true in the second year. I had made a lot of improvements, adding guys like Ovechkin and Parise. But unfortunately, I ran into a ridiculously good Colorado team in the Conference Finals. Kirklan had come in that year and really took that team to another level. My team was good, but he just had a much deeper roster than me and I couldn't overcome it.

After coming so close in 2016 and 2017, you initiated an extensive rebuild last year. What made you decide that a full-blown youth movement was the best option?

I had always planned to rebuild after last season. With so many of my players going to free agency there was no way I could keep that team together. I always knew I had a three-year window when I took over. I had also really depleted my prospect pool and knew I couldn't get away with that forever.

So was there a specific problem with the team that you thought couldn’t be fixed through trades and free agency?

I honestly don't know what the issue was with my team last year. They weren't quite as good as my team from the previous season, but they still should have been a playoff team. If I had to guess, I'd say I had too many scorers and not enough passers. But who knows, the sim is a strange beast. Sometimes a combination of players works, and sometimes it doesn't.

At the halfway point my team was way out of a playoff spot and I had a hard decision to make. I could either hold on to my players and keep trying for the playoffs, which meant I'd likely lose them for nothing. Or I could call it quits and get what I could for them. I knew the smart choice was the latter, so I made the tough decision to throw in the towel.

Was there one particular player it really killed you to move during the roster teardown? 

Probably O'Reilly. Despite his modest ratings he had always been a beast for me.

Overall though, I enjoyed the process. It was kind of a new beginning for the team and I was ready to change the look of the franchise.

Obviously you would have known that rebuilding was a long-term commitment, but a few months ago you also conceded that you’re "a ‘win now’ kind of guy." Does it make you a little itchy to watch your youngsters go through some growing pains?

Seeing my team consistently out of the playoffs has definitely been tough. I've never entered a season without the goal of making the playoffs, so it's been quite different. That being said, I have a plan in place and I know if I'm patient and stick to it I'll be rewarded.

So, enough about the downsides of a rebuild. What are you most excited about when looking at the stable of young talent in Vancouver?

Nico Hischier, Alex Debrincat, and Sam Reinhart are definitely the most exciting young players currently on the roster. They should be an integral part of the Canucks' offence for some time.

I'm also really excited about the way Ty Smith and Barrett Hayton are performing with their junior teams. I think both of those guys have a real shot at making the NHL next season.

Another highlight must have been the four first-round picks you accumulated for the 2018 draft – was making all those selections as satisfying as it sounds?

Absolutely. I think in my entire sim hockey career I've only ever made one other first round pick, so it was extremely exciting to have four. I've never scouted prospects so much in my life. I really had my eye on Hayton, Smith, and Joe Veleno, and I managed to get all three so it was a good day. Definitely one of the best experiences I've ever had in sim hockey.

Switching gears, I wanted to ask about the Utica Comets: They've consistently been a respectable team under your watch, but have never broken through into the elite of the AHL Is it a priority for you to get the Comets to another level? 

I always do my best to ice a good AHL roster, but winning an AHL championship has never been a top priority. That being said, through good drafting and trades the Comets have greatly improved from when I first took them over.

With my NHL team unlikely to contend for the playoffs I was actually looking forward to a good season from the Comets. Unfortunately, so far they've really underperformed. So maybe I'll look to make some trades to shake things up. It would be a big disappointment if BOTH my teams failed to make the postseason.

Over your time in the league, which trade have you pulled off that you're most proud of?

I've made a lot of solid deals during my during my time in the EHE, but the most satisfying has to be the trade for Ovechkin.

The trade was essentially Cam Atkinson and Adam Henrique for Ovechkin. Atkinson has gone on to become a star in his own right, and Henrique is still a solid player, so it's not like it was a steal or anything. But any time you can get a guy like Ovechkin, who's a future hall of famer and possibly the best goal scorer of all time, it's a big deal. I had assembled a good team at that point, but Ovie put me over the top and made me a true Cup contender.

Any trades you wish you could take back?

Absolutely.

It was a minor deal at the time, but last season I traded Erik Gustafsson for Christoph Bertschy. I had written off Gustafsson as a full-time NHLer and was just looking to shore up my AHL forward depth. Of course, Gustafsson quickly proved me wrong, playing nearly half the season with the Blackhawks last year and becoming a fixture on their blueline this season with 30 points so far. Meanwhile, Bertschy returned to Europe and is likely out of the league for good. So, that was a definite blunder.

Also, in hindsight, I probably should have gotten more for John Carlson. At the time, a 1st, Adam Gaudette, and Jake McCabe seemed like a good haul. Carlson was having an awesome season, but I thought it was an aberration and he wouldn't be able to repeat it. I also thought NYR's pick would be fairly high. In the end, the pick ended up being a mid-rounder and Carlson could very well win the Norris this year.

Ironically, both those deals were with the Rangers, so you're welcome Martins.

What advice would you give to a GM just starting out in the EHE?

Have a plan and stick to it. Whether you're going for the Cup or rebuilding, make sure you know the path you're going to take to achieve your goals and don't deviate from it. Sure, someone might be offering you good value for one of your assets, but does it fit into the overall plan for your team? Consider this before making any moves. Sometimes the moves you don't make are just important as the ones you do.

As always, we'll finish off by looking into the future: Where do you see the Canucks three years from now? Can they be a Cup contender again in such a short time?

The Canucks better be a contender in three years, otherwise I'll consider this rebuild a massive failure.

Previous entries in the series;

Duran Size, Montreal Canadiens (January 2019)

Cisco Valle, Detroit Red Wings (January 2019)

Shaun Stephens, St. Louis Blues (December 2018)




Martins Auzins

Thanks for those deals, Travis!

Visiting the Office Of...Travis Fleming

• 2 teams Like this  13 days
Travis Fleming Lol, it's just business. No one is safe if the deal is right.
13 days  2 teams Like this