December 29 2010 09:06AM
While it's uncertain Jay Feaster will ultimately be the guy to take over the Flames in the wake of Darryl Sutter, at the very least he is the custodian left in charge of the club for the remainder of this season. Here's some background on the cat that will be minding the store for the next few months (and perhaps indefinitely).
Feaster is an odd duck in the NHL managerial game in that he doesn't come from a hockey background. A young lawyer in Harrisburg, he stumbled upon hockey management when he was assigned to deal with the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company. Parent corp to the AHL Hersehy Bears, Feaster leveraged his contact through Hershey Entertainment to become the assistant to the team's president before eventually being named the club's GM in 1990. Feaster spent almost a decade with the Bears and was named the AHL's executive of the year in 1997, the same season the team won the Calder Cup.
Feaster moved up the ladder soon after, joining the Lightning as their assistant GM in 1998 before eventually replacing Rick Dudley in 2002. Tampa Bay would peak during Feaster's tenure, winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 before stumbling back down to the depths of the Eastern Conference soon after. The team's flagging fortunes plus the onset of the ill-fated Len Barrie/Oren Koules ownership led to Feaster's resignation in 2008.
I recently contacted John Fontana of the SBN blog Raw Charge to provide insight on Feaster's tenure in Tampa Bay. Here are some of his responses to my inquiries:
1.) Feaster was Tampa's GM during their Stanley Cup winning season. To what degree was he responsible for that roster?
Jay, while involved with the Bolts for a while but not in the capacity of GM, was more responsible for finishing touches with the roster than building the entire team. The core forwards (Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Fredrik Modin, Dave Andreychuk, Tim Taylor) had all been brought in by other GM’s through the draft or free agency. Other bit players on offense too (Ben Clymer, martin Cibak, Dimitry Afanasenkov). That’s just offense. It was Rick Dudley who brought in Nikolai Khabibulin, it was former GM/head coach Jacques Demers that had secured Corey Sarich. And Jassen Cullimore. It was final pieces that Jay secured – Brad Lukowich and Ruslan Fedotenko (2002 entry draft trades), signing Corey Stillman (2003 off-season), trading for Darryl Sydor (2003-04 season) that. The media gives Jay tons of credit for building the team… And yet it’s misplaced. He did help put the team over the top, but he was not the grand architect.
2.) Tampa didn't stay on top for long. What hand did Jay have in their fall from grace?
I’m going to say one name, which started the dominoes falling: Nikolai Khabibulin. When Nikolai Khabibulin got offered more money in Chicago, Jay was screwed. The goaltender he had brought int o back up Khabby (John Grahame) was suddenly the #1 netminder… And from that point forward there were miscalculations on how to solve goaltending issues with the Lightning every time someone didn’t pan out. Grahame was inconsistent – maddeningly so. He was backed up by elder Sean Burke. The Bolts went out to acquire a potential #1 netminder in Marc Denis, and that became a disaster of grand proportions.
Not only did Denis not pan out, but they broke up one of their two scoring lines (by trading Modin to Columbus in the deal) in order to acquire him. They spent a #1 draft pick on Riku Helenius – who hasn’t developed into an NHL netminder, let alone the #1 that was projected of him at the draft in 2006. And then there’s the Brad Richards trade – for Mike Smith. Feaster kept betting high on players, and kept robbing his own team in order to cover the bet (“THIS is the goalie that will work out for us!” ). All the while, the franchise was bringing in quality talent that worked out to replace players that were jettisoned in order to obtain a new goalie. Basically, that’s what I see as the downfall of the Lightning: Feaster consistently gambled and lost.
3.) Feaster had some doozy trades by the end of his tenure: Richards for junk and Dan Boyle to the Sharks. How would you grade his overall trade resume?
While Feaster may not have resigned yet by the time the Boyle trade went down, this was a move done by Len Barrie. I talked about the Marc Denis trade above – Denis for Fredrik Modin and Fredrik Norrena. It robbed the Bolts. But at the same time, Feaster pulled off some trades that worked out (Ruslan Fedotenko and Brad Lukowich, the Darryl Sydor for Alexander Svitov deal; Kevin Weekes to Carolina for Chris DIngman and Shane Willis). Yet, those two haunting trades are for goalies that robbed the Bolts – Richards and Johan Holmqvist (who was serviceable, if not stellar) for Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern. That was just painful to endure. And with Smith’s issues… It’s painful to reminisce about.
I’d give him a C - Dingman, Lukowich, Fedotenko, Sydor were all part of the cup team…but those monstrosity trades for so-so goalies just have had a longer, more negative effect on the club.
4.) How was the Bolts drafting under Feaster's tenure?
Please… Don’t make me recall! Please don’t make me recall!
Well, Feaster did spend two very high draft picks on former Calgary Hitmen (Mike Egener in 2003 and Andy Rogers in 2004), but honestly, aside from temporary dividends, and good results from his last two draft classes… well, his drafting left a lot to be desired.
Besides Stamkos, Airdrie native Dana Tyrell and other former WHL players, I don’t know if any of Feaster’s picks truly stand out.
5.) How would you grade Feaster during his time there?
I’m blunt in judging Jay. While others (fans and media) had a relationship with Jay (talking with the guy and discussing moves), I wasn’t in on the conversation. What I saw was a capable executive who was good at contracts and good at accounting, but someone who did not have the proper scouting staff around him. He did not seem committed to long term development because it would cost his NHL roster.
I’d rank him a C. The downfall of the team in 2007-08 was helped along greatly by the sale of the Bolts. Feaster’s hands were tied while ownership was in flux. He lost control when OK (not really) Hockey took over the team and resigned.
The Flames future under Jay really depends on who he is surrounded by. I thought he was too loyal to a scouting staff that was laying goose eggs. And even with poor draft selections, there was just not enough support for player development. If Jay does not want to upset the status quo in Calgary, then there will be problems. Minor changes will not correct deeper organizational personnel issues .
Feaster's resume is good from some angles, less so from others. He has a background in legal contract negotiation - something many NHL execs lack - and is on record as not being a fan of no-trade and no-movement clauses. The Lightning enjoyed a brief spurt of dominance during his reign as well, winning the SE division twice and the ultimate prize over the Flames before the lock-out.
On the other hand, the club quickly fell off a cliff after they peaked in '04 and Feaster was unable to contain the slide. I'm also dubious about his ability to assess hockey theory and strategy thanks to many of the articles he penned during a two-year stint at the Hockey News. My less than enthusiastic response to his addition to the organization in the summer was due in no small part to the fact that Feaster:
- Panned the Dany Heatley trade for the Sharks because Heater isn't "a team player" (at the same time, declaring Bryan Murray a front-runner for "executive of the year". Seriously).
- Congratulating himself for not acquiring Tomas Vokoun because he just isn't "clutch". Remember, John mentions above that Feaster's inability to adequately fill the goaltending void was a major part of the team's downfall post-championship.
- Talked about "building from the net out" after his installation as the Flames assistant GM. As Flames fans have come to realize, "defense wins championships" is no longer an iron law in the modern NHL.
If you'll follow the links above, you'll find the issue isn't necessarily that I fundamentally disagree with on his various points (which I do), but because the reasoning behind them is so...facile. His article on Vokoun, for example, was written five games into the season. He concluded that Vokoun was "carried by his back-ups and would have to be again...this time by Scott Clemmensen". It was a laughable contention, not only because of Vokoun's lengthy history as a quality netminder behind mediocre clubs, but also because of a miniscule five-game sample size. His talk about team chemistry and grit and heart and various other cliches in respect to the Heatley trade was equally trite, messageboard fodder.
I can't be certain that Feaster wasn't simply writing under certain editorial restraints and for an assumed audience. His articles for THN were frequently "safe", trading in cliche and common vernacular rather than offering true insight. A lawyer with nearly two decades in the business of managing professional hockey teams, it's hard to believe the bilge he produced during his time in the media is the bredth and depth of his knowledge. Here's hoping it isn't at the very least.
Overall, I'm lukewarm on Feaster. His legal background in contract negotiation and such is a plus and he did win a championship. On the other hand, the cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning were mostly assembled by others and the club rapidly declined post-lock-out under his watch. His public pronouncements on the strategy of hockey also left a lot to be desired, although they likely aren't the full measure of his thoughts on the subject.
Feaster is bound to get some time and leeway this season to sketch out a plan for the club going forward as well as make some moves to that end. His actions from now to April will go a lot further in telling us whether he's the right guy for the job or not.