VOICE OF THE NATION - IS THAT WHITE SMOKE?

Vintage Flame
May 28 2012 02:12PM

 

Love him or hate him, there is little denying that the President of the Calgary Flames is a busy man these days. Many would say that Ken King had his hands full with running not just the Flames but also the Calgary Hitmen and the recently salvaged lacrosse team, the Calgary Roughnecks. But when you add to all that the organization’s rather sudden majority purchase of the Calgary Stampeders football club, one can only speculate how KK decides which hat to wear in the morning.

I talked previously about the problems that Jay Feaster had to deal with and the hurdles he has to overcome if he ever wanted to make his mark and really make the team his. That main hurdle has always been perceived as being Ken King. So what hurdles does the hurdle face?

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING

Since joining the organization in 2001, Ken King has had one task, make the team, and the organization, profitable. He has done a good job at it too. When he took the reins in 2001, the Flames were worth $92 million dollars; as of this year, they are worth $220 million and sit 13th in the NHL rankings. They are also third in the league for debt/value percentage. Financially he saved the franchise.

Unfortunately, the average fan doesn’t care too much about that fact, since it largely looms behind the scenes and away from the on ice issues that have plagued the team for the last decade. Instead he is seen by some as the meddlesome tyrant who has no hockey background and won’t hand over control to someone who has a more intimate knowledge of the game. Rather, he seems more than content to instill puppet GM’s that will do whatever he tells them to do, or even worse, won’t do what he tells them they can’t; as long as the organization continues to make money.

Does that about sum it up?

Like you, King has an overwhelming fondness for the sport. And his aspiration every season is to raise the bar another notch to reward devoted fans with the best possible entertainment package in the NHL. He appreciates the enduring fan loyalty and the excitement surrounding the regular season. He’s also proud to have watched fans enjoy heart-wrenching, but electrifying, playoff runs for the Stanley Cup.
– Taken from King’s Bio.

Easy to say something like this when it’s on the team’s website and well, he probably wrote it himself, but at least some of the sincerity and meaning should show through the babble-talk, right? That’s up for you to decide, but I can say that yes, I think there is a large measure of truth to the statement. Be it only for the third period, King can be found sitting in his seat (or rather in his row) directly behind the opposition’s net, every game; whether they are winning or losing. He isn’t just a faceless name sitting in the owner’s box crunching dollars and cents like Kent does advanced stats, he is a fan of the game and of this team.

So if that is the case, then why is this team drowning in mediocrity and if King is so smart and astute, then why can’t he see what the problem is? If there is truth to his tyrant label, then it may be a case of ego that prevents him from being able to get out of the way enough for the right people to come in and do something. If they have the right people within the organization, then perhaps they are restricted within the descriptions of the positions King has confined them to. Either way, it presents a future that is destined to fail, which inevitably will have an eventual effect on the organization’s revenue and value. It may not happen in the near future but even King has to see that coming down the road.

THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES

No matter how confident King is in ability to lead this organization in the right direction, there are only so many hours in the day to devote to any given task or project. Taking ownership of the Stampeders brings up so many issues that will undoubtedly affect how much time Ken can devote to the Flames.

With that in mind is there any question as to why rumours are surfacing about King bringing in a replacement President of Hockey Operations, while he remains the chief over-seer of the parent group of companies? It’s just smart business and if nothing else King is a business man.

Whether it’s true or not that the Flames are perusing John Davidson from the St. Louis Blues is rather irrelevant; it’s the notion, or concept if you will, that is the important factor. The idea that King can let go of his vice grip on the daily operations of the Flames team is a massive step in the right direction. But as everyone knows, that first step is the biggest. No one, except King himself, will ever know what toils he will go through giving up that amount of control, or for how long he will be able to remain that hands-off guy before his natural instincts begin to kick-in. One factor that KK will have to weigh heavily on is that a move of this magnitude is not going to be a gradual transition; it’s in for a penny, in for a pound on this one.

John Davidson has a very narrow window that allows him to get out of his contract extension with the St. Louis Blues. He has the right to walk away in the event of an ownership transfer in St. Louis. The purchase of the Blues is the first move in what could cascade into a series of events involving JD since his situation in St. Lou is a complicated one that is tied to many other factors. Davidson has a strong relationship with former owner, David Checkett - it was he that convinced John to come out of the broadcast booth in MSG, a job he was quite content with, and take the reins of the struggling Blues and rebuild them into what we see today. Over the past few seasons, Davidson has been sitting more and more in the background while allowing GM Doug Armstrong to be a more prominent voice in the organization.

With Checkett ‘checking out’, and with CEO Mike McCarthy stepping down to make room for new owner, Tom Stillman, to bring in his own guy to fill the role, Davidson might just feel like he should be the next guy in line to remove himself from an organization that is making sweeping changes. That being said, he still may not end up in Calgary, but one can hope, and given there are few people out there that could have the impact of John Davidson being the President of their club, it’s a hope worth clinging to for Flames fans... and the organization.

If, and that’s a mighty big IF, the Flames do land this miracle acquisition, Ken King is going to have to be 100% sure. Landing a guy like JD means Ken is going to have to not just step back, but get the hell out of the way. As the new President, Davidson is going to not want, but demand full autonomy to make whatever changes to the Flames hockey ops and staff he sees fit, without so much as even a whimper. That will likely include the likes of Iginla, Kiprusoff and perhaps even Jay Feaster.

King might be well served to page out Davidson’s book for success. He saw when it was time for him to step back in the Blues organization and allow Armstrong more latitude. If Ken can do the same thing in order to land someone like Davidson, the dividends he sees might greatly out measure the sacrifices he has to make to achieve success; particularly to his ego (assuming of course there is any truth to that matter). Once again it becomes a decision that should favour the strengths and not the weaknesses of Ken King. He may not be the “non-hockey guy” everyone vilifies him for, but this is not a hockey decision, it's business.

The Road Ahead

Over the next few years, the business side of the Flames organization has much to consider and work towards. The idea of a new arena turned on a dime with a new vision of a multiplex style development that would include not only a new home for your Calgary Flames, but also the Calgary Stampeders as well. Finding a space that has the area for such a development is a daunting task. When you further factor in sufficient parking, transit accessibility and a general ease of public access without having to drive out of the city á la Ottawa or Phoenix, King will have his focus torn away whether he likes it or not.

Regardless of who the body is to fill the new position of President of Hockey Operations is, the decision plays to King’s strengths because it is a business decision, and if King is good at one thing, it’s the business side of the Flames organization. If they don’t end up getting John Davidson, then I hope they pursue other avenues.

Could Ken King be so astute as to put his ego and his personal feelings aside and perhaps hire someone like Lanny McDonald for Hockey Ops? Could the Flames be serious enough about the evolution of their front office as to go completely outside the box and hire someone like Håkan Loob? Look at what Loob accomplished with Färjestad BK, for instance. Time will tell, but right now enough people are focusing on JD. Despite both parties denying there has been any communication from either side, Davidson has enough ties to this city that the rumours refuse to die.

Let’s see what the next few weeks bring.

E42f2ca09dfb26046c3060ff46473aff
Vintage Flame is a Calgary based sports junkie that prefers to call hockey a "religion" rather than an addiction. He believes there are two types of hockey fans. Those who cheer for the Flames, and those who don't understand the sport yet. Follow Vintage_Flame on Twitter
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#1 Alt
May 28 2012, 06:32PM
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I think most would agree that KK is a savvy businessman.But i don,t believe for one minute he was hockey savvy enough to stop D Sutter or Button from making some very poor decisions.Can,t imagine JD allowing daryl to make some of the moves that put this team behind for a few years

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#2 ChinookArch
May 28 2012, 02:47PM
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VF - how are you and where have you been?

Nice work on this article. I didn't know King's reign saw the Flames go from $92M to $220M, and that alone may give the ownership group a great deal more patience than the rest of us, where he is concerned. Clearly, Ken King does not deserve all the credit, but you can't argue with his record. If you listen to Peter Mahr, he attributes the Flames saviour as Darryl Sutter, and in my view the 2004 team he coached was definitely a defining moment for the team's fortunes, so King may be (in part) a beneficiary of good timing.

On John Davidson - I haven't met anyone that didn't think this would be great for the Flames. Dare to dream . . .

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#3 Kent Wilson
May 28 2012, 03:00PM
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@ChinookArch

Clearly, Ken King does not deserve all the credit

A lot of things have helped the Flames grow profitable along the way, including:

- The Canadian dollar getting back to par - The Flames 2004 cup run - The salary cap (arguable)

None of which he had anything to do with, of course. Notice the Edmonton Oilers have rapidly become profitable (despite their protestations to the contrary) in the post lock-out era despite being run by some of the most clueless people in the biz and playing in a smaller building.

Which isn't to say King hasn't done anything right. Just that the climate to succeed was there.

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#4 schevvy
May 28 2012, 03:14PM
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VF still writes articles for FN?? Been a while bud, nice to have you back.

On the article- Kent is pretty much bang-on. I believe that the canadian dollar coming back to par was the main reason the Flames have become more profitable. That was the main issue surrounding the dark era in the 90's and early 2000's. Once the dollar returned to respectability, the owners were able to spend more and attract better players to Calgary. So even though King has done some pretty good things for the team since the dollar rebounded, he has been aided a lot.

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#5 Kevin R
May 28 2012, 03:14PM
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Nice article VF! Good to see you back. Timing is good. A lot of people wanted to run King out of town when DSutter was ushered out. You just clarified why he hasnt been. Interesting take on the future & it wasnt an accident that the flames acquired all these sports franchises. If you are going to put how 100's of millions into a new building, you need to fill the building as often as possible. Imagine if the Stamps had an in door football stadium, we would see us selected for a lot more Grey Cups for a host destination. This allows KK to step back & out without taking a step backward, if anything, it would be more of a promotion. You mentioned 3 people who would be awesome for running the Flames, JD, Loob & Macdonald. Hopefully Lanny can get past some of the bitterness of being passed on many moons ago.

Another note: Looking like you can cross off Hartley from the coaching candidate lists, talking like he will be the new Canadiens coach.

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#6 Graham
May 28 2012, 03:15PM
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'Ken King has had one task, make the team, and the organization, profitable'

The Cdn dollar was around 65 cents in 2001, and has increased to around par over the past few years. When your revenue is in Cdn dollars, and most of your expenses (eg salaries) are in US dollars, thats a huge factor in the terms financial fortune. (we are talking a 50% + increase in the value of the Cdn dollar durring 'reign'

That said, King is still an effective business leader, if not a huge hockey mind.

They could always bump Feaster up to President of Hockey Ops, and hire a legit hockey GM... Feaster strikes me as more suited to the business end of hockey.... and King could still excercise control through his man Feaster.

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#7 subz
May 28 2012, 03:21PM
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Agreed, to further everyone’s point if you factor in inflation, and the dollar growing from 65 cents to parity, I believe we arrive at the flames current value. With that said it would still be very hard to dismiss King or relieve him of his duties as an owner.

Personally I think very little could be done to deter the fan base as long as the dollar stays at parity, the flames will be profitable. This only has me hoping that a "hockey person" can be brought in.

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#9 suba steve
May 28 2012, 03:39PM
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Nice work VF.

Good to hear some factual info on King's reign, rather then the usual bashing from those who probably know nothing about what King does/has done for the franchise. If the Flames do hire someone new to run hockey ops., I think they could do worse then JD (based upon his time with the Blues). But, who else might be out there that is qualified and might be available?

Loob sounds interesting, but he left a long time ago for family reasons, probably has grandkids he wants to be close to now? Would be a hard transition professionally also, I would think.

Lanny is great, but does he have experience that would lend itself to such a position, and would he want the job?

Pepper has business experience.

Would Feaster be a candidate?

Others from outside the organization?

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#11 Domebeers.com
May 28 2012, 03:59PM
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Lanny2012

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#12 Kevin R
May 28 2012, 04:06PM
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@ Steve: I may be wrong but I believe way back when Ownership hired Ken King Lanny was interested & had a huge desire to take over the Flames. That was a long time ago & time does heal wounds, just not sure how deep they go with Lanny & whether he would consider it any more. He would have been a pretty darn good choice & still would be if willing. I dont see Loob coming back to North America, but I wouldnt complain. I think JD is a natural choice to take the reins here. Its pretty cool but I just see so many changes coming for the Flames. Its been a little over due but they seem to be coming on many different levels.

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#13 suba steve
May 28 2012, 04:33PM
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@KevinR

I agree, we are (hopefully) in for a lot of changes. I'm as excited as a school girl. Here's to an interesting summer for Flame fans.

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#14 negrilcowboy
May 28 2012, 04:33PM
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great work vinnie. king doesn't deserve all the credit with the flames profitability however he needs to get some recognition. what the flames desperately need now is for kk to be overlord of a sports empire and leave the hockey decisions alone. stick to financials and such. lanny macdonald baby.

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#15 Frank
May 28 2012, 06:31PM
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Flames ownership feels as if they owe Ken King, so for that reason alone, they'll never s***can the guy. A more plausible solution is to shuffle the deck and invent some new position like, oh, I don't know..."Grand Overseer of Sports Operations". Kind of the same deal as they did with Connie. They felt bad about forcing him into retirement, so they threw him a bone, and created him the "Schrute-esque" position he has now. "Assistant TO the General Manager.

Mark my works...King will have his finger in all the business operations of the Flames family shortly and the new Flames president will be a hockey guy; JD is the logical fit with all his Calgary ties. The only question for me is whether Feaster stays on as GM, or is inserted as the new Pres. Personally, I'm partial to having Feaster as the new Pres, and JD as GM.

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#18 Ravage
May 28 2012, 11:08PM
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Good piece VF, I too have missed your musings. My only comment is regarding Lanny. He has not held any hockey position of major significance since his retirement so I highly doubt he would be a serious candidate to replace King should he decide to focus his sights elsewhere within the organization. Lanny is great for the Flames Alumni and being a well known face for charitable events...but not only have the Flames not offered him anything in upper management in the past 20 years...I don't think anyone else has either.

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#19 suba steve
May 29 2012, 09:42AM
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@VF

I also would like to see what Jay can do as a GM, but not sure yet that he is unrestrained.

I don't so much buy that Feaster is not a hockey guy, or perhaps I'm just not yet convinced that it matters that he is not a hockey guy. He may not have played, but he has been an executive for a lot of years and has managed some sucessful teams in that time. He appears to be smart enough to let his "hockey" people draft him some promising future Flames. That is something Darryl (a hockey guy) was not able to do.

In the president's position I think business savvy is more important then hockey smarts, but some of each are a must. This is where I would wonder about Lanny. He is a PR all star, but is he a business man? Perhaps he is, but I have not a lot of knowledge about his experiences outside of his playing days. He has spoken about the need to rebuild, that is a positive.

I guess I would have had similar reservations when the Blues hired JD, he seems to have done a good job there. But the million dollar question is...can he duplicate his success if he comes to Calgary?

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#22 suba steve
May 29 2012, 11:49AM
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@VF

I'm not pushing "Feaster for Prez", but since a lot are worried about him not being a hockey guy, I think his long term future might lie in a position like this. That being said, If he hits another homerun of a trade over the next 8 months or less, he will gain a lot of respect with the "hockey people" in his GM roll.--I count Cammi as a homerun, just taking him a while to round the bases.

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#23 Derzie
May 29 2012, 12:43PM
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Like most every executive he is quick to take credit but never takes blame. Most execs spend their time schmoozing with other execs rather than doing real work. When the work gets done by others, and it is good work, they trot it out as if they crafted the whole thing. And take a massive share of the proceeds. Basically organized crime without the guns. The sooner he leaves the sooner we can get another criminal in place to get rich off of the fans. Hopefully the new crime boss knows more about hockey and what it takes to win in 2013 (not 2003).

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