The Blame Game

Arik
May 30 2012 08:57AM

 

Until recently, I was a card carrying member of the "Blame Ken King" camp. I was thoroughly invested in the idea that the reason the Flames consistently failed to build a good team was team president Ken King and owner Murray Edwards interfering too much with the administration of the team. The idea that King and Edwards were basically doing the job of the GMs and both Sutter and Feaster with left with less capabilities because of it.

How accurate is that assumption though? How fair is it?

There have been occasional reports of ownership and administrative interference, to be sure.  Elliotte Friedman reported a while back that several other executives believe Feaster is being prevented from entering into a full rebuild by King and Edwards.

A few other execs believe that if Jay Feaster had his way, he'd already have begun an aggressive rebuild of the Flames -- but hasn't had support of upper management/ownership. (Feaster denied that when I asked, and, as Oilers fans know, he's denied it quite famously in public.) You have to believe, after the incredible disappointment of the last two weeks, things are going to change now.

In fact, even without the reports of interference, the assumption is hardly a poor one. A hockey team isn't a small investment for Edwards and King is a very intelligent businessman, so of course they'll both want input on the direction of the team. Anyone intelligent manger wiould. The question then becomes "How much is too much?"

When you consider the amount of money Jarome Iginla makes for the Flames organization- even as a player whose abilities are much diminished from his prime, it's hard to be shocked at King and Edwards having fingers in the pizza dough. So why, if we can assume Iginla and King are involved in the hockey operations of the Flames, do I question the amount of blame the higher ups deserve for Sutter's failures and now Feaster's failures?

1. You Don't Become the 14th Richest Canadian By Meddling

It's Management 101- if you are in a supervisory position of any sort, you know to let the qualified people to do their jobs. To equate this to something else- if you're a foreman of a construction team, you're not a welder, you don't weld, and you don't stand over the welders shoulder and tell them how to weld (especially not literally- that could be very poor for your fancy foreman clothes).

Edwards - and by reputation, King - has gotten to where he is for a good reason. He knows smart investments, he knows management, he knows how to run businesses. Smart management is letting the people on the ground make the day to day decisions. That said, the overall direction is up to him, and it's hard to blame him for not wanting a rebuild. A rebuild is no fun and frequently painful.

2. A Lack of Consistency

If King and Edwards were basically running hockey operations and dictating all the moves, things wouldn't have changed between the Sutter and Feaster years. If Sutter and Feaster were merely figureholdersm there would have been no change when Feaster became the GM.

But that's not the case. Things have changed.

It is, admittedly, a sea change. There has been no overnight rebuild, no tearing down of walls, no setting afire of multiple players' jerseys. But things have and are being altered. The club has indicated a willingness to go to untapped wells for new talent (Cervenka), to trade potentially risky vets for younger more offensive players (Langkow for Stempniak), and likely to say goodbye to Olli Jokinen. Two years ago under the Sutter reign, these concepts were entirely foreign. Two years ago, the rumors of King and Edwards interfering with the team were minimal. Two years ago Sutter would have been unlikely to draft Sven Baertschi, the small European with one year in the WHL.

Today it's almost expected Feaster will draft for skill above all else.

3. Feaster Once Quit Because of Meddling By Management

What people often forget is Jay Feaster wasn't fired by Tampa. His contract didn't expire. No, instead Jay Feaster got pissed off at management running the show regardless of his input and thoughts and walked right out on a nice easy three year ride of not actually having to manage a hockey team.

"For the past two weeks I have watched from the sidelines as Brian Lawton, Len Barrie and Oren Koules executed to perfection the gameplan they shared with us prior to the NHL draft in Ottawa...During that time it became apparent to me that this new ownership group did not need my advice or expertise, and I came to the conclusion that it was time to move on." [CBC.ca]

If he was willing to do that in the offseason of 2008 after drafting one of the best players in the league in Stamkos, why would he stick with a Calgary team going nowhere that treats him the same way?

4. Occam's Razor

At the end of the day, Bertrand Russel's summarization of Occam's Razor should be remembered: "Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities"

Darryl Sutter being a poor GM is a known entity. Ken King and Murray Edwards whispering in his and Feaster's ears is an unknown entity. King and Edwards whispering in their ears and changing how they run things when the GM position changed is even more of an unknown entity.

In reality it's far more likely that Darryl Sutter simply failed as a GM. It makes far more sense that the mess Sutter left is too big to be cleaned up immediately by Jay Feaster. Ken King and Murray Edwards share some of the blame, to be certain, but sitting and thinking "Ken King is really the one running the Flames. Feaster is a puppet" strikes me as foolish.

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Arik works in Search and Rescue in the United States Coast Guard and is a former managing editor of the SBN Flames blog, Matchsticks and Gasoline.
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#1 Kent Wilson
May 30 2012, 09:07AM
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Much of this speculation is sound, although I take issue with your first point - there is a long, storied history of very rich men who were meddlesome owners. Harrold Ballard and Bill Wirtz spring to mind. In fact, your third point on this list contradicts your first.

Anyways, interesting contrarian position though. Expect Domebeers to comment in 3, 2, 1....

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#2 Justin Azevedo
May 30 2012, 09:27AM
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That said, the overall direction is up to him

isn't that just as bad as active meddling?

jay feaster should be the one deciding the direction of the team, no?

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#3 Colin.S
May 30 2012, 09:32AM
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Well we know 100% that King meddled in the Glenncross contract, King took GlennX out to his ranch and they rode hores and discussed the contract and pretty well put it all together and told the GM to write it up and sign it. And if that was discussed publicly who could imagine what goes on that isn't talked about.

I think there is ALWAYS meddling of some sort or another by ownership/upper management, however it's the degree of that meddling that Feaster probably had an issue with. In Tampa Bay he was probably completely over run with zero input. Here`s its probably closer to his team, but he knows he doesn`t own the team and still has to take into considerations his bosses wishes.

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#4 mslepp
May 30 2012, 09:35AM
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@Justin Azevedo

I'm a little torn on this subject. The direction should come from collaboration between President and leader of Hockey Ops... but, it doesn't really, or at least judging by what Feaster leaks to the media is doesn't.

I only have to partly disagree with one thing, Arik.

Making a couple trades to get younger and taking a chance on a kid like Cervenka is all well and good and certainly different than Darryl Sutter's approach. But, I still don't see any real change in the organization stemming from Jay Feaster's hiring.

The goal of 8th place remains, which is a theory instilled in Flames brass from Darryl Sutter - to which he still reiterates at every opportunity. He always says something to the extent of "every team is equal once the post-season starts". I even heard him say that this morning on the radio. This theory remains and Feaster is managing to that end... even though sometimes he says differently in public.

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#5 mslepp
May 30 2012, 09:42AM
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@Colin.S

"Well we know 100% that King meddled in the Glenncross contract, King took GlennX out to his ranch and they rode hores and discussed the contract and pretty well put it all together and told the GM to write it up and sign it."

Haha... yep... people love to bring up the GlenX contract in their defense of Feaster when it was all King.

http://www.calgarysun.com/2011/05/17/cross-him-off-flames-todo-list

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#6 suba steve
May 30 2012, 09:57AM
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We all know that King helped get Glencross signed to a sweet hometown discount last summer. What the hell is wrong with that? Great signing, and if King has some kind of rapport with GlenX and helped get the deal completed, I have no problem with that. Though he probably should have kept his mouth shut about how it all went down.

Other then that, I have seen no hard evidence that he is meddling. That is what I require before I will go off on a rant, some kind of proof. Only thing that I think is going on is ownership's resistance to parting with Iggy (and possibly Kipper), but I have no proof here. If that is the case, I hope that ownership is coming around on this rebuild idea. If not, it will be a longer and more painful process then it need be.

More troubling would be the thought that Feaster is responsible for not offering Iggy up as trade bait. I hope that is not the case. It is clear to a lot of us amateurs that this is what needs to happen, if our GM can't see it, we are in trouble.

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#7 Kenta
May 30 2012, 10:02AM
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We all know what assuming does and this post has allot of assumptions. People in the oilpatch know Edwards is a very hands on boss at CNRL. They have an in unusual management structure that concentrates allot of power in his hands. He is no Harley Hotchkiss and the team is suffering as a result.

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#8 Graham
May 30 2012, 10:04AM
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The owners want to succeed; they want to make a profit every year, grow the value of their business, make the playoffs, win the cup, and enjoy the perks, benefits and prestige of owing a sports franchise. I doubt that the owners meddle in day to day operations in the traditional sense , but I do suspect that business decisions, largely financial decision, reign supreme and trump hockey decisions. The need to meet the annual financial targets , goals and bonus levels tend to lead to shorter term decision making. Make your targets this year, start to set yourself up for next year targets, and let the longer term look after itself.(by then you might not have the job).

The concept of keeping the team ‘competitive’ year in year out is a business decision, keep the stands full and the revenue flowing. After all, you might just sneak into the playoffs and like LA who knows. Sutter clearly had a mandate to be ‘competitive’, and it appears that Feaster’s mandate is the same. Keeping the team competitive makes sense from a shorter term business point of view, but its implementation does not make sense from a longer term hockey point of view. The current status quo leads to constant middle of the pack performance, and no long term hockey goals. Keeping Iggy until he either retires or drop’s dead is a business decision. Trading away the future for current help, is a business decision. Not to rebuild is a business decision.

Do the owners meddle, maybe not, but their directives are tying the hands of our hockey group, and leading to poor long term hockey decisions.

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#10 Ed Ward
May 30 2012, 10:22AM
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I don't have an opinion either way in this debate. I think there is not enough evidence to make a conclusion and that most people's opinions are the product of fitting whatever miniscule evidence there is into their pre-constructed narrative of how much change Feaster actually represents from Sutter. A judgment that is probably too early to make anyways.

That being said, the unfortunate part of this whole discussion is that if the blame King/Edwards side of the debate is right then the Flames are perpetually screwed. Neither of those figures is likely to be gone anytime soon and if they are "meddlers" and that meddling has been to the detriment of the team then the meddling will just continue for the foreseeable future, regardless of who the GM is.

We can hold out hope that with all the acquisitions maybe King steps back a bit and a new hockey ops guy is brought in but if he meddled once whats to say another layer will stop him.

Similarly, Edwards is not likely to sell the team and like many successful people probably believes wholeheartedly in his methods.

These two figures are going nowhere and if the blame King/Edwards people are right then the Flames are going nowhere as well.

I hope they aren't right.

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#11 Colin.S
May 30 2012, 10:29AM
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suba steve wrote:

We all know that King helped get Glencross signed to a sweet hometown discount last summer. What the hell is wrong with that? Great signing, and if King has some kind of rapport with GlenX and helped get the deal completed, I have no problem with that. Though he probably should have kept his mouth shut about how it all went down.

Other then that, I have seen no hard evidence that he is meddling. That is what I require before I will go off on a rant, some kind of proof. Only thing that I think is going on is ownership's resistance to parting with Iggy (and possibly Kipper), but I have no proof here. If that is the case, I hope that ownership is coming around on this rebuild idea. If not, it will be a longer and more painful process then it need be.

More troubling would be the thought that Feaster is responsible for not offering Iggy up as trade bait. I hope that is not the case. It is clear to a lot of us amateurs that this is what needs to happen, if our GM can't see it, we are in trouble.

There are two paths to take on the GlennX signing, so lets look at both.

Feaster was brand new to the full time GM position just having the interm tag taken off. A lot of people were speculating that it could be the sign of an impending rebuild. Maybe King and Feaster came up with a plan that would appease GlennX that if he signed here he would get a garaunteed NTC so he won`t be traded if that path ever came up. And the contract was negotiated with someone GlennX could trust. And King wasn`t so much `meddling` as he was assisting the GM.

Let`s look at option two.

Feaster was having preliminary discussions with GlennX that were not exactly moving to a stage of a brand new contract. King decideds that GlennX is a integral part of this team and decides to take over contract negotiations so as to sign GlennX without first asking Feaster. As Feaster was just having the 'interm' tag taken off, Feaster lets that slide as not meddling. So what happens if King thought that Babchuk was an integral part of our PP and was the one that signed him to a stupid contract?(Not saying it was king, using the contract as an exmple). So what if King and Sarich are good buddies? King gonna meddle again to re-sign Sarich?

Just because King had success with ONE contract doesn't mean he should invest himself with other players he may have a rapport with or with players he feels contribute to this team.

If Feaster and King came up with option 1, thats great management and use of resources, if it's option two, things only get worse before it gets better.

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#12 suba steve
May 30 2012, 10:49AM
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@ColinS

Could have gone either way, I guess. I'm just assuming that since these are smart and successful people, that they both followed appropriate protocol and were both involved and knew what each other were doing. But like Kenta points out, assuming won't always get you to the proper conclusion.

Also like to restress, hopefully King will use his smarts and won't make the mistake of grabing the spotlight again, if this type of interaction goes on in the future.

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#13 Monaertchi Gaudnett
May 30 2012, 10:51AM
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Murray and King are not "hockey people" - never been NHLers or scouts or GM. That is why they hired Feaster to be the "hockey guy" (which is saying something about the future success of the team, I'm sure). The same goes for pretty much every owner and his GM. The owner has money and the GM has knowledge.

The GM is supposed to come up with a plan for the short and long term future of the team, how it can be executed, and why it should be done. If the owner doesn't like the plan, he tells the GM to make a new one. Since the GM is the one with the most hockey knowledge, the owner will most often accept the GMs plan. Would you put up $70M every year in salaries without this level of control?

If Murray and King have more than this amount of input, then it is meddling. If they are making decisions like "sign this guy" or "trade that guy" then that is likely not a good thing since they are not knowledgable hockey people - they're business men.

I don't think the GlenX signing is necassarily and example of meddling. All we know is that King took him on a horsie ride to seal the deal. Maybe Feast asked for his help. Maybe Feast didn't want to sign him at all. We don't know.

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#14 Monaertchi Gaudnett
May 30 2012, 10:54AM
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Kenta wrote:

We all know what assuming does and this post has allot of assumptions. People in the oilpatch know Edwards is a very hands on boss at CNRL. They have an in unusual management structure that concentrates allot of power in his hands. He is no Harley Hotchkiss and the team is suffering as a result.

A lot.

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#15 Colin.S
May 30 2012, 11:01AM
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@suba steve

I think in every hockey relationship that there is a degree in which owners/presidents step in and make decisions. Just like any other company. Usually in other companies CEOs/CFO's and whoever usually have a lot more of a background knowledge into their operations. However King and all have been around long enough that they should have a good idea of whats going on.

However there should always be a clear line of who is doing what and when.

Which is why the Trading of Kipper or Iggy isn't strictly Feasters decision, nor should it be. This isn't Lance Bouma or Derreck Smith we are talking about. Iggy/Kipper are two huge ticket moving players that people come to watch. As much as Feaster can say "well we will get some much of these assests if we trade these two" it still up to the Owners/upper management if they are willing to trade those big money making assests. And I wouldn't call that meddling, it's a business and if Kipper/Iggy are making money for the owners regardless of the on-ice success, that has to be balanced with what trading those two would mean. If King starts signing and trading for 3rd/4th liners, investing himself in the draft or whatever, thats huge meddling, but if King and Edwards have a say in trading the two biggest superstars for the Flames that is not meddling, thats also a huge business decision and those two are the business side of Flames.

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#16 Kevin R
May 30 2012, 11:40AM
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It's interesting to look at the history to get a bit of an understanding of the current dynamic. I think piggy backing Beekers comments leads to an interesting less speculative analysis. I think D Sutter had that plan that was embraced by upper management and ownership. The run in 2004 literally solidified all the "In Sutter We Trust" mentality & gave Darryl a lot of get of jail free cards. King knew Darryl had the complete trust of ownership & relaxed doing his job of keeping the accountabilty of the GM to the goal & plan mandated for the team the owners approved. I know from excellent sources that when King asked Darryl for formal written updates in meetings, DS rarely complied. It was such a bizarre dynamic it was comical. After the Phaneuf deal, that was the beginning of the end & it was rumoured Darryl was prepared to deal Iggy the following summer & after the Phaneuf & Jokinen fiascos, Feaster was brought in & the rest is history.

So fast forward now, like what Beeker says, if it appears King & Edwards meddle, well you dont get that kind of money by being stupid a second time around. Feaster had to submit his plan for the current & future before the interim GM was changed to GM. I think King & Edwards are just in the process of implementing a corporate structure to hopefully prevent this "Sutter We Trust" mentality never happens again on the first success we may have since 2004, whenever that will be. Ironically, that magical 2004 run that the City embraced might have been the worst thing that happened for the future of the club. If we had lost to San Jose, it may have dampered the holy aura DS had & maybe better decisions would have been made & forced DS to be accountable instead of having ultimate power to catch lightening in a bottle for a 2nd time. There is a lot to do after 7 years of dysfunction that just doesnt happen over night. If it were me writing the 70million in cheques every year, I probably wouldnt do things much different than what Edwards is doing now. You have to wonder if Feasters proposal for present & future of the hockey club, that landed him the full time GM job, will ever be public knowledge. I'm sure it would answer a lot of the questions many ask on this site.

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#17 Domebeers.com
May 30 2012, 02:16PM
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IDK. First off, I'd be curious to know how you think Edwards made his money. I mean, if you are seriously under the impression he is hands off in his core businesses...I don't know what to say. It's wrong, though, I can tell you that.

You don't become rich by meddling? You ever run a business? It's actually the opposite.

Point two, lack of consistency? This is just wish casting. The team Darryl Sutter got fired for assembling was brought back last year. I know people like to point to the a splash of paint as a new direction. But it isn't. The club, in fact, actively gave up assets for the future to trade for a veteran for a desperate grab at eighth place. Entirely consistent with the 'win now' mandate of the Sutter regime.

(And should I even mention the NTC's given out after Feaster said he wouldn't give out NTC's?)

In fact, Jay Feaster went on TV and embarrassed himself with that rant about how he was going to trade the vets if they didn't improve their play in two games (seriously, so embarrassing), the vets didn't, and nobody got traded. Certainly looked like he was vetoed by ownership.

Point three is even a little silly. Sure, he eventually quit Tampa. But the owners were meddling for a while before he quit. So he has proven he is able to work under meddlesome owners to a point. And while he did eventually quit, I think he might have found the life of a blogger for the hockey news (a poor one at that) to not be quite as glamorous as a job as a GM in the NHL. I'd be totally unsurprised to find out his appetite for meddling increased during his unemployment.

In fact, not only was he willing to work under a lame duck Darryl Sutter, he actually has a guy under him, Weisbrod, that has seen his responsibilities increase since he has been here. So Feaster has shown he is willing to cede power and responsibility so long as he draws a paycheque.

Finally, your fourth point is just wrong. We know Murray Edwards and Ken King meddle because the TSN insiders went on camera and said as much. Besides that, Macfarlane wrote as much when he tried to excuse the behavior with the line of 'so what?' Not only that, but if you call King, he will tell you pretty much point black he runs hockey operations. He (King) thinks it's part of his duties as President.

So, I mean, I'm going to go with the guys who put their reputation on the line when they report something. No offense, but I think Dreger and Mackenzie are better informed than you are, or I am. And they have said that Murray Edwards and King (who in fact may hold a 5% stake in the club, making him an owner) are the most meddlesome of meddlesome owners in the NHL.

So, in that light, pretending that Feaster has full autonomy over hockey operations seems extremely foolish.

Honestly, informed opinion has already moved on from this. King is running hockey ops. Poorly. Adjust expectations accordingly.

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#18 the-wolf
May 30 2012, 03:34PM
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Not sure I can say that any better than Domebeers just did.....but, here's my take:

IMO, King/Edwards let the Feaster run the details his own way. You want to go scout Europe? Fine. You want to go scout college ranks heavily? Fine. You want to bring in advanced stats? Fine.

No different than Sutter saying he wants character as the primary factor in drafting. You want character, fine...

I mean, it's not like King/Edwards are out there sitting is some @$$-cold arena doing scouting evaluations or working the phone swith oth erleague GMs.

However.....they enforce the 'win now' mandate, they won't allow Iginla to be traded for a very swell package of Schenn & company because it may hurt jersey sales and they basically choose who stays and goes.

Did Darryl want to trade Phaneuf or did King/Edwards? Listen to Keenan's comments and you know who he would've rather moved. Maybe Darryl overrode Keenan, maybe King/Edwards overrode Darryl/Keenan.

I can say that using other businesses as any sort of argument just doesn't work. Many very smart business people are idiots when it comes to running a sports team. They get caught up in the idea of winning and their business acumen goes straight out the window.

And ask the employees of the Sun and Herald what they think of King. Staff revolts and all that. IMO, it's why the Flames hired King, his influence over the media.

Also, the arguments that they have the right to interfere because of money issues (ie. Iginla) are also weak. Fact is, there are far better ways to make way more money than a sports franchise. When you get into sports it should be to win.

Either disregarding the advice or dictating the direction of the team to 'the hockey guy' is unacceptable meddling IMO.

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#19 RexLibris
May 30 2012, 03:43PM
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I'm always up for a bit of constructive (some say iconoclastic) reflection.

I like Arik's article on King. Like Kent I'll disagree a bit, but my agreement is neither here nor there.

Arik's article is presenting to fans an alternate side of the story and providing some context to a very complicated and public role in the community. One where almost everything that happens is behind closed doors and left up to interpretation and assumption.

The standard refrain exists here in Edmonton about Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini, despite any concrete evidence to support it.

What I will say, though, is that I agree with Kent in that it is surprising how men who make millions upon millions of dollars in the business world can suddenly become devoid of reason and sanity in running a sports franchise.

The Glazer family have taken the many hundreds of millions of dollars that Manchester United earns on a yearly basis and managed to spend that and more, putting the club into nearly $1 billion in debt.

What has always puzzled me is, how does someone make enough money to buy a team, only to make such poor decisions with it that they must then sell that team?

Perhaps there should be a new bumper sticker: "Lord send me another sports franchise and I promise not to piddle this one away"

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#20 SlapStick
May 30 2012, 07:39PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Much of this speculation is sound, although I take issue with your first point - there is a long, storied history of very rich men who were meddlesome owners. Harrold Ballard and Bill Wirtz spring to mind. In fact, your third point on this list contradicts your first.

Anyways, interesting contrarian position though. Expect Domebeers to comment in 3, 2, 1....

His second argument disputes his first as well. Poor all around IMO.

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#21 Mark S
May 30 2012, 08:41PM
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Whether you consider Feaster & Edwards meddlesom or not, there are some facts to consider.

Darryl Sutter, at least in the short term, is a great coach. In 2004, he took a team of pluggers with Iginla and Kipper to the finals. Now he is taking the Kings to the finals again. D Sutter know how to coach a winner.

Based on this run and the Kipper trade, Ken King et all promoted D Sutter to GM only position. This is the reason Ken King should be fired. D Sutter should never have been given carte blanche to do anything he wanted, based on a run in the playoffs, with a goalie he stole with a 2nd round pick. He should have been forced to coach they players he was moving in and out of the lineup after the lockout.

The Run in 2004 was because of D Sutter's coaching, not because of his GM abilities. This is how he saved the Flames financialy. Flames should have rewarded him with more coaching.

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