Tyler Dellow discusses some of the perverse incentives that exist for NHL GM’s at the bottom of the ladder to lose hockey games in this recent post. With high draft picks the reward for failure in the NHL, it’s conceivable that a couple of general managers will inevtiably find ways to grease the wheels of failure every year and improve their draft position.
This is an issue that will gain prominence here in town as the trade deadline looms. The Calgary Flames are currently 14th in the Western Conference, seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The club would need to accrue about 55 points in it’s final 40 games, or a points percentage of 68.75% in order to realistically press for eighth. That’s marginally less than the rate Detroit put up through the first half of the season. Not impossible, but highly improbable. Sports Club Stats puts the Flames chances of reaching the dance at about 5%.
Feaster is a man who stands at a cross-roads. I suspect his actions in the second half of the season will depend heavily on how he thinks his performance is being evaluated by the Flames owners. Is the mandate to keep the team competitive and pressing for a playoff spot? If so, Feaster may be hesistant to pull the trigger on the players-for-futures type deals we see in speculative posts like the roundtable below. Forgetting the issue of dealing core players like Iginla and Regehr, relatively fringe guys such as Niklas Hagman and Anton Babchuk take on important depth roles when a club is still pressing for a playoff spot. Unless the Flames are in the very same position come the end of February, the impetus to move guys for prospects and draft picks may be resisted.
On the other hand, Feaster could conceivably hasten the slide with a few deals sooner rather than later. Move Hagmen et al for futures. Find a taker for one or two big tickets, recall some kids and move some guys up the depth chart. Voila…the club is more likely to pick inside the top 10 come June. The risks for Feaster in this strategy are numerous, however: instituing a dive as well as dealing emotionally-charged, big ticket players (Iginla, Kipper, Regehr) are difficult enough assignments for executives with long-term contracts. Torpedoing the club and trading favorites is especially dicey for a guy who has "temporary" stamped across his business cards, however.
Of course, if Feaster instead charges full bore for the post-season and the Flames end up in 10th place with the same decaying, over-burdened roster that they began the season with, he may be equally as culpable in the eyes of the public and owneship. So unless another 9-game losing streak pops up and eliminates all doubt, it could be a bit of tight-rope walk for Feaster from now till March.