Whether you like it or not, Jay Feaster is now the General Manager of the Calgary Flames, and he is tasked with turning a non-playoff team back into a contender in the next four years (the term of his contract). There are reasons why many Flames fans are skeptical of Calgary’s choice to drive the bus, but I’m willing to give Jay a chance at the helm. And hey, seeing as how none of us have control, it’s probably the best way to avoid severe headaches.
Feaster’s draft record is horrid, and probably the worst of any general manager over the last decade or so. In his time as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jay drafted 62 players. Just five of those players have seen any significant NHL time, and just three could be considered regulars at this point (Steve Stamkos, Dana Tyrell, Mike Lundin). The other two, Blair Jones and Jay Rosehill, have seen some NHL time over the past couple of seasons, and would be in the "replacement player" category. Furthermore, Stamkos barely counts, because he was drafted by Lightning ownership, and anyone reading this would have drafted either him or Drew Doughty. So yeah, an 8.1% draft conversion rate over a six year span is just not good enough (in comparison, Darrly Sutter was at 8.7% as Flames GM. Yay.)
Jay’s other main downfall in Tampa surrounded poor management of his roster and salary cap following a Stanley Cup win in 2004. The cap problems came as a direct result of large, long term contracts to his three top forwards. Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier signed five, six, and four year contracts respectively, and it made things extremely difficult to shore up other areas of need. Feaster also let Nikolai Khabibulin walk as an unrestricted free agent, as the goaltender would sign with Chicago; the Lightning welcomed Marc Denis with open arms, unfortunately for them.
A massive fail of a trade that sent Brad Richards to Dallas is probably Feaster’s last real move of note in Tampa, as the Lecavalier 11 year extension and the Stamkos selection were done under the obvious interference of ownership. Richards, the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, was dealt to the Stars on February 26th, 2008 in a deal that was set to help fill Lightning needs in the depth and goaltending department. Mike Smith, the cornerstone of the trade, has yet to yield anything positive, while Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern no longer play in Florida. Even with a high cap hit, a trade involving Richards should have returned something much more substantial than a backup goaltender and two depth forwards.
So why would you have any faith in Feaster at all? Well, spending some time around the man in the past ten months or so, two things come to mind when I’m asked why he’s the right guy for the job.
While I think Calgary’s decision to leave the acting tag on Jay’s title for as long as they did was a little silly, it’s what they decided. When the team was finally ready to make the decision, it was just over a month from a highly anticipated first round selection in June’s draft. It was about a month and a half away from a crucial July 1st signing period and an extremely important summer for the franchise.
So, because the Flames decided to spend as much time as they did evaluating the franchise (which is probably a good thing in a lot of ways), bringing in a brand new man may not have been the best option. For instance, even if the team had made their decision in mid-April following the season, it still wouldn’t have given a new front man much time to get the lay of the land. Briefing with players and coaches and other hockey staff would have been crucial, and time consuming, when the focus should be on setting this team up for long run. That’s where Feaster gets the leg up.
Jay has been here since the summer of 2010, granted in a different position as Assistant and then Acting GM, but he knows the organization a whole lot more than any other candidate would. He was the right call to play placeholder till the end of the season, and that time at the figurehead helm also probably served to his advantage through the hiring process. I really do believe knowing what’s going on and having a grasp on personalities and organizational workings are important factors in this decision, and not having to worry about them this summer should help the team when make important calls. But that can’t be the only reason to show confidence in a GM.
Admission and Awareness
Having talked with Jay on numerous occasions, and been privy to his interviews first hand on numerous more, I can tell you the man is not shy in telling you when he’s made mistakes in the past. The first day Feaster was in town, he joined Boomer and I at the Saddledome, and made no bones about how deciding to let Khabibulin walk and settle on a vastly inferior tender was one of his biggest mistakes. He’s admitted numerous times that signing the "Big Three", if you will, to their large contracts handcuffed him and made it difficult to keep the Lightning at a championship level. At the very least, the guy knows when decisions of his haven’t worked out.
But what does that really matter in the long run? That girl I made out with outside of Hudson’s or that hot dog I had shortly afterwards were not good decisions, and I’d have no problem admitting it after the fact.* But admitting it is only half the battle. Making different choices next time around is what really counts; meaning next time I’ll think twice when a girl tells me she drives a 1981 station wagon with wood panels.
Feaster is not only aware of what has happened in the past, he’s spoken many times about how those past decisions have and will continue to influence future ones. I think it’s significant in itself that an NHL GM is as open as he is about things we on the outside deem as mistakes or poor calls. It’s kind of refreshing following the "I know better" era of the general manager previous. But on top of the breath of fresh air the whole thing is, I truly do believe Jay is a smart man who will lean on a number of different things when making important decisions in Calgary.
He’ll lean on the knowledge from the results of prior decisions made as a GM, but he’ll also lean on his hockey staff. With Michel Goulet and Craig Conroy already in the organization, there’s a good base right from the start. At Monday’s news conference, Feaster also made mention of a new Assistant GM, and a search that continues right now. That’s also an opportunity to bring in another smart hockey mind who can assist in making smart and well thought out decisions. And let’s not forget Head Coach Brent Sutter, who will be heavily involved in hockey operations as well.
There are many reasons to be skeptical of Calgary’s new permanent General Manager, and I understand all of them. That said, I’m a little more positive than many are when it comes to his ability to do the job. I’m not going to defend the guy carte blanche and tell you he’s going to lead the team to a Stanley Cup in his four year term; but I will give him a chance from my humble, meaningless seat. Feaster has a chance to reset the course of this franchise, and that chance begins this summer…let’s hope my optimism isn’t unfounded.
*Any accounts at Hudson’s Canadian Taphouse are fictional. Or are they?