(This is submission two in the ongoing FN contributor search. Once again share your thoughts in the comments, but keep things constructive or complimentary)
By Jake Travis**
With the era of the Feast only a few months old, Jay Feaster has already managed to drastically change the way in which the Calgary Flames operate. Whether it be on the ice or in the boardroom, Feaster’s impact on the organization has been a significant one. Much of what he’s done unfortunately won’t appease the frenzied July 1st/NHL Entry Draft loving fan that adamantly demanded change at the conclusion of yet another failed season. While the man of the hour did let out a hefty line in an attempt to catch the White Whale that has eluded the Calgary Flames organization for these many years, what he ended up reeling in was something a touch more familiar.
There was no climactic conclusion to the Brad Richards free agency battle in early July. There was no dramatic press conference where the man we all so painfully know revealed to onlookers that he was taking his act to Broadway. Instead, what we got was what many had speculated all along: a simple, quick and classy decision that the man born to a fisherman wasn’t Rocky Mountain bound, but rather heading back to the East coast to play where we all expected him to end up in the first place. Having missed out on the big prize, Feaster then went about what appeared to be a planned course of action and re-signed last year’s surprise hit: Brendan Morrison. In doing so, Feaster rounded out his summer of re-signings as he (re)added Morrison to the likes of Alex Tanguay, "Anton Babchuk, The" and Curtis Glencross – effectively committing the 2011/2012 edition of the Calgary Flames to a roster that is nearly identical to the one that played at a clip that saw them roar back from the bottom of the Western Conference in December to within a few points of a date with destiny and a playoff spot in April.
These re-signings, some unexpected, some not so much, mark an interesting new angle on free agency for the Flames. In years past, players weren’t necessarily rewarded for having strong seasons as an individual and in the Summer of 2009 numerous players were judged by how successful the team had been and not on individual merit. Jay Feaster’s predecessor was heavily criticized for letting fan favourite and locker-room friendly Michael Cammalleri walk away after the team failed to sneak by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Here was a player who had just set a career high in goals, points and not to mention had some pretty dandy chemistry with the face of the franchise. Yet, at the end of the season he was deemed expendable as the General Manager of the time set his desires elsewhere. The resulting big-ticket free agent signing was loved at the time and viewed as an enormous coup by many (myself included), but it also came with a bitter aftertaste as it was step away from a known and proven quantity towards something else. This movement away from one of the bright spots of the previous season in favour of the shiny featured toy of that Summer’s free agency pool is an excellent, albeit overplayed, example of the previous regime’s unfortunate lack of consideration when it came to team chemistry and cohesion. A mistake that Jay Feaster apparently doesn’t intend on making again.
Jay Feaster’s current roster features only one everyday NHLer that wasn’t on the Calgary Flames last season: Chris Butler. Butler, the largest piece heading to Calgary in a landmark transaction that sent the backbone of the Flames defense for the last decade off to Buffalo is the only unfamiliar, significant piece currently on the books for next season. For a Flames organization that was home to one of the most active General Managers in the NHL up until recently, this surprisingly low roster turn-over is a startling new concept – and a welcome one in my books.
The enthusiasm and consistent effort that carried this team from December through April was infectious. As I watched the freshly crowned Special Assistant to the Acting General Manager and the Acting General Manager himself both glowingly smile as the wins piled up – it clicked for me. This organization had started back on the road to becoming a team again. They were out there playing for each other and earning big wins in the process. There were definitely a player or two on the roster that fell well below expectations and weren’t able to contribute to the team’s run, and ultimately perhaps they were the reason this team failed to make it to the dance at the end of the season. However, despite their apparent failings the man at the helm of the team has, either through choice, necessity or a bit of both, decided to stand by these players and work with them instead of rushing them out the door for little to no return. In my eyes it’s definitely a refreshing approach to improving the team. Building a winning team isn’t just about shiny, exciting new additions during the off-season. It’s about winning as a team and learning (read: losing) as a team and growing as a team throughout both. As Flames fans, we’ve had experience with a General Manager that loved making the big splashes during the key transactions dates on the NHL calendar and unfortunately, those signings and trades that we were all so excited about in June, July and at the trade deadline of years past never amounted to much of anything. So as I’ve mentioned before, I find it more than a bit refreshing to see the Flames headed in this new, yet, familiar direction.
**My outlook: Eternal optimist. No matter how bad the previous season ends, no matter how little sense the off-season transactions make – I’ll always find a way to somehow trick myself into thinking the Flames are a Stanley Cup contender. I did it when Marty McInnis, Hnat Domenichelli and Candace Cameron’s husband were all on the team, so I don’t see why I can’t do the same with Matt Stajan, Jay Bouwmeester and a Swede that talks faster than Blurr. I drank myself in and out of classes and across the majority of post secondary campuses in Calgary before finally finishing up this past Spring as what I’d like to call a “Multimedia & IT Professional” thanks to mashing a few years of IT and New Media Production & Design at SAIT together. Favourite drink? Liquor. Favourite Flame? Ronnie Stern. Favourite movie? The one with the rug that really tied the room together (The Big Lebowski – ed.). Avid CP’er and someone who hasn’t written anything other than “lol wut?” in something like 3 years. Cheers.