Assigning Blame

Most of Wednesday’s reaction to Calgary’s trade of Tim Erixon to New York was emotional and, well, negative.  Understandably at that.  The Flames lost their best prospect and a guy that could have given them some important roster flexibility heading into the coming season, which sucks, plain and simple.  I come away from the day frustrated at the situation, but unable to paint the organization with a fail coloured brush…which may be the most annoying thing of all.

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s deadline, the thought process seemed to be "if the Flames don’t get this done, it’s another failure of the organization."  That sentiment only intensified when the trade was finalized around 2 pm; why did the Flames let it get this far?  Why didn’t they have contingency plans in place?  Why didn’t they do all they possibly could to keep this player around?  All fair questions, yes.  But also questions I answered with "I believe they did" at the time; then we heard from Jay Feaster, and it became even more clear.

After hearing from Jay, where he lays it all out in black and white, how can we be pointing fingers or assigning blame to the Calgary Flames?  Well, let’s go back and answer those three questions above.  Why did the Flames let it get this far?  Well, it’s not like they weren’t going to sign the kid.  Erixon was their top prospect, seemingly NHL ready, and a player fans were excited about.  For Calgary not to do their due dilligence in this respect would be foolish and a disservice to the team; and they did.

But at some point the team had to realize there wasn’t as much interest on the other side, and they did.  Feaster pointed to a number of reasons why Erixon’s camp was hesitant about signing the entry level deal; they weren’t convinced he’d be playing NHL minutes; he didn’t want to play in the American Hockey League; the Flames recent track record of giving time to young players isn’t great.  While all were true, they were things out of Calgary’s control…so question two: why didn’t they have contingency plans in place?  Once again, they did.  A week out, the team realized this might not be a realistic possibility, and they started fleshing out their other options and deciding which would be best.  The prevailing though was the Rangers deal came out of the blue on Wednesday afternoon, when in reality, it had been discussed for at least 24 hours prior.  So the sentiment the Flames didn’t have a backup just isn’t factual.

And the final question: why didn’t they do everything they possibly could do sign Erixon?  Yep…they did.  Feaster revealed the team came forward with two seperate offers, both pushing right to the limit of what they could offer the player.  Remember, Calgary’s hands were tied, the same way every other team has their hands tied with the NHL rookie max.  The Flames offered him the standard three year entry level deal at the max rookie salary, with lucrative bonus packages involved.  Because there’s only so much they can do, does that not qualify as doing everything they possibly could have done?

The bottom line is, the player didn’t want to play with Calgary.  It’s very hard to combat that when Erixon held all the cards, which he did in this scenario.  A highly touted prospect who had no qualms about re-entering the draft has the ability to control his own destiny; the Rangers were identified and the trade was made.  It’s a damn shame because the player is a very good one and he will be a huge boost to the New York blueline, but I just can’t sit here and condemn the Flames for how they handled this situation.

I’ve been plenty critical of the Flames and how they’ve gone about their business over the past 18 months, so the "you’re just protecting the team because you’re the rightsholder" argument is BS.  However, I’m also not going to just look for reasons to criticize the organization, and in this instance, they don’t deserve any.  Feaster and the Flames maximized their return on a difficult, less-than-ideal situation.  They weren’t signing the player despite their best efforts…what else could they have done?

  • SuntanOil

    I would be interested to know what kind of relationship had been built up with the kid over the two years. Did the Flames offer him a contract last year and if so, why wasn’t one signed then? If there was no contract offer last year, then why not? How much communication took place between the team and the player over the two years? Did a team representative drop in every now and then to see how he was doing / check if he had any concerns, or did they leave him incommunicado the entire time he was in Europe?

    To be frank, if the organization treated him “poorly” for the first 23 months and didn’t show any give and take until the kid had only a month to wait to escape the situation, then the fault does lie to a with the entire Flames organization except perhaps Feaster.

    I kind of liken it to having a two year cell phone plan with an uncaring company. For 23 months you have concerns but no one will listen to you. The battery on your phone doesn’t hold a charge and everyone with company A looks at you like it’s your fault. You want to modify your plan to suit yourself a bit, but are told that it’s not possible (even though your friend with another cell carrier just changed his). You are unhappy for 23 months until finally you hear from the company – only because the company wants you to sign a new two year contract. Only now do they listen to your concerns and agree to give you what you want, but for you it is too late. You have already decided to switch to the company your Dad uses.

    In any case, today should be a better day.

    Go Bruins!

    • icedawg_42

      The story goes that they were in constant contact. However, Dutter was a hard ass about everyone having to pay their dues in the AHL. Feaster probably just didnt have enough time to give Erixons camp the warm-fuzzy feelings about his own opinions.

  • Graham

    i listened to the Feaster interview and thought they played softball with him.

    Ultimately, you have to hold Executives accountable for ‘results’ not how well they ‘spin’ the situation. The ‘result’ was to loose your top prospect for an inadequate return.

    Taking Feaster at his word, they started looking for a trade 24 hours before the signing deadline.
    Simply put, they left it to late.

    Feaster misread the situation, waited to long
    to act, and failed to get fair value. Forget the spin, this mess falls on Feaster desk.

    • Resident Oddball

      The Flames allowed this to become an issue when they failed / declined to get Erixon under an ELC for the 2010-2011 season.

      Once it was clear he would not be in the NHL until 2011-2012 (at the earliest), what did he stand to lose by re-entering the draft? The only leverage that the Flames had here was the exclusivity to his rights (you sign with us, or you wait another year) which they appear to have pissed away. If he was UNWILLING to sign last offseason that should have been a major red flag and led to shopping around his rights.

      For all we know Erixon strung The Flames along until the last minute. It may also be possible that Feaster & co were oblivious to the situation and really thought they had a shot. We’ll never know.

      Ultimately, it’s pretty hard to blame Feaster for this loss: his predecessor left him with absolutely zero leverage.

  • Greg

    Steinberg said:

    “However, I’m also not going to just look for reasons to criticize the organization, and in this instance, they don’t deserve any. Feaster and the Flames maximized their return on a difficult, less-than-ideal situation.”

    Yeah, hard to blame Feaster here. But, Perhaps if the Flames had a GM named more than two weeks ago, then this situation could have been avoided. The GM could have recognized this months ago and dealt with it accordingly. Ken King deserves the complete blame for taking so long to name a general manager.

    • Resolute

      Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think the Flames were even able to negotiate with Erixon until after his SEL season ended. Even in the incredibly unlikely event that the Flames told Feaster not to negotiate because of the “interim” tag, I’m not certain he could have even begun until a couple weeks ago.

      Not to mention that it is beyond silly to think the Flames hadn’t already decided on Feaster long before announcement was made. Just because King didn’t tell you does not mean he hadn’t already told Feaster.

  • Greg

    @Azevedo

    Completely agree with you on Feaster lying. No way he could have traded Erixon earlier in the week without a freak out from the fans, so he told Slats to wait til the final hour before a trade was finalized to make it appear he pulled off some last minute miracle.

  • Greg

    This feels like a break up that had to happen. It sucks, everyone’s upset, but at the end of the day, you have to admit that it really wasn’t going to end any other way and you just have to accept it and move on.

    Or turn into a vengeful stalker. Either is good.

  • Willi P

    Erixon was born in NY, his daddy wanted him to play there, Sather wanted him. Done deal. I think the rest is just posturing. He needed an excuse so that the NYR’s didn’t get nailed for tampering.

    If this had happended the other way, Bettman woudl be all over it but because it is the NEW YORK Rangers, it will be swept under the rug.

    I say move on, develop the other prospects (TJ et al) and draft more (with more due diligence BEFORE they are drafted)

  • I’ll discuss the implications for the Flames later. For now I’ll note I’m having a hard time conjuring animus towards Erixon.

    Yeah, he screwed the Flames over…but in terms of his own wants and needs for his career, it seemed like the right move. He had a lot of leverage in this situation and if he didn’t like what he was hearing or seeing from the org, then it made sense for him to take advantage.

    We take for granted that kids coming into the league will shut up and do as their told – and most of the time they do because they don’t have much choice otherwise. But these guys aren’t indentured servants and they don’t necessarily owe anything to the team that happened to call their name on draft day.

    Erixon has outperformed his draft position since he was picked two years ago. His stock has risen league-wide. The Flames, on the other hand, have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, are notorious around the league for struggling with young players and went through a contentious firing and hiring of general managers. On top of all that, it seems the kid always had his sights set on New York. His agent rightly identified all these factors and worked to get his client to where he was the happiest.

    It’s a kick to the balls, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing in his place.

    • CitizenFlame

      If the players that are being drafted can start dictating those kind of terms then you might as well do away with the draft and then have a free for all, free agency right out of junior.

      I don’t disagree with the assessment of the Flames organization, but he hasn’t proven a thing at the NHL level, but wants guarantees of a roster spot and thinks that he should displace a veteran who is a legit NHL pro? It has to be a two-way street. Let’s face it, Erixon was not negotiating in good faith.

      I’m basing my opinion off of what Feaster said in the Fan960 interview; if that is all true.

    • joey joe joe jr shabadoo

      I pretty much completely agree with you here Kent.

      I can’t believe some of the comments in here though. Feaster Lying? Erixon wanted to be in NY all along? wow. talk about reading between the lines. some of you guys should be writing conspiracy theory articles, you’re making Canuck fans look intelligent.

      Anyway, this should serve as the tipping point for the organization or at the very least a harsh wake up call. When you (arguably) best prospect will not sign with you because he niether has the faith or trust that he will be given the chance to advance his career, that is a pretty damming indictment.

      I don’t blame Erixon one bit. Look at how the Flames have dealt with Irving, Brodie, Pelech, Negrin, Aulie, even how Backlund has been treated. Whether or not these guys were ready or deserving is another argument all together, but the fact that they’ve all had such a rough ride trying to even get a taste of NHL action is a disturbing trend. Erixon’s concern’s are well waranted. Maybe he leveraged his situation to land himself in a more comfortable environment. the Rangers have certainly shown in recent years they’re willing to give their young players a honest oppourtunity. Why wouldn’t he want to go there? Why would he want to stay with the Flames? And the fact that his dad played for the organization, and NY is just that much closer to Sweden that’s just icing on the cake. Think about it, Erixon was willing to go back to the draft. So in his mind, and his agents mind, there were at least 6-7 teams he would rather play for than the Flames, so I don’t by this was a “trade me to NY only” situation.

      This should be a tipping point for the Flames. They have got to change the culture and preception of the organization. And it starts with an analysis of the Hockey Operations department. Todd Button’s drafting record has been abhorent, his only defense should be that Daryll was in fact calling the shots (which I don’t doubt) at the draft table. If this organization can’t change, they’ll be damn lucky to just to make the playoffs in the next five years.

    • T&A4Flames

      Sorry Kent, but I can’t quite agree with you. Yes, I think a player should look out for his own interests but they also need to look out for their reputation as well. I think this reflects poorly on the entire Erixon family. They could have made it known a long time ago that there was no way they were going to let their son play anywhere other than NY and give CGY a proper opportunity to get a good return on him. Timmy looks like a spoiled brat and not a guy of good character. He could have signed 3 years in CGY and give it a chance and if he’s not happy, then he can quietly ask for a trade. Having an opportunity to play in the NHL is a privelage, regardless of your bloodlines. Sorry daddy Erixon, your past successes in the league do not transfer to your son; he needs to make his own way and earn the right to call his own shots. Feaster and his group, it seems, went well out of there way to accomodate him and his concerns. I seriously hope he never plays a game in the NHL.

      • icedawg_42

        I gotta agree with you here. Erixon could EASILY have said, right after the WHC “Look, this ain’t happening – period. Make a move with the Rangers or im going back to the draft” instead of playing the games and countering every offer. At least it would have been earlier in the process, and instead of going to Sather with his tail between his legs, knowing he had no leverage, Feaster could have at least bluffed and said “Give me a good enough offer and he’s yours”. We might have gotten a higher end prospect that way.

  • If what Feaster said on the Fan960 is true(first chance to listen to the interview this morning), offering the kid the max he could plus A+B bonuses and a garuantee that if it didn’t work for whatever reason(apparently going so far as saying he was getting 2nd pairing minutes to start) that he would be sent back to europe than it seems he knew what he wanted to do since day 1 and thats not play for the flames.

  • Resolute

    lol. The safest thing you can do when it comes to Dowbiggin is to completely disregard any and everything he says about the Flames. He hated the team when he worked for the Herald, and now that he’s in Toronto, his hatred is mixed with ignorance.

    Anyway, the most disappointing thing about how Erixon and his agent handled it was they demand, the Flames accept, and they demand something else. Calgary offered everything Erixon asked for, and the punk still bailed because he wanted to go play for daddy’s team. Complete lack of class on the part of the player. I don’t believe in karma, but just this once, I’d like to see it kick Erixon in the ass.

  • icedawg_42

    From Feaster’s story, it really sounds like Grossman and Erixon torpedoed the Flames hard. If the little sh!t wanted to be moved that bad he should have laid all his cards on the table instead of coming up with every excuse in the book, one at a time. I do agree that the Flames should have had a backup plan – but for all we know maybe they did – the closer the deadline, the more Erixon’s trade value diminished, and the harder and harder the Flames were getting bent over. Listening to Dowbiggin on the Fan, sounds really gloom and doom as far as players not wanting to come here – not sure I believe that, but at least our neighbors to the North are selling “hope” to fans and players. Darryl Sutter is still hosing this team from beyond the proverbial grave. Thanks for the legacy Dutter – at least you brought us a cup…oh, wait.

  • “So the sentiment the Flames didn’t have a backup just isn’t factual.”

    Actually it is factual, the trade to the rangers wasn’t a backup plan. A backup plan is devised weeks or months ahead of time, a deal made 24 hours before the deadline where he would re-enter is either blackmail or desperation. And if prevailing thought is true, may as well have been blackmail. If Feaster had a real backup plan for the kid I think he could have gotten more than an extra 2nd round pick(we would have gotten a 2nd anyways so only one counts and we essentially swapped 5th rounders). A real backup plan is made far in advance of deadlines and not the day before.

    With all that said though, I’m less and less blaming Feaster and tipping my hat to him for at least getting something from nothing. The Rangers and the rest of the league seemingly knew he was only gonna go back to the Rangers(tampering by dad and Agent IMO) so the fact he got the extra second on top of the 42nd pick is pretty decent. I’m more and more really DISLICKING Erixon, it’s one thing if a player comes right out and says “Your organization sucks and I don’t want to play here, please trade me” It’s another to partially lead a team on till 24 hours before and have the only option of the team he WANTS to play with, just reeks of tampering and mocks the way the draft works(especially if the max deal with big bonuses part is true).

  • I forget where I read it, or if it was in Feaster’s press conference, but apparently teams were asking last season about Erixon, and the Flames told them to bugger off.

    If they had been working their due diligence and realized Erixon didn’t want to be here, or at least tried to sign him last season when that may have become quite apparent, we might have gotten more for him.

    As is, at least we got more than an effing late second round pick. Or perhaps the burn Erixon put on the Flames in a more metaphysical sense, what with dissing the organization and exposing their faults, is way more damaging than a prospect + 2 picks could ever heal.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    I thought about this a little more this afternoon-what happened in the six days between the realization of “This guy might not be signing” to yesterday? I see a few possibilities:

    -Feaster’s lying about when they realized Erixon didn’t want to be here and the Rangers were the only ones who offered something when the panic button was pressed today. Not likely, based on some other scuttlebutt I’ve heard.

    -There was an offer put out to the other 29 teams 6 days ago and only the Rangers responded/offered the best package, but the Flames waited until today to move him.

    -The Rangers were so sure of what was going to happen, they were the only ones who put an offer forth.

    So, that leaves me with some questions: when did the Flames make this guy available? The closer he got to the deadline, the more his value depreciated-but at the same time, if he’s as good as we think he is, shouldn’t there have been teams duking it out to get him early in the process? Was there an asking price? Was he even on the market? How did the Rangers complete a trade call and sign a guy to a contract in less then two hours? (I’m of the opinion that there’s something fishy with that.)

    In all likelihood, the second possibility is probably the most accurate, but I’d still be filing tampering charges at 9AM ET tomorrow if I’m Feaster.