Remember all those fun times you had? Making fun of the Oilers has been really and truly great since their Cup run ended hilariously in a Game 7 loss to Carolina.
Flames fans shouldn’t be laughing any more, because their beloved team is the one to avoid like the plague.
I read Steinberg’s piece on assigning blame yesterday with a mixture of bemusement and disbelief. I had seen the spinmeisters try to couch the failure to sign Tim Erixon as the only thing that could be done, but from Pat, whose opinion seems more worthy of consideration than most others in the Calgary Media Pompom Club put together? It was surprising to say the least.
The crux of his argument boiled down to his answers to three questions:
1) Why did the Flames let it get this far?
2) Why didn’t they have contingency plans in place?
3) Why didn’t they do all they possibly could to keep this player around?
These were all explained away as the organization doing the very very best it could to make a very bad situation at least palatable. And personally I find the implication of such to be offensive.
I’m not an idiot, for one thing. Those that would have you believe the Flames did the very best they could are very putting lipstick on pig. One which has been lying in a puddle of slop, dead, for a week. But let’s answer the questions in order.
First, why did the Flames let it get this far? They had to very much believe that a deal could be worked out. That’s fair enough. Bargaining in good faith with your top prospect is, I assume, a fairly important thing for a team to do. But at some point, it had to become apparent that Erixon’s wants or needs as a player — and again, he seems to be NHL-ready — were not going to be something the Flames could meet and stay safely under the salary cap. After all, there are an awful lot of bad contracts already on the books (Daaaaaaaaarryl! Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaryl!) and nearly as many clauses that prevent the team from doing anything with them. This was of course not helped by that baffling Glencross no-movement clause, which Feaster certainly had a lot to do with.
Second, as the deadline wore near, the apologists assume, Feaster had his ducks very much in a row. They’d trade him to the New York Rangers, where his dad played, for two half-decent second-round picks and a third-decent NHL prospect in Roman Horak, whom no one in the league has ever heard or thought of as anything beyond a somewhat viable third-rate prospect at best. Because that made sense.
Any sign of collusion — Erixon being signed by his new suitors almost the second he was traded, for example — has been largely ignored by both the team and media. Was it really mere happenstance that he was traded to and immediately came to terms on a deal with the team whose arena he was born within 20 miles of? Surely there had to be one team from the other 28 possible that could have cobbled together an even slightly better package than what the Rangers offered, right? Let’s not forget, the kid was a first-round pick two years ago and has been playing against men ever since. I find it remarkably difficult to believe two seconds and a throw-in prospect was the prettiest girl at the cotillion.
Third, the answer to why Feaster didn’t do all in his power to keep Erixon around is very much tied to point No. 1.
"The kid just didn’t want to play here," everyone shrugs, as if that somehow should alleviate concerns. We’ll likely not find out any time soon exactly why Erixon didn’t want to come to Calgary, but one supposes it wouldn’t have been for the lack of opportunity to get decent minutes right away.
I’ll be optimistic first: More likely it was tied to one of two things which are, again, related: they couldn’t squeeze his bonus demands in under the cap in accordance with their other plans (which I’m assuming include a long-term, big-money extension for a Mr. A. Tanguay), and/or there simply wasn’t a guaranteed NHL roster spot for him.
If the latter is true, then Feaster is worse at his job than most of us thought (and most of us think he’s really quite bad at it). If the former is true, then Feaster is worse at his job than most of us thought (and most of us think he’s really quite bad at it).
Neither would be indicative of a GM who knows what he’s doing.
Should your long-term plans, or hell, even short-term plans, involve denying what is apparently an NHL-ready 20-year-old bruising defenseman a legitimate chance or even the outright promise of claiming a roster spot, because you really like what known quantities such as Adam Pardy, Anton Babchuk or (god forbid) Steve Staios bring to the table, then you are a complete and utter moron.
Similarly, if you’re not prepared to shuffle some chairs around this particular deck of the Titanic to squeeze such a player in, then you are entering your job as steward of a team that needs a total rebuild with the entirely wrong mindset.
Now let’s be pessimistic, and say that Erixon really didn’t want to play in Calgary.
That would be a very, very bad thing indeed. Most kids would fairly jump at the chance to play for any NHL team that they were lucky enough to be drafted by, right? Erixon’s got the bloodlines and grew up cheering on the team he was traded to, but Taylor Hall’s from Calgary, and you can bet he’s just pleased as punch to be pulling on an Oilers jersey every night. So if players are now actively avoiding Calgary for the simple fact that it’s Calgary, then the Flames have a major problem on their hands.
The entire league used to giggle up its sleeve every time a half-decent player did all in their power to stop playing for Edmonton. Mike Comrie and Chris Pronger asked out of town, Dany Heatley blocked a trade there and instead headed to San Jose, a few guys whose names I forget agreed to contracts in Edmonton and then went elsewhere anyway. Haw haw haw. Funny stuff all around.
That might now be what Calgary is. Maybe it already is. We didn’t think about it at the time, I guess, but the "major" acquisitions of last summer weren’t exactly the kind of earth-shattering blockbusters the Jay Bouwmeester deal was. Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay, picked up off the discard pile and called "progress." It almost doesn’t matter that Jokinen was serviceable and Tanguay was excellent this past season, because they could have just as easily not been. But the message is clear: we’re long past the days of Calgary being a major free agent — or now, apparently, draftee — destination.
Maybe that’s a function of the topheavy quality of the team’s current cap structure, which, by the way, isn’t changing soon. But maybe players also see what’s perceived to have happened to Bouwmeester — he was great now he sucks, so the legend goes — and they say they don’t want a part of it. Maybe they see that the team’s primed for a rebuild and don’t want to be around when it’s is losing 50 games a year.
Who can blame them, any more than they could blame Pronger and Comrie and Heatley and Nylander (was that one of them?) for not wanting to go to Edmonton? Not me. Shouldn’t be you either.
None of the above questions have answers that qualify as "good" or "comfortable." And anyone trying to tell you this is anything but a massive disappointment and black eye for Feaster and this organization has their head so far up the team’s ass they’ve set up a base camp in its small intestine.