Love him or hate him, there is little denying that the President of the Calgary Flames is a busy man these days. Many would say that Ken King had his hands full with running not just the Flames but also the Calgary Hitmen and the recently salvaged lacrosse team, the Calgary Roughnecks. But when you add to all that the organization’s rather sudden majority purchase of the Calgary Stampeders football club, one can only speculate how KK decides which hat to wear in the morning.
I talked previously about the problems that Jay Feaster had to deal with and the hurdles he has to overcome if he ever wanted to make his mark and really make the team his. That main hurdle has always been perceived as being Ken King. So what hurdles does the hurdle face?
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Since joining the organization in 2001, Ken King has had one task, make the team, and the organization, profitable. He has done a good job at it too. When he took the reins in 2001, the Flames were worth $92 million dollars; as of this year, they are worth $220 million and sit 13th in the NHL rankings. They are also third in the league for debt/value percentage. Financially he saved the franchise.
Unfortunately, the average fan doesn’t care too much about that fact, since it largely looms behind the scenes and away from the on ice issues that have plagued the team for the last decade. Instead he is seen by some as the meddlesome tyrant who has no hockey background and won’t hand over control to someone who has a more intimate knowledge of the game. Rather, he seems more than content to instill puppet GM’s that will do whatever he tells them to do, or even worse, won’t do what he tells them they can’t; as long as the organization continues to make money.
Does that about sum it up?
Like you, King has an overwhelming fondness for the sport. And his aspiration every season is to raise the bar another notch to reward devoted fans with the best possible entertainment package in the NHL. He appreciates the enduring fan loyalty and the excitement surrounding the regular season. He’s also proud to have watched fans enjoy heart-wrenching, but electrifying, playoff runs for the Stanley Cup.
– Taken from King’s Bio.
Easy to say something like this when it’s on the team’s website and well, he probably wrote it himself, but at least some of the sincerity and meaning should show through the babble-talk, right? That’s up for you to decide, but I can say that yes, I think there is a large measure of truth to the statement. Be it only for the third period, King can be found sitting in his seat (or rather in his row) directly behind the opposition’s net, every game; whether they are winning or losing. He isn’t just a faceless name sitting in the owner’s box crunching dollars and cents like Kent does advanced stats, he is a fan of the game and of this team.
So if that is the case, then why is this team drowning in mediocrity and if King is so smart and astute, then why can’t he see what the problem is? If there is truth to his tyrant label, then it may be a case of ego that prevents him from being able to get out of the way enough for the right people to come in and do something. If they have the right people within the organization, then perhaps they are restricted within the descriptions of the positions King has confined them to. Either way, it presents a future that is destined to fail, which inevitably will have an eventual effect on the organization’s revenue and value. It may not happen in the near future but even King has to see that coming down the road.
THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES
No matter how confident King is in ability to lead this organization in the right direction, there are only so many hours in the day to devote to any given task or project. Taking ownership of the Stampeders brings up so many issues that will undoubtedly affect how much time Ken can devote to the Flames.
With that in mind is there any question as to why rumours are surfacing about King bringing in a replacement President of Hockey Operations, while he remains the chief over-seer of the parent group of companies? It’s just smart business and if nothing else King is a business man.
Whether it’s true or not that the Flames are perusing John Davidson from the St. Louis Blues is rather irrelevant; it’s the notion, or concept if you will, that is the important factor. The idea that King can let go of his vice grip on the daily operations of the Flames team is a massive step in the right direction. But as everyone knows, that first step is the biggest. No one, except King himself, will ever know what toils he will go through giving up that amount of control, or for how long he will be able to remain that hands-off guy before his natural instincts begin to kick-in. One factor that KK will have to weigh heavily on is that a move of this magnitude is not going to be a gradual transition; it’s in for a penny, in for a pound on this one.
John Davidson has a very narrow window that allows him to get out of his contract extension with the St. Louis Blues. He has the right to walk away in the event of an ownership transfer in St. Louis. The purchase of the Blues is the first move in what could cascade into a series of events involving JD since his situation in St. Lou is a complicated one that is tied to many other factors. Davidson has a strong relationship with former owner, David Checkett – it was he that convinced John to come out of the broadcast booth in MSG, a job he was quite content with, and take the reins of the struggling Blues and rebuild them into what we see today. Over the past few seasons, Davidson has been sitting more and more in the background while allowing GM Doug Armstrong to be a more prominent voice in the organization.
With Checkett ‘checking out’, and with CEO Mike McCarthy stepping down to make room for new owner, Tom Stillman, to bring in his own guy to fill the role, Davidson might just feel like he should be the next guy in line to remove himself from an organization that is making sweeping changes. That being said, he still may not end up in Calgary, but one can hope, and given there are few people out there that could have the impact of John Davidson being the President of their club, it’s a hope worth clinging to for Flames fans… and the organization.
If, and that’s a mighty big IF, the Flames do land this miracle acquisition, Ken King is going to have to be 100% sure. Landing a guy like JD means Ken is going to have to not just step back, but get the hell out of the way. As the new President, Davidson is going to not want, but demand full autonomy to make whatever changes to the Flames hockey ops and staff he sees fit, without so much as even a whimper. That will likely include the likes of Iginla, Kiprusoff and perhaps even Jay Feaster.
King might be well served to page out Davidson’s book for success. He saw when it was time for him to step back in the Blues organization and allow Armstrong more latitude. If Ken can do the same thing in order to land someone like Davidson, the dividends he sees might greatly out measure the sacrifices he has to make to achieve success; particularly to his ego (assuming of course there is any truth to that matter). Once again it becomes a decision that should favour the strengths and not the weaknesses of Ken King. He may not be the “non-hockey guy” everyone vilifies him for, but this is not a hockey decision, it’s business.
The Road Ahead
Over the next few years, the business side of the Flames organization has much to consider and work towards. The idea of a new arena turned on a dime with a new vision of a multiplex style development that would include not only a new home for your Calgary Flames, but also the Calgary Stampeders as well. Finding a space that has the area for such a development is a daunting task. When you further factor in sufficient parking, transit accessibility and a general ease of public access without having to drive out of the city á la Ottawa or Phoenix, King will have his focus torn away whether he likes it or not.
Regardless of who the body is to fill the new position of President of Hockey Operations is, the decision plays to King’s strengths because it is a business decision, and if King is good at one thing, it’s the business side of the Flames organization. If they don’t end up getting John Davidson, then I hope they pursue other avenues.
Could Ken King be so astute as to put his ego and his personal feelings aside and perhaps hire someone like Lanny McDonald for Hockey Ops? Could the Flames be serious enough about the evolution of their front office as to go completely outside the box and hire someone like Håkan Loob? Look at what Loob accomplished with Färjestad BK, for instance. Time will tell, but right now enough people are focusing on JD. Despite both parties denying there has been any communication from either side, Davidson has enough ties to this city that the rumours refuse to die.
Let’s see what the next few weeks bring.