Until recently, I was a card carrying member of the "Blame Ken King" camp. I was thoroughly invested in the idea that the reason the Flames consistently failed to build a good team was team president Ken King and owner Murray Edwards interfering too much with the administration of the team. The idea that King and Edwards were basically doing the job of the GMs and both Sutter and Feaster with left with less capabilities because of it.
How accurate is that assumption though? How fair is it?
There have been occasional reports of ownership and administrative interference, to be sure. Elliotte Friedman reported a while back that several other executives believe Feaster is being prevented from entering into a full rebuild by King and Edwards.
A few other execs believe that if Jay Feaster had his way, he’d already have begun an aggressive rebuild of the Flames — but hasn’t had support of upper management/ownership. (Feaster denied that when I asked, and, as Oilers fans know, he’s denied it quite famously in public.) You have to believe, after the incredible disappointment of the last two weeks, things are going to change now.
In fact, even without the reports of interference, the assumption is hardly a poor one. A hockey team isn’t a small investment for Edwards and King is a very intelligent businessman, so of course they’ll both want input on the direction of the team. Anyone intelligent manger wiould. The question then becomes "How much is too much?"
When you consider the amount of money Jarome Iginla makes for the Flames organization- even as a player whose abilities are much diminished from his prime, it’s hard to be shocked at King and Edwards having fingers in the pizza dough. So why, if we can assume Iginla and King are involved in the hockey operations of the Flames, do I question the amount of blame the higher ups deserve for Sutter’s failures and now Feaster’s failures?
1. You Don’t Become the 14th Richest Canadian By Meddling
It’s Management 101- if you are in a supervisory position of any sort, you know to let the qualified people to do their jobs. To equate this to something else- if you’re a foreman of a construction team, you’re not a welder, you don’t weld, and you don’t stand over the welders shoulder and tell them how to weld (especially not literally- that could be very poor for your fancy foreman clothes).
Edwards – and by reputation, King – has gotten to where he is for a good reason. He knows smart investments, he knows management, he knows how to run businesses. Smart management is letting the people on the ground make the day to day decisions. That said, the overall direction is up to him, and it’s hard to blame him for not wanting a rebuild. A rebuild is no fun and frequently painful.
2. A Lack of Consistency
If King and Edwards were basically running hockey operations and dictating all the moves, things wouldn’t have changed between the Sutter and Feaster years. If Sutter and Feaster were merely figureholdersm there would have been no change when Feaster became the GM.
But that’s not the case. Things have changed.
It is, admittedly, a sea change. There has been no overnight rebuild, no tearing down of walls, no setting afire of multiple players’ jerseys. But things have and are being altered. The club has indicated a willingness to go to untapped wells for new talent (Cervenka), to trade potentially risky vets for younger more offensive players (Langkow for Stempniak), and likely to say goodbye to Olli Jokinen. Two years ago under the Sutter reign, these concepts were entirely foreign. Two years ago, the rumors of King and Edwards interfering with the team were minimal. Two years ago Sutter would have been unlikely to draft Sven Baertschi, the small European with one year in the WHL.
Today it’s almost expected Feaster will draft for skill above all else.
3. Feaster Once Quit Because of Meddling By Management
What people often forget is Jay Feaster wasn’t fired by Tampa. His contract didn’t expire. No, instead Jay Feaster got pissed off at management running the show regardless of his input and thoughts and walked right out on a nice easy three year ride of not actually having to manage a hockey team.
"For the past two weeks I have watched from the sidelines as Brian Lawton, Len Barrie and Oren Koules executed to perfection the gameplan they shared with us prior to the NHL draft in Ottawa…During that time it became apparent to me that this new ownership group did not need my advice or expertise, and I came to the conclusion that it was time to move on." [CBC.ca]
If he was willing to do that in the offseason of 2008 after drafting one of the best players in the league in Stamkos, why would he stick with a Calgary team going nowhere that treats him the same way?
4. Occam’s Razor
At the end of the day, Bertrand Russel’s summarization of Occam’s Razor should be remembered: "Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities"
Darryl Sutter being a poor GM is a known entity. Ken King and Murray Edwards whispering in his and Feaster’s ears is an unknown entity. King and Edwards whispering in their ears and changing how they run things when the GM position changed is even more of an unknown entity.
In reality it’s far more likely that Darryl Sutter simply failed as a GM. It makes far more sense that the mess Sutter left is too big to be cleaned up immediately by Jay Feaster. Ken King and Murray Edwards share some of the blame, to be certain, but sitting and thinking "Ken King is really the one running the Flames. Feaster is a puppet" strikes me as foolish.