C’est Buono

On January 24th Wally Buono held a news conference to announce that he was trading star received and B.C. Lions franchise cornerstone Geroy Simon.

Okay, so we’re talking football in February, but stick with me here.

Simon is a lock for the CFL Hall of Fame, and probably a few other local Halls of Fame in B.C. and his home state of Pennsylvania. His game has diminished partially due to age and injury, but there is no denying that he is still an effective player and a terrific influence to have on the roster of any CFL team. On top of that, Simon had spent eleven years with the Lions, winning two Grey Cup championships and the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award. It was Simon’s image that adorned the B.C. Lions Canada Post stamp for the Grey Cup’s 100th birthday.

Simon has earned the respect and loyalty of the B.C. Lions franchise, not to mention the entire CFL.


Making the Tough Call

Wally Buono was right to trade him and in a recent article from Postmedia journalist Cam Cole, he explains how difficult it was, as well as how necessary it is that a team be able to make the hard decisions on a player, any player, at the right time.

I don’t need to tell Calgary sports fans about Wally Buono, so I’ll skip to the relevant parts.

Buono had to make “certain hard decisions” in order to ensure that the club could add Solomon Elimimian and retain Travis Lulay, as well as OT Jovan Olafioye and SB Shawn Gore.

That decision was choosing those players over Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce III – two future Hall of Famers who were getting older and in line for a pay increase due more to what they have done than what they are likely to still do.

That this is Wally Buono making these calls on veteran stars is almost like the Universe giving Calgary a strong elbow to the ribs and wink.

Read this quote from Buono and draw your own comparisons: “This is a point in time when it is simply business…But if you’re not willing to make the tough choice, eventually someone will make the tough choice about you. Firing you is a tough choice. The easy thing would have been not to make the hard choice on Geroy…”

Buono goes on to describe the difference-makers on a team, and granted we are comparing apples and oranges between football and hockey teams, but the principles of building a winning team without letting misty-eyed sentimentality get in the way still apply.

“So, once you find out who your difference-makers are, you’ve got to take care of them. And then once they become less and less of a differencemaker [sic], you’ve got to start finding the next guys. It’s a cycle right?”

Notice that Buono doesn’t say anything about trading Simon for some immense package intended to rebuild the team, or get hung up on getting "fair value" for Simon. No, it was a move made by a team that needed to refocus and reassess. A player was allowed to move to another team where he could get what he had requested and the Lions will just keep on their path. Buono admits in the article that the morning after having made the decision to trade Simon was one of the hardest in his life, but he made the call and knew it was the right one, so on he went to deliver a press conference he probably wished he’d never have to.

That is intellectual honesty and integrity.

Decision Time Coming

Jay Feaster and the Flames are rapidly approaching decision day on Jarome Iginla.

I’ve said before that I would like to see Iginla re-sign in Calgary and spend his entire career a Flame. That doesn’t happen much anymore and Iginla could be the last major player to do so for a very long time. He can’t bring the fans a Stanley Cup, but if he could do this, well…

However, what would be best for the franchise, not the egos or emotions of supposed leaders and others involved, is for Iginla to okay some trade options and let the Flames move on. Heck, even put it out there that he demanded a trade and let him leave a villain. It’s what Pocklington and Sather did with the Gretzky trade because the team can’t hide anywhere and couldn’t afford the fan outrage at the time. 

Fans will figure out the truth of the matter in time and all will eventually be forgiven, but the immediate concerns of the club call for some clear-eyed, objective decisions to be made. You can argue all you want in the comments about how much is or is not owed by the player to the fans or vice-versa, and I’m not going to debate what Iginla is worth on the trade market right now. That is a guessing game for everyone including most NHL GMs.

What is true in the end is that Iginla and the Flames aren’t going to win anything this season, and that the good franchises know that no one, absolutely no one, is bigger than the organization.

That kind of objectivity and courage, coupled with honesty and sincere compassion, is what has made Wally Buono one of the best GMs in the history of the CFL. There are lessons to be learned from his management style.

  • Mitch P

    The problem is that everone on the planet but the team and player get it.

    Good article though.

    Except one unrelated point: Gretzky wanted out 100% so he could go live with Janet in La-La Land. It was the team that played the part of the villain IMO. After all, even Pocklington was smart enough to know that Gretzky jersey sales alone amounted to more than his actual salary. Wedding, then trade.

    • RexLibris

      At the time, if I recall correctly, Gretzky was villified in order to take the heat off of ownership and management. Moving to L.A. was part of the issue, but a significant portion of it was also a contentious renegotiation of his “personal services” contract with Pocklington.

  • schevvy

    Excellent article. Well written and should be required reading for all GMs in any sport. It’s obvious at this point that the Flames are not contenders in any way shape or form this season and we need to objectively look at each player and their roles regardless of their past performances. I can appreciate how important Iggy and Kipper have been to the Flames over the years but it is time to move on.

    I don’t expect much in return for trading either player but it will force the team to re-examine how we play the game and will probably change the culture in the locker room. Between that and the money it will free up (by not re-signing them), we may be able to become relevant sooner rather than later.

    As of today, the only players I would consider untouchable on our roster would be Brodie, Backlund, Baertschi, and Giordano. That said, I am not advocating a total blow up but we should consider all options.

  • Chris Fairfield

    100% agreed that Iggy should be moved, but, as has already been mentioned, he seems to be larger than the team and is comfortable in his role as the face. The only thing missing on his resume is a Stanley Cup and as much as it pains me to say, it will not happen in Calgary anytime soon. Iggy is by far my favorite player, his work in the community, committment to his team, olympics, always has time to talk, no matter what, but, he has to look at this objectively and for the betterment of the team and himself long-term.

    On a side note, Feaster recalls Akim Aliu and sends down 2 centers??? Possibly trying to inject some truculence, Anyone know what Ville Nieminen is up to these days? Yeah I know, he’s an effective agitator, non-truculence related.

    • schevvy

      Ville Nieminen is playing in Tappara Tampere, in SM-Liiga Finland. He is at the moment second in team scoring behind Alexander Barkov.

      He has 20+24 for 44 points. His 20 goals puts him to 7th in goals for the league.

      Overall great season for him so far.

  • Chris Fairfield

    Nice piece Rex. I totally agree with Buono and the moral of this. Iggy really needs to move on on so many levels. But here’s the thing, Iggy has made a lot of money & really shouldnt want anything. Other than perhaps a Stanley Cup & he’s a smart man. Intellectually he should know that a Cup wont be here in Calgary before another painful rebuild. So, you have all the money you could ever want, you have a place you played all your career & that team is offering you a retirement contract & a management position after. The only rider is that your role will be reduced, perrhaps the C will be given to the next franchise player to emerge, probably before the contract expires & oh, we need you to sign at 40% what you could get out in the open market. Sooooooo, go play for 6.0 mill a year & a contender or stay where you are rooted & will probably persue your after career life, not uproot your family, no hope for a cup & play for a pittance 3.5 or 4.0 mill, even though you have $$$ coming out your ying yang. Decisions decisions. I think only Iggy can answer this one. Its becoming pretty obvious, just wish he would decide before April 1.

  • Chris Fairfield

    I agree with most of what you wrote here Rex,although IMO there,s a huge difference between hockey and football, and the recruitement of there respective league,s to stay competitive.The mileage on a football player is quite different and i,am surprised you did,nt mention that.

    Also , i don,t believe as you suggest that leadership with the Flames run on EGO and EMOTION any more than any other team in the league.

    This management team is well aware that star players are past there best before date.

    I,ve been impressed by JAROMRE IGINLA this year,with the circumstances presented.He has handled the on and off ice issue,s like a pro.

    Calgary has already added some nice piece.s with Hudler and Cervanka,and have my confidence that,ll retool this team without TANKING

  • Chris Fairfield

    I agree maybe he should be traded. Mostly if he wants to. I am okay with him finishing his career here and signing lower money deals for the coming years, and I don’t want the discussion to degenerate to a Sundin like debacle. I won’t begrudge him either way, do what you want with everyone else though.

    • Chris Fairfield

      Would be alright with me if he signed with a contender for the final run ,and than resigned with Calgary at 1/2 price and filled a 2nd /3rd line role. That would be a great scenario

  • Chris Fairfield

    That was an awesome piece. It was all football, yet totally relevant hockey here and now. I just nodded, and nodded….I hope Feaster and company read it. Well done.

  • MC Hockey

    Great article and I wish such truths would be applied universally….you know like those very accurate old wives tales that pregnant women should drink Guiness for health reasons, and so forth.

    But seriously, I agree with the theme of the article, actually had emailed a Flames broadcaster about this exact thing today. I am OK with Iggy staying in a reduced pay rate and on the 3rd line as playing against weaker opponents allows him to score more, but frankly his loyalty would be stronger if he “took one for the team” and allowed the Flames to get a decent return for him.

  • the forgotten man

    I have no faith in our Flames upper management…ergo no faith in the product on the ice. Championship teams are built by astute GMs…Cliff Fletcher won us our Cup in ’89. A President/GM worth his salt would have sent Iginla packing in one of the last two seasons…Regehr had a no trade and where is he? Iginlas no trade is more a cop out for our weak management than the player himself.
    JD was a huge miss when he went to Columbus…those are the non-transactions that kill franchises over 5-10 year periods.

  • the forgotten man

    I have no faith in our Flames upper management…ergo no faith in the product on the ice. Championship teams are built by astute GMs…Cliff Fletcher won us our Cup in ’89. A President/GM worth his salt would have sent Iginla packing in one of the last two seasons…Regehr had a no trade and where is he? Iginlas no trade is more a cop out for our weak management than the player himself.
    JD was a huge miss when he went to Columbus…those are the non-transactions that kill franchises over 5-10 year periods.

  • RKD

    I doubt Iggy would pull a Sundin, in the end Sundin was ineffective as a Canuck and took a lot of bad penalties.

    If the Flames asked Iggy to waive his no trade clause, he’d probably think about it for a week like Reggie and accept his fate.

    I don’t think we should expect big returns, lots of big names are getting traded with underwhelming returns. Look at the Nash deal, and he’s younger than Iggy.

  • Franko J

    In response to the article, one note of exception is BC Lions’ ownership faithfully allow Wally Buono to make all the decisions for the organization. He is the supreme decision maker for that franchise. In stark contrast, Feaster is more of a GM who provides good sound bites for the media. Like Buono we had a GM who ownership gave full reins to run this franchise, look what he had done? Practically has ran this franchise into the ground.

    Secondly Buono has won championships for the Lions’ ownership. Therefore, he demands the respect from Braley for how he handles the tough decisions.
    Has Feaster gotten the Flames farther ahead than Sutter as GM? Right now looking at this team I think not. Ultimately and solely the fingers should be pointed more so at the ownership of this franchise when it has come down to making those tough decisions which moves this team forward rather than a GM who doesn’t have total autonomy.

    The worst part about hockey is the players have guaranteed contracts with these fancy clauses and no trades and so forth. In football the contracts aren’t guaranteed, therefore the leverage to negotiate or trade are in the GM’s favor to make moves as they see fit.

    Like coaches and GM’s having a shelf life, players in every sport only had have a small window of opportunity to dominate their sport. The good GM’s and coaches can determine long before when a player is about to be past their prime and it is time to trade or move that for the good of the franchise. The unfortunate part for the Flames is they did not have the GM in place who could have moved Iginla sooner rather than later. Now I’m afraid that time is too late.

  • Derzie

    What no feature article on the next Flames saviour akim. The flames management are perfectly comfortable with Iggy dictating the terms. Murray and Iggy co-chair the organization. As for the cfl, a player can win mvp and be released the next day all parties know its strictly business.

  • RexLibris

    For the record, this lesson could be applied to most sports management groups, the Oilers included.

    The Buono/Simon situation seemed particularly relevant for the upcoming drama that will unfold in Calgary this April (the trade deadline this year is April 13th, circle that on your calendars!).

    Certainly there are a myriad of details, great and small, that separate the CFL and NHL. However, one needs only look through the business management section of any bookstore or library to see that the lessons and strategies of one are often applicable to the field of another.

    In this case, Feaster, King and Edwards all have to look at the situation and make a clear-eyed decision on where they want to go. I won’t include any judgments here, I’ve got time enough for those later, but the challenge is what is the key. I felt that Flames fans could use a bit of managerial allegory to prepare for what is ahead.

    The same lesson of being flexible and ready to accept change, regardless of the emotional attachments involved, needs to apply to the Oilers.

    For instance, they are beginning to circle the drain and as much as I would like to add a Barkov or Monahan to this group, something needs to be done now. A trade for O’Reilly would be ideal and is entirely possible. But it won’t happen because of a stubborn refusal to adapt management’s plan.