The fall-out from the Ryan O’Reilly debacle is still on-going, but there seems to be a strong, gathering sentiment that Jay Feaster should be fired for the near misstep. After some consideration I have (surprisingly) come down on the side of the beleaguered Flames GM.
I’ll first establish that his is not a blanket endorsement of Feaster, Calgary’s roster, or the Flames management in general. Regular readers know I have been consistently and loudly vocal whenever I have found reason for criticism over the years. I think there have been mistakes made, that the current team is in rough shape and that the organization is nearing a very critical crossroads. To be honest, I don’t really know if this is the managment team I’d prefer at the helm when the tough decisions have to be made.
That said, in this instance, Feaster’s actions and the resultant error were defensible.
First, because it was the right move from a hockey perspective. Ryan O’Reilly filled some very real short-term and long-term needs for the Flames organization, so he was an appropriate target for this kind of action. In addition, Feaster and company structured the contract in such a way to maximize the chances of the Avalanche walking away (ie; maximize the pain of matching) so although Colorado chose to match the offer, they will be facing some rather awkward consequences down the road as a result. I’m okay with the Flames messing up a divisonal rivals balacne sheet, even if the gambit to secure the player in question failed.
So this was a sound move strategically. In fact, it’s the kind of tactic I’d like to see more of from Calgary’s decision makers down the line.
Secondly, the offending CBA clause is so new, so obscure and so ambiguous that none of the parties involved in this situation – be it the Avalanche, the Flames or even the player’s agent – seemed to have been aware of it. In fact, in retrospect, ignorance of this clause seems to be a far greater misstep for Colorado’s management than for Calgary’s. Not only could they have short-circuited O’Reilly’s leverage in negotiations by publicizing this clause, but it also would have increased their leverage in any trade talks they had with other teams. No chance of an offer sheet means no alternative but to negotiate with the Avs directly for the player.
There’s an argument that Sherman and company knew about the clause but wanted to potentially trap teams into offer sheets, but it doesn’t hold water. Particularly since Colorado matched the Flames contract immediately even though it’s structure is rather uncomfortable for them.
In addition, not even the players own agent knew about the waiver rule.
O’Reilly’s agent, Pat Morris of Newport Sports Management, said Friday that he didn’t know his client would head to waivers if Colorado chose to not meet Flames GM Jay Feaster’s offer — a compelling twist to an already intriguing saga that was reported by Sportsnet.ca’s Chris Johnston earlier in the day.
“Certainly not, or I never would have put Jay or Calgary or any other team in that situation,” Morris told Jeff Marek and Greg Wyshynksi on the duo’s Marek vs. Wyshynksi podcast. “When you’re dealing with Europe, there’s some complicated situations.”
Again, there’s an argument that Morris did in fact know and was protecting his players interests by nevertheless garnering offer sheets from unaware teams. This is certainly possible since an agents first priority is upping his clients market value, although that means he would have had to find out at some point after O’Reilly played in the KHL in January (which triggered the clause) and kept it to himself – otherwise Morris would have simply advised his client not to take to European ice once the NHL season started.
This strikes me as rather implausible overall. It’s one thing to fight for a players interests within the confines of the CBA, but upping his value by banking on the misinterpretation of an obscure rule (that would ulimately undermine and humiliate the team he reached an agreement with) seems like a pretty poor way to do business since it would probably tarnish both the agent’s and the agenice’s reputation in the eyes of the Flames and Avs. I suppose Morris could try to protect himself from backlash had this all gone down by pleading ignorance, but I doubt he’d get much sympathy from the Feaster, Sherman or the GM’s in the league in general.
In fact, given how often the possibility of an offer sheet was openly discussed in the media and with various executives around the league prior to the Flames proffering one, it’s seems nobody had taken the time to pour over the clause in question and effectively understand it. One wonders if the NHL would even have had the presence of mind to enforce it had the Avalanche walked away (and Chris Jonhston had not independently done the due diligence to uncover the issue and bring it to everyone’s attention).
Certainly the consequences of this error would have been massive for the Flames. That and the fact the team is again completely underwhelming on the ice seems to be fueling the antipathy for Calgary’s general manger currently. And fair enough. The offer sheet, at least how it was structured and whom it targetted, was the right move, however. And the error, given the circumstances of the CBA, the wording of the rule and the general ignorance of it from all parties involved – including, perhaps, the bulk of the NHL – makes it an easy one to make.
It’s arguable to say the Flames should have double-checked the proceedings with the NHL prior to doing the offer sheet, but that’s easy to suggest in hindsight – as mentioned, prior to Johnston digging up the clause in the wake of the Avs matching, no one in the league or the media had noted that O’Reilly was eligible for waivers and therefore not a viable target for an offer sheet. Not TSN, not Elliotte Friedman, no one with the Avalanche nor anywhere else. It therefore strikes me as a mistake anyone in this situation would have made and, as such, not an egregious example of negligence or incompetence.
As mentioned previously, I think there are other reasons to be critical of Feaster and the Flames organization. With Calgary facing a 4th straight year out of the playoffs and with an aging core and no apparent way to meaningfully improve in the short-term, there’s plenty of room for criticism.
On this particular issue, though, I think the vitriol is misplaced.