Random Thoughts – Post ROR Debacle


Although nothing has materially changed for the Flames recently, it has nevertheless been quite the roller-coaster ride for Calgary fans and management over the last four or five days. Where ever you fall on the "blame Feaster" spectrum, it’s clear the failed Ryan O’Reilly bid blew up spectacularly in the organization’s face. Absent Chris Johnston’s revelation about the O’Reilly’s waiver eligiblity, Feaster and company are congratulated for the effort and everyone moves on. Now, the front office has to bury it’s head and ride out a public relations nightmare, hoping perhaps the team on the ice enjoys a winning streak and the entire kerfuffle blows over.

There is a strong element of politics to just about everything that takes place in the public eye and managing a professional hockey team is no exception. Although winning cures all ills in hockey, only a small amount of teams every year are actually elite contenders. The guys in charge of the rest of the middling or worse are left selling hope or managing perceptions in order to maintain their positions. That’s why GM’s tend to be overtly secretive with the media, publicly over-confident about their teams and players and generally dismissive of  criticism. The PR paradox is: it’s essential to always look like you know what you’re doing, but particularly when your club is mediocre or worse. If you can’t inspire confidence with success, then at the very least you need to strike a confident pose. 

Which is to say, the ROR affair is a black eye this management team could ill-afford given their club’s start to the season. Since taking over from Darryl Sutter, Feaster has consistently preached present-term competitiveness even as the club has run in place. With the Flames facing a 4th straight year outside of the playoff picture and its expensive core aging rapidly, Feaster’s sway over Calgary’s fans grows ever more tenuous. I argued in the summer that the team would have to make very real changes in its direction and philosophy in order to placate a frustrated fan base: 

I’d say this summer is perhaps Jay Feaster’s best opportunity to make true changes to the direction of the team. The fan base is hungry for a new path and the spectre of Darryl Sutter’s reign will begin to dissipate with the ouster of his brother and so much money coming off the cap.

After this summer, this truly becomes "Feaster’s team" in the eyes of the faithful, rather than a stagnant club burdened with the mistakes of managers past. If the organization stays the course and runs aground for a 4th straight season, there won’t be enough pitchforks and effigy material to pacify the increasingly frustrated and disillusioned fans in town. What’s more, Feaster et al. wo no longer be able to point to Darryl Sutter’s madness as a reason for the failure. Ownership and the executives will bear the brunt of the backlash.

A very real change in personnel and philosophy and the franchise can effectively market the team even if they miss the dance.

The O’Reilly offer sheet could have been marketed as a very real step forward. Or, at least, a legitimate attempt at taking one. Now, it’s merely considered more evidence that the management doesn’t really know what they’re doing.

– The political aspect to managing hockey teams and the need to always seem confident and "in control" is one of the reasons NHL coaches and GM’s tend to be conservative and cleave to convention more often than not. It’s easier to defend common, middle-of-the-road moves than it is outside-the-box tactics, particularly when those latter sorts of gambles fail. I think one of the reasons I defended Feaster in the Ryan O’Reilly situation is I personally don’t want the resultant backlash to chill future creative problem solving from the Flames front office. As I mentioned in my previous article on the subject, judged as purely hockey move, the ROR offer sheet was the right one. I’d like to see more of that from Clagary moving forward rather than less (assuming they can also appropriate navigate the intricacies of the CBA next time, of course).

– Another thing I talked about in the summer was "asking the right questions", or the conventional ways in which decision makers seem to go awry in the NHL. One of the big ones was teams acquiring certain one-dimensional skills or "roles" for their team, regardless of the players ability to actually do useful things on the ice.

To illustrate, the Flames and Oilers recently acquired Brian McGrattan and Mike Brown, respectively. Neither is a legitimate NHL level talent, although Brown is probably closer to your average 4th liner. McGrattan is below replacement level and is strictly here to drop the gloves. Both teams are below water in the West and bad bets to make the playoffs. Neither will be meaningfully improved by the addition of such nominal talents, however tough they may be. In fact, Calgary’s 4th line will probably be worse at actually playing hockey whenever McGrattan is dressed.

In and of themselves, moves like this aren’t all that important. They don’t cost the teams much of anything and the guys in question usually don’t play enough to move the needle in one direction or the other. What it does signal, however, is that the decision makers may not be asking the right questions of themselves or their rosters, instead focusing time and energy on things that, at best, don’t make a difference (or make their team worse). It speaks to less than optimal processes in the machinery or structure of the management, even if the outcomes are mostly irrelevant.

– The Abbotsford Heat are starting to suffer from the roster attrition forced on them by the end of the lock-out and Calgary’s roster moves/injuries. Since the middle of January, they have lost TJ Brodie, Sven Baertschi, Joe Piskula, Danny Taylor and Paul Byron for extended periods of time. Barry Brust has also come back down to earth, so the goaltending that was propping up their record before has fallen away. The Heat have lost 9 of their last 12 games and are now the second lowest scoring club in the Western Conference behind the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Abbotsford is still in a playoff spot thanks to all the points they banked when they had thebest goaltending in the league, but that cushion could evaporate rapidly. If Danny Taylor rejoins the team in the next week or so and can continue to put up good-to-excellent numbers, then the club may be able to hang on to a post-season position. 

– Last night was the second or third time this year Bob Hartley has purposefully and consistently sheltered Jarome Iginla from the opposing team’s best line. This time, he chose to match Glencross – Stajan – Stempniak with the Sedin brothers and by eye it seemed to help Iginla get along at even strength. On the other hand, it shows the sort of desperate position the Flames are in when the coach’s best option for matching the Sedins at home is Glencross, Stajan and Stempniak. That’s not an insult to those guys, but on a legitimate contender they are all third liners (facing other third liners).

  • TheRealPoc

    But when Backlund was healthy (and I’d need to check the numbers to corroborate with this anecdotal claim), the Glencross-Backlund-Stempniak line was crushing their matchups and it acted as an incredibly valuable tool at Hartley’s disposal. Those are three guys who all skate very well and have decent hands to boot – I think they deserve a bit more credit.

    Our best hockey under Brent came when he deployed the OMG Line in a similar role; it’s just smart game strategy. If you have a line that can take on toughs like that, you need to take advantage of it.

    • They were doing well versus 3rd liners (like OMG) and it’s a valuable tool, but matching them against the Datsyuks, Crosbys and Getzlafs of the world isn’t going to get you very far in the long run. The Flames don’t have a netter alternative right now, granted.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    The Flames management analyzing their team is like somebody standing in front of a house that has gone through a tornado is leaning and structurally unsound and they are discussing if it might be a good time to change the color on the siding.

    The team is barely able to maintain an average waterline pace, but the real problem with the team keeping it out of a playoff position is that it did not have an enforcer.

  • TheRealPoc

    @ Kent

    In a way it is old school retro hockey when coaches had checking lines and nobody matched up 1 vs 1, 2 vs 2, 3 vs 3. Back then it was always somebodies 1 vs 3 because the guys that were defensive specialists were much better at shutting down the offense of another team, instead of trying to get your offense to outscore the other teams offense.

    Calgary does not have the horses to go 1 vs 1 with 26 other teams in the league. Their best bet is to find a defensive trio that can nullify another teams best players, hope that one of their second line talents can tread water against another teams second line, and hope that our other second line talent can somehow outscore the other teams third line. Which is becoming easier because most teams dont have a third line that is designed for defense, they are designed to push the play and be a miniature version of their second lines.

    But all of this defensive style hockey sound too Sutterish to be of any real use for this new offensive powerhouse Flames machine.

  • @ Kent

    You are exactly right. This team is being run like it is in politics. Full of incompetence, desperation, outright lying, finger pointing, and if you count the cost of tickets and beer than downright thievery.

    Flames management is here to make sure that your future is brighter and happier. Vote now, because we are kissing hands and shaking babies in your neighborhood.

  • @ kent

    “It speaks to less than optimal processes in the machinery or structure of the management, even if the outcomes are mostly irrelevant.”

    Agreed. These are moves for the sake of doing something. Diversions at best.

  • SmellOfVictory

    As far as the ROR stuff goes I agree with Ross Creek Nation’s posts.

    All the “other teams didn’t know, the NHL would have let it slide (doubtful and why would you want to rely on that strategy to begin with?), the stratgey of going after ROR was sound, etc.,” is all moot.

    1) Who cares about what other teams do or don’t do? You’re the one doing the transaction, worry about yourselves.
    2) The NHL’s opinion matter, not the team’s. Violating rules and statting they’d have argued after the fact is the most assinine statement the Flame’s have ever made.
    3) The fact that the wording was vague and new was just all the more reason to do due diligence.
    4) Is it that hard to pick up a phone and call league offices for clarification? You know, before dropping $10 million and a 1st and a 3rd.
    5) Acquiring ROR was NOT a good stratgegy. Given what we now know (you can’t get him without losing him to waivers), how is that a good strategy? So arguing that as a point in favor of Feaster is faulty logic. “Well, if the rules were different it would’ve been good.” The rules aren’t different though, so there.

    Agree with Shutout that ROR’s acquisition really only made sense if we moved Iginla and other vets.

    Also agree with Shutout that the parade route is being planned now that they beat Vancouver and Iginla got the winner. This team just cannot move on.

    Here’s hoping they drop the next 6 and the Flames and Iginla’s hands are forced somewhat.

  • Michael

    In concept, the offer sheet to ROR was the right move, but the Flames simply failed to do their due diligence, and then compounded their PR nightmare with a press release that lacks any and all credibility.
    The Flames statement ‘that they had a different interpretation of the rules than the NHL’ does not stand up to scrutiny. a/ the only interpretation that matters is the NHL’s and b/ the Flames made no effort to review the issue with the NHL. No GM worth anything, would gamble the player and a first / third round pick on a vague notion that they would prevail on ‘appeal’.
    The press release issued by the Flames is nothing more than a whitewash, an attempt to cover up a potential major blunder by the GM.
    In my option the attempted PR cover-up is almost as bad as the original mistake. How stupid do they think the fans and media really are?
    Feaster has lost all credibility, the front office is clearly in chaos, the team is poorly constructed and floundering, and the once proud Flames organization is now a laughing stock.
    Mr. Feaster, your tenure as GM has failed, and I submit it is time for you to resign as GM.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Team is poorly constructed? Blaming this on Feaster? In most cases you can’t change a team overnight, especially one that is 60%NTC’s. I mean really this team was in brutal shape when Feaster took over. 1 young player that was allowed to play occasionally and all vets with no trade clauses and no decent picks in years. There is a reason there are virtually no 25yr olds on this team and it isn’t Feaster. Yes the guy does have faults but we really haven’t seen what he can or can’t do yet. I think this summer is where things start to happen. 15 million of so off the books. Maybe some trades at this years deadline. Let’s see what happens then make decisions. Oh and wait before passing judgment on any of his picks that stuff takes time.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    The ROR is bad for Feaster (maybe moreso the Org) for 2 reasons:

    a)If their subsequently released statement was in fact truth, they seem to be one of the only parties aware of the issue and should have then checked with league office and not taken such a big gamble

    b)If the statement was false, then they lied to us and didn’t know about the waiver issue (which is my gut feeling as to the actual truth). In this case, trying to cover up the blunder is even an equal if not crime in my eyes (see Joe Paterneau)

    I liked the boldness of the move and like Kent, hope this doesn’t keep them from trying to improve the team, but it smells like a cover up and that’s just dumb. Would’ve rather had the truth and known they missed it like everybody else.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    @ bean-counting cowboy

    How can you even come close to comparing the due diligence with signing an unrestricted free agent and about one of a two decade long covered up sexual assault.

    Get real!

      • RKD

        Oh jeremywilhelm. How you managed to get banned from CP is a wonder, considering the massive leeway they give posters.

        Of course it was a joke. I can’t believe I have to tell you outright but here I am, telling you outright.

        I’m curious about the dumb things I’ve said. Can you give me a rundown? There’s some awfully optimistic posters on here, even with Kent and company giving cold, hard, unbiased stats outlining why the Flames suck. I’m one of the (very, very few) posters that says that the Flames will finish out of the playoffs, with a top-end of 8th if everything goes their way.

        Or maybe you meant my talk about the CBA. The one where Colin S ranted about how the players were going to get screwed, and yet everybody agreed (with me) that the players got the better deal? Phew.

        But yeah. What do I know.

        Maybe in your world the Flames will get Rapture Jesus and a first for Iginla. Keep on dreaming!

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    @ Rob

    Sorry, I’ve been misunderstood. Not equating the two at all. Severity of the separate crimes does not even compare, I completely agree.

    I was just trying to make the point that sometimes cover ups are almost as bad as the original crime. Bad example perhaps. I didn’t mean to get anyone fired up by saying I was trying to equate the two.

  • jeremywilhelm

    Pretty tough to get a proffesional to admit that they made a mistake.It almost always gets shifted to an underling.So,it did not surprise me that management chose the path they did.

    This management team has lost face as a result of there actions.

    I,am with you though Kent ,and would just like them to move on,and start making some sound decisions on the structure of this team.The next three weeks are critical to this teams future.Important moves have to be made,and they bloody well better get it right

    I hope that Edward,s does,nt have the influence that many fans think he has.

    Trying to sign ROR was a good idea,we need more

  • RKD

    Feaster himself is a lawyer so I would be surprised that the Flames didn’t do their due diligence and check with the league offices before signing ROR to and offer sheet. Gillis who also is a lawyer should be embarrassed by his comments, I think any GM could have made this mistake. Ken Holland’s comments were more sensible, the ink has barely dried on the new CBA so there are a lot of changes and maybe not everyone is up to speed on all the little details and intricacies.

    My guess is the Flames interpreted the CBA this way,
    ‘All Players on a Club’s Reserve List and Restricted Free Agent List will be exempt from the application of CBA 13.23 Waivers in the case of a mid-season signing. For further clarity, if Club A trades such a Player to Club B and Club B signs the Player to an SPC, such Player will be exempt from the application of CBA 13.23’

    It would have been awesome to get ROR but maybe signing offer sheets and free agency aren’t the best ways to rebuild. Keep developing your prospects and improve your scouting. Nazem Kadri is paying a lot of dividends for the Leafs. I believe Sven Baertschi will do the same in the future. TJ Brodie has taken the next step forward.

  • Oyo

    It getting harder and harder to keep reading this site when all the posts are hyperboles and comparisons to the worst mistakes ever made by the flames organization. I don’t think Wahl is quite in the same league as Brett Hull. I come to this site for information and INTELLIGENT conversation by avid fans. And don’t get me wrong, everyone here is very commited to the team. I just am getting tired of listening to this doomsday bullsh*t. Don’t like something? By all means lets hear an actual idea. Please for the love of this site.

    In other news, looking forward to see what happens at the trade deadline. Hoping for some moves that are forward thinking and not a day of crickets.

    • Oyo

      If Iggy decided to move on, he is classy enough to probably agree to trade & sign similar to what Wideman dd so Calgary could get way better value & to also go where he wants to play the next 2-3 years. That said, Boston is the perfect fit. They have cap space up the yingyang, short on RW & they have top centre prospects in Knight & Spooner. In a trade & sign scenario, it wouldnt be out of the realm to get Hamilton, Spooner & a 1st, again it would need to be a trade & sign. Pitt has too many big contracts to renegotiate coming up & Iggy would simply be rental only, so a Morrow or Maata & a 1st is probably as much as we could expect from Pitt. But if we get a NHL ready top defensive prospect back in a Iggy deal, with Brodie stepping up, either JBO or Gio could be traded.