Random Thoughts – For Feaster This is the Easy Part



Christian’s lengthy defense of Jay Feaster has garnered a lot of comments, but I’d nevertheless like to add a few more here.

I’ll start by saying Feaster’s tenure is brief enough that the fairest grade we can assign him is "NA", or incomplete. Feaster has only been in the big chair since the middle of 2010 and much of his work was done while struggling beneath the wreckage of Darryl Sutter’s descent into madness. Because of the make-up of the team when he took the reins, as well as some budget issues and the recent lock-out, the Calgary Flames have only played about two seasons worth of games during Feaster’s watch. That’s not a lot of information and opportunity for a manager to work with.

– In regards to the improvement of the Flames prospect depth and quality under Feaster, I’m personally reluctant to assess that a as a sign of management competence. For two reasons:

1.) We don’t actually know how good the current crop of prospects is. The hope and hype surrounding kids tends to peak in their draft+1 and draft+2 seasons, because they are still, in many ways, blanks slates upon which fans can project their future hopes. It’s only when they start falling at major hurdles like turning pro that grim reality starts to take hold.

It’s possible the Flames have a bunch of future NHLers in the pipeline for the first time in a more than decade. It’s also possible many of these kids turn out to be replacement level or worse. We won’t really know how good the system is for a few years.

2.) Icing a lousy team, trading players for draft picks and stocking the cupboards is the easy part of rebuild. Pretty much anyone in the league can run the ship aground, move stars for futures and then pick quality prospects in the first round. Once the long overdue decision to start fresh was finally made this past season, Calgary’s prospect base was going to seemingly improve as a matter of course, whether Jay Feaster or Aaron the equipment boy was running the team. Gathering picks and kids with current assets is the big, obvious first step that any NHL manager takes. It’s the operative genesis of a rebuild.

Where things get interesting and where true managerial competence is required is lifting the club out of the basement and making it into a competitor again. As Steve Tambellini ably demonstrated in Edmonton, pretty much anyone can stink and stock the cupboards – it’s taking those new assets and forging a winner that is the real test. And so it will be for the Feaster regime as well.

– Perhaps the one area where I can give Feaster and company truly high marks is the 2011 entry draft. Although point number one from above still applies to some degree, the Baertschi draft batch is tracking to be one of the best in a long time for the organization. Sven at 13 overall is probably a big enough win to float any one year, but the Flames also chose Markus Granlund, Tyler Wotherspoon, John Gaudreau and Laurnet Brossoit with their other four picks that June.

Baertschi and Gaudreau are both top-3 prospects in the Flames sytem no matter who you ask, while the rest of the 2011 class all easily slide into the clubs top-15 ranking. That’s as consistent and talent-dense a draft performance you’re likely to see in the NHL.

Of course, it’s entirely possible none of those guys besides Baertschi will make the show for a variety of reasons, but chances are the Flames get at least three regular NHLers out of the five picks from 2011, with the non-trivial possiblity more than one of them will be high impact.

– In contrast, Feaster has made some moves during his time in Calgary that have made me question some of the processes that may be in place in the upper office. The summer that both Brendan Morrison and Anton Babchuk went to free agency I figured both represented a good test of whether Feaster was operating under solid principles. He re-signed both guys, failing the tests.

Neither contract was bad enough to be overly damaging, but it showed that the org either wasn’t considering the right data or was satisfied with making superficially plausible signings rather than efficient ones. Even more annoying about the Babchuk contract in particular was the nonsensical inclusion of a NTC and the fact that Feaster;s coach at the time clearly had very little use for the player in question. Brent Sutter stapled Babchuk to the bench more or less from game 1 the following season, which makes me wonder to what degree the management looped in the coaching staff before inking a guy to $5M in guaranteed money.

Feaster failed a similar test last off-season when he re-signed Cory Sarich to a two-year, Babchukian type deal (which has since been deatl to COL). There ave been other red flags: the needless trade for the entirely useless enforcer PL3, acquiring and re-signing McGrattan, the Modin deal, the Richards gambit and attendant insistence that he, Iginla and Tanguay could have been one of the highest scoring trios in the league (an absurd claim, even at the time).

None of those things in isolation or even cumulatively were truly problematic. It’s just so much ineffectual flailing around without a meaningful underlying principle or purpose that it makes me wonder just what information management is looking at to inform their decisions (and how they are weighting that info). Sometimes good bets and worthwhile gambles don’t work out for whatever reason, but no one really needed the benefit of hindsight to see that most of those decisions probably weren’t going to work out. That is: they were obviosuly poor bets from day one.

– Finally, my main concern with Feaster et al is how completely they seemingly misread the quality of the hockey club prior to the ship inevtiably sinking. When Calgary rebounded in 2010-11 after Sutter was dismissed, Feaster had the opportunity to move bodies at the deadline but instead opined that he "owed it to the players to  give them another shot" (not verbatim), which I noted was ill-advised at the time.

Before the Flames sank inexorably to the bottom of the standings this year, there was a lot of Darryl Sutter-type "business as usual" operating from the front office, even though it became clearer with each passing day that the roster had major, intractable flaws and that a drastic change of strategy was needed. Another example: Feaster had the opportunity to move Kiprusoff in the summer of 2012 with the aging ‘tender coming off of one his best seasons in recent memory with the corollary being he was a bad bet to replicate that performance. Instead, the club hung on, Kipper’s fell on his face, his league wide stock became worthless and the result was a former cornerstone asset being completely drained of value for good purpose whatsoever.

Of course, it’s entirely possible (probable?) Feaster was operating under a pretty strict mandate of "compete now, no rebuild" which would have tied his hands significantly. That’s the reason I am willing to give the Flames new management group the benefit of the doubt before I start actively condemning them. The events of last season made the rebuild inevitable whatever marching orders Feaster may have had from on high. Darryl’s long shadow no longer darkens the roster and the need to "win now" is gone.

It’s a clean slate for Feaster et al. We will soon know what they’re made of.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I just get annoyed occasionally by the people who don’t look at the situation from several angles. Many think he’s a bad gm because his hair…and so on and so on. Sure he’s done some stupid things, but people have to look at the situation at the time too as well as what every single other gm in the league was doing too.

    When we signed babchuk didn’t pardy get signed away for like 2mill a year or more. Sure babchuk is terrible but that was a massive overpay for pardy. Defencemen were hard to come by that summer. I could have my timeline mixed up, I didn’t look anything up.

    Richards…every gm in the league was gunning for him. He was the man that summer, sure now it looks like was lucky we didn’t get him but had there not been such a bidding war, he would have been a good player to have at the right price. Feaster would have been just torn apart just as much had he sat on his hands and done nothing at all.

      • Victoria Flames Fan

        I sure didn’t want richards but lots of people did. What I’m saying was he had to try, if you’re supposedly going for it you pretty much have to go after the big name free agents right? Otherwise you would look pretty stupid.

        • Victoria Flames Fan

          While I fully support the notion that Feaster was under a ‘win now’ mantra, I don’t see that as an excuse for every poor move he did. Ditto for Sutter before him. So throwing the most amount of cash at him, more than what NYR offered, was not a bright idea regardless of his marching orders.

  • Truculence

    The Feaster debate doesn`t really rile me up, as I don`t believe his input has been significant since the rebuilding began in earnest. With regards to scouting, he simply rubber-stamps what his scouting department concludes by committee. And as concerns NHL transactions, he has a very narrow parameter within which to work, since it is obvious that ownership wants to constrain spending while wholeheartedly embracing the rebuild.

    What he is, however, under-rated at is his ability to manage the numerous bodies in management and scouting, and to vet and nurture talent in the front office. Hence, this excerpt from the Sun:

    “The next step in the continued development of Craig Conroy as a front office executive for our hockey club is to get him day-to-day management responsibility in the AHL,” Feaster said in a statement. “Given that we have asked (assistant GM) John Weisbrod to spend more time with our NHL coaches and players this season, as well as see even more NHL games, we believe the opportunity exists to transition Craig further into the hockey operations in Abbotsford.

    Thus, from the foregoing, it seems that Weisbrod is slowly but surely being acclimated to the duties of an NHL GM, while Conroy is given a crash-course in ABBy on the intricacies and responsibilities of being an assistant GM.

    The on-ice product, evidently, isn`t the only thing being rebuilt in Calgary, as the front office will probably look drastically different in a couple of years.

  • Reidja

    “That’s the reason I am willing to give the Flames new management group the benefit of the doubt before I start actively condemning them.”

    I’m sure I speak for many when I say that I have respect for your journalistic integrity in this regard, and a greater respect for it in that I trust you will call that spade if the time comes.

    As a fan (full stop), I am less encumbered and have already said my piece on this topic. A generational change is required from the foundation of the building to the top floor corner office. How long will it take? That is my burning question.

  • Michael

    ‘the Calgary Flames have only played about two seasons worth of games during Feaster’s watch’

    If the typical coach lasts around 2 1/2 years, and the typical GM four to five seasons, we should change the old saying about politics to ‘two seasons is a lifetime in hockey’

    ‘- Finally, my main concern with Feaster et al is how completely they seemingly misread the quality of the hockey club prior to the ship inevtiably sinking. ‘

    This has to be a major concern, not only did we waste a year trying to chase our tail, but the return on our assets diminished. Feaster’s tinkering before last year resulted in a completely unbalanced roster, to many small forwards, no top 2 centers, no physical dmen, a soft and easy to play against team. Not only did they misread the quality, this misread HOW to build a team.

  • Robear

    I just wanted to say that while it is easy to bash Feaster and rank him poorly; how does he compare to other GMs in tenure. So I looked at the teams that made it to the finals, Chicago Bowman since 2009 ( he inherited a core group and has a stack of quality advisers), Boston, Pittsburg, and LA since 2006, and then the other model franchises (in my mind teams that have won Stanley cups and frequently make the playoffs) Detroit, Holland 1997 and NJ and Sweet Lou 1987 ( GM longer than many Flame fans have been alive). My point of this is give the man more than a couple of years before we fire him; keep complaining, stop watching, don’t renew season tickets, don’t buy stuff if you are unhappy. While I might agree that he has not lived up to the shoes of the GM’s above; they were all afforded time or joined their teams on the upswing after all the heavy work was done.

  • @Chillout

    Of course we could have traded Iginla. He publicly said he would accept a trade if it was in the teams best interest. And if the Flames went to him and said they were going to rebuild he wouldn’t have stayed.

    There is no defending the organizations reluctance to pull the trigger on a rebuild. How much of that is Feaster vs King vs Edwards I don’t know. But I don’t think Feaster was some innocent bystander in all of this just dancing to someone else’s tune. And if he was then I definitely don’t want him as the GM.

  • flamesburn89

    Cannot continue to say that Feaster has been ordered around by the owners, and that he can’t be held responsible for the things in the past like the Richards’ attempted signing, the ROR stuff, Sarich resigning, Babchuk resigning, etc. Feaster deserves blame because he was a part of it. His job is to make smart hockey moves, and those dont fit the bill. He has made both good moves and bad moves in his time in CGY, but if everyone is simply going to point at the previous mandate and say, “How can we blame Feaster for that when Edwards is forcing him to do it?”, then what was the point of having a GM in place?

    And also, if the owners were pulling all the strings back then, what makes you think they won’t be pulling them in the future? Or the present? CONSPIRACY lol 🙂

    Great read Kent