1. Where he started
So Christian Roatis wrote a voluminous post "Defending Jay Feaster" this week and it got a lot of very deserved attention. Personally, I’m not sure Feaster necessarily needs defending because he’s in a job where he is going to receive criticism a lot of the time almost no matter what he does since that’s how the rebuild process usually goes; there’s a reason most guys that oversee the beginnings of such actions — Steve Tambellini, etc. — are heavily embattled and tend not to be able to keep their jobs long enough to see their work in the trenches come to fruition.
The reason for that, meanwhile, is that rebuilds are hard to do as a baseline, and harder to get right. Tambellini, just to use a recent example that’s more or less along the same lines as his former team’s provincial neighbors, may have been able to draft first overall a number of years in a row, and that’s very helpful to success, but it’s also not conducive to convincing your bosses that you should keep your job. Furthermore, the other moves he made were underwhelming at best, and I think you could say the same for Feaster. Which is what leads me to believe that Feaster is not long for this job either, and he shouldn’t be.
2. The trades
The post contained a comprehensive breakdown of every trade Feaster has made since taking over the job, of which there were 22. To look at them one at a time and say "This one was good, this one was middling, this one was bad," is kind of missing the point, because the overarching issue behind all those transactions was the looming necessity of the rebuild under which the team is now operating and his — and his bosses’ — ongoing refusal to accept that this was the case.
The first two trades of his tenure (which brought Freddy Modin, Roman Horak, and a pair of second-round picks to the team) were who-cares by definition, though the latter was at least more interesting because his hand was forced by Erixon’s refusal to sign. Two of the next four, though, portended the direction in which the team is now headed: Moving Daymond Langkow, Robyn Regehr, and Ales Kotalik were all salary-dump moves, which indicated that the team was acknowledging all the dead weight Darryl Sutter loaded onto the roster. These trades were made about two months apart in the summer of 2011, and sandwiched an AHL trade, and a swap that brought Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to Calgary in a swap that foreshadowed how needlessly, and stupidly, the idea of "being tough to play against" was tied to Feaster’s philosophical team-building inclinations.
Again, those trades were summer 2011, and yet the team toiled on in sub-mediocrity for another two seasons for reasons that defy logic. The trades made during those 600ish days before he accepted what he had to do show a man idly twiddling his thumbs with no real direction. Consider what he brought aboard since the beginning of the 2011-12 season via trade:
Blair Jones, Mike Cammalleri, the rights to Karri Ramo, the rights to Dennis Wideman, and Brian McGrattan, plus a number of AHLers, and picks in the fifth and seventh rounds. What he shipped out included Brendan Mikkelson, Rene Bourque, Brendan Morrison, Henrik Karlsson, AHLers, prospects, and picks in the second and fifth rounds. He also traded down when he could have had Teuvo Teravainen to get Mark Jankowski (weeeeeee!) and Patrick Seiloff, and that’s a trade that already looks like it wasn’t necessarily very wise.
What was even the point of all these swaps? Don’t answer that, by the way. It’s a rhetorical question.
The "rebuild" trades have to be treated separately, I think. It must be reiterated once again that his hand was forced when it comes to the returns. This means that the guys he got were necessarily not going to be good enough for the names he was moving, and in all I think that while it’s perfectly reasonable to criticize him for those deals, that has to come with at least some amount of understanding.
What should be praised, though, is his ability to wrangle legitimate NHLers for mid-round picks, if only because he needed to fill a bunch of roster spots. That’s really all fine with me.
But taken overall, the names Feaster has shipped out in the past few years probably should have gotten better returns. It comes down to an issue of philosophy, since he couldn’t move Iginla, Bouwmeester, Kiprusoff, etc. until it was far too late. That, I think, can be counted as an indictment of his job performance. To use a football analogy, he should have gotten flushed from the pocket years ago, and is now being given credit for eating the ball and taking the sack, rather than throwing a pick. It’s the smarter course of action at that point, but he didn’t do enough to prevent the necessity in the first place.
3. The signings
This is where the real and actual criticism of Feaster can begin in earnest. The idea that you can’t criticize him for trying to take a run at Brad Richards is a joke. It’s a great and tender mercy that he and Sutter had already made Calgary so unattractive to free agents that Richards said "No thanks," because if he hadn’t this rebuild wouldn’t be happening right now, and everyone would still be here.
Moreover, the idea that you can’t criticize him for the Ryan O’Reilly fiasco — and that’s plainly what it was — because Colorado matched is baffling.
The person who made the comparison of a dog who tried to bite people only to find that he was muzzled and therefore shouldn’t be considered a bad dog who tries to bite people was bang on. Management was never going to think trying to sign Richards was a bad idea, since they would have okayed the money and years on the deal. The O’Reilly thing, meanwhile, was a good idea in principle and an awful one in actual practice, and I still think he should have been fired for even trying it.
But to talk about the guys Feaster actually signed, well, it’s still not a good thing to have on your résumé. The Tanguay deal, for example, was awful. So was the Sarich extension. That he offloaded both of those contracts successfully is to overlook that he also signed them in the first place for reasons that are probably impossible to comprehend. Anton Babchuk, too, was an inexplicable and bad signing. I would lump the Stempniak extension in with these as well.
These join the Wideman and Jiri Hudler deals as having been made in that vain pursuit of a playoff spot, and these two catastrophic deals are still on the books. Probably will be for a while. The Roman Cervenka experiment having gone sideways meant that he only wasted on year’s worth of money for no reason, and thus it was in the end neither good nor bad, really, if you think about it.
Extending Mikael Backlund and TJ Brodie were good signings, but they were also RFAs whom he was always going to re-sign. Along these same lines, any GM who signs what amount to middling NHL roster players to short-term, low-money extensions is doing a great job because he is simply doing his job.
The only real home run out of all these is of course the Curtis Glencross signing, which gives fair market value to a guy who’s slightly overrated. One truly good-job contract in more than two seasons? Yeah, that’s worthy of defense.
4. The drafts
Here’s where I have my real issues with Feaster, as you all know by now.
Almost everyone he picked was listed as being a "prospect with [definer] potential." This is obviously true. All prospects have theoretical potential, with the exception of Keegan Kanzig. I would say, however, that there are only a handful of currently-unassailable picks in the mix here. Sven Baertschi, Jon Gillies, Johnny Gaudreau, and Laurent Brossoit all seem like excellent value selections based upon where they went. A few others (Morgan Klimchuk, Markus Granlund, Pat Sieloff) seem like they could be as well. Everything else is open for debate.
The problem with this is it’s all stuff we won’t know whether he was actually any good at it until about three years from now at the earliest. However, the gripe I’ll make with the idea that Feaster has built the Flames into a top-10 farm in the league is that of course he did; he missed the playoffs three years in a row and has now been stockpiling higher-round picks for a while now.
As Kent said yesterday, that’s the easy part of being in a rebuild, and that means you can’t give him credit for not screwing it up. There was a giant hole in the middle of the floor, he didn’t step into it and die. Good job? Yeah, I’m not so sure you can say that.
But here’s the thing, right? He’s left himself open to a lot of criticism in the meantime. The Jankowski pick looms large (especially considering how good guys like Teravainen and Olli Maata look), as does picking Monahan — a safer bet with a lower ceiling — instead of Nichushkin. Baertschi seems like the only slam-dunk first rounder, and even then he got a decent bounce on it.
The thing with the late-round picks that seem more likely to work out, and I’ve always said this, is that it’s throwing darts at a dartboard to a large extent. In the same way that I don’t think Ken Holland is a drafting genius for getting Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the sixth and seventh rounds, I don’t know if you can look at Feaster taking a flier on a fourth-round 5-foot-4 kid and say, "Well he knew Gaudreau would be a good pick." He got lucky. Good for him. Darryl Sutter almost never did. I might even consider this kind of thing to be little more than regression to the mean, I think.
5. What does it tell us?
I understand all this is long and incredibly subjective, but the point is that you’re only going to see Feaster as being particularly good at his job if you’re willing to forgive all the inaction to do what he should have done in his first two seasons.
He’s been fine — not good, just acceptable — in the rebuild process to this point. And again, it’s only because it was almost impossible to screw up selling off everything. I’m sorry if it rankles you that this is the case, but it is. Any defense of Feaster begins and ends with a sentence that involves the phrase, "Well if you ignore…" and that’s a crazy thing to say, isn’t it? Ignore what he started with, ignore how he did his job for two years, ignore that he started the rebuild then inexplicably stopped, ignore that he’s only just now getting around to fixing things, ignore that some of the contracts he’s gotten credit for moving were ones that he signed, ignore that his drafting has been questionable even as it’s supposed to have been easy.
It’s silly and it accomplishes nothing. If you want to continue that house on fire analogy, it’s like he’s just now getting around to throwing a fresh coat of paint on the remains that have long since stopped smoldering, and maybe swept up only part of the mess. Doesn’t change the fact that he still doesn’t have a roof over his head.