In Defense of Jay Feaster

 


 

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.

  • You are probably correct.

    The vitriol is rather comical however. Perhaps most revealing for me is how the guys who have proven themselves most incompetent are the most indignant on the gaff. I’m sure that those who follow this stuff closely will find that statement to come direct from the book of captain obvious… but hey…. I like that book!!

  • Stockley

    Giving up a 1st and a 3rd in a very deep draft which would leave a team needing to rebuild with no picks in the top 3 rounds is not a good hockey move Kent. Especially for a player who has never reached 20 goals in a season in junior or pro.

    • supra steve

      Agreed that those draft choices are of great potential value to this org. But, even in a deep draft year, there is no guarantee that the players you take in the first and third round will ever score 20 goals in their NHL careers. In short, if the Flames got a single NHL player out of those 2 picks of equal skill/value to ROR, I think you would have to be satisfied. Sure, they could potentially do better, but could also do way worse. In 2003 (another strong draft class) they got Dion 1st, Tim Ramholt 2nd, Ryan Donally 3rd. Would COL trade ROR straight up for Dion at this point? Doubt it.

      Having said all that, my preference is to clean house and pick in the top 5 this year. But, I can see the sense/value in the RFA signing that they attempted.

      • jakeryley

        We can’t keep using the old We don’t draft well anyway excuse. IF this draft is indeed as strong as 2003 we could be trading away an opportunity to draft the equivalent of a parisse AND a Shea Weber for a player who has never scored 20 goals. Sorry, that is not a smart hockey move at all. To get better this team MUST draft better not trade away their drafts.

        • supra steve

          Would love to have got Parise and Weber in ’03, so would have 29 other teams. Good luck with that in 2013. It obviously does happen, but not predictably for any given team. Perhaps the Flames are due. I hope they do it. Might want to pick up a few 6/49 tickets while you are busy counting those chickens though.

      • Stockley

        At least we picked up Dion in that draft. Looked like an excellent pick at first. It still wasn’t terrible in my opinion. Can’t blame the draft itself for the fact the Flames gave a perfectly good asset to the Leafs for a bucket of pucks, half a ham-sandwich and the much-maligned Matt Stajan contract. Feaster and co already have a better drafting record than Sutter; if only because they aren’t afraid to draft players who grew up east of Manitoba. Despite their apparent fetish for college players, they have shown a tendency to think outside the box a little and I commend them for that. Even if none of these guys they drafted pan out, they realized the status quo wasn’t working.

        Now if only they’d wise up and realize the status quo on the ice and in the veteran core wasn’t working and do something about it.

    • Stockley

      I agree with your point. I’d rather have the prospects going forward, especially if the Flames wind up with a high lottery pick. ROR is a very good player but he’s not good enough to single-handedly turn the Flames around and carry them on his back. I just hope this mess tips management towards at least a quick rebuild. Ship some of these guys out of town and stop trying to convince us that this team is the answer. There is obviously something very wrong with the lack of consistency and compete in the veteran core.

  • Stockley

    It isn’t hard to make an argument that the Flames passed the crossroads a long time ago. To take a different path at this point means they have to turn around and that they have wasted valuable time on the wrong path.

    I don’t think Feaster should be fired for this gaff, though a little more honesty from both him and the organization as a whole might have gone a long way. Few seem to be buying their claims to have noticed the potential issue and being prepared to argue their case with the NHL. If you messed up, ‘fess up. Sherman helped you dodge a bullet, move on and don’t lie to us.

    It’s just a messy situation for a very messy franchise. If the higher-ups are interfering with Jay’s ability to run this club, maybe they need to step back and let the man they hired to run hockey ops do his job. Owner interference certainly didn’t do the Leafs any favors during the Ballard days, it’s the main reason the Isles are saddled with the Dipietro contract.