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.

  • RexLibris

    I decided to go down memory lane and look at the history of the Flames GM; Fletcher, Riser, Coates, Button, Sutter and now Feaster. Lets rank them?
    Fletcher gets between a B+ and an A-(Stanley cup and the best teams we have ever had), Riser D if we are generous(Gilmour trade still stinks), Coates C (caretaker GM), Button D as in did nothing, Sutter C/C-( yes the Stanley cup final and trading for Kipper) but after that he depleted the organization. Now we have Feaster who I have previosly given a B- to based upon his work to date. He has from a tremendous hole seemingly restored the organization depth. The point I want to make is maybe we have had to much upper management and ownership interference in our clubs history. I good GM since they have been here. I’m not sure Scotty could have saved this organization.

      • BurningSensation

        Please also recall that Martin St Louis was passed on by every team in the league when placed on waivers. 30 gms who therefore would need to be fired.

        St Louis turning into a perpetual All-Star/MVP candidate has to rank amongst the most incredible sports stories ever. Between him and Kurt Warner going from bagging groceries at his local grocery store to winning a Superbowl it is impossible to invent more unlikely success stories.

        • Captain Ron

          And yet, lots of ‘average’ Flames fans at the time were incensed when it happened. Scouting then is not what it is now either. Plus, I could care less about the other 29 GMs in the league. Button was terrible. An ‘F’ indeed.

          Suppose Todd had been named GM instead of Craig? There’s some alternate history to chew on.

  • RKD

    I think the criticism is stemming from the fact that a lot of Flames fans are still unhappy about the returns for Iggy and Reggie. Feaster got the team out of salary cap jail, probably went to the owners repeatedly in trying to trade Iginla until they finally agreed early this year or even last December it was time to move on. He’s drafted some high end talent who hopefully can project into good players. Project is the key word if they don’t pan out they are back at square one. I think the drafting has improved a lot from the Sutter regime.

    There is still a problem at the head office, the fact that the organization was looking at guys like Shahanan, Davidson, Nicholson and Yzerman (the last 3 I can’t confirm) still tells me they want things run differently and are looking for a different perspective on evaluating talent aside from Conroy, Button and Weisbrod. Ken King is looking to move into another role, he has no hockey IQ and his job is to make money for the Calgary Flames.

    Let’s see in the next few years how many kids crack the NHL roster and become regulars. Another 3 years out of the post season and that’s another 7 year playoff drought.

  • RexLibris

    Very well thought out article.

    After I finished reading it there was one question I couldn’t help but ask myself.

    When Feaster finished his first half-season as GM the general consensus was to give him the following season to put his stamp on the team.

    Following that season, this last summer there was another refrain of letting Feaster have this (admittedly abbreviated) season as he had now cleared out most of Darryl Sutter’s dead wood and the team was now a reflection of his vision and plan.

    In other words, while I agree that the change of direction warrants some patience, it seems that we have uttered these sentiments before.

    • MC Hockey

      Go away fancy-Latin-named Oiler fan lol! Just kidding! You’re just trying to make Edmonton’s failed rebuild look better but them making the playoffs this year and losing in round 1 does not convince me that it was or will be a success! With Feaster and co, there really seems to be a well-considered strategy to stick the cupboards, develop the prospects, and improve the pros as well, where as Edmonton’s plan is “pick the big scorers and no role players that are needed”. The Ference signing was about 3 years too late in his career, reminds me of Flames getting a past-his-best Staois. Hey your team deserves scrutiny from reasonable Flames fans just like you apparently are a reasonable Oilers fan so don’t rip me back for this one!

  • BurningSensation

    “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.”

    I think you have to divide Feaster’s reign into two distinct sections; ‘Win it all now’, where he is tasked with tinkering with the roster at the margins, trying to get younger and more skilled (and out of salary cap hell), and while still holding on to Kipper/Iggy and JBo, and the ‘Ok, it really is a rebuild’, the state we entered mid-season last year when Kipper was either drowning or hurt, and the Flames were sinking out of sight of the playoffs.

    Much of the frustration with Feaster has to do with misunderstanding what the team’s direction was when he was making the moves he was making. Signing ROR to an offer sheet when you are in a full rebuild (and your when your 1st rnd pick is likely to be excellent) makes a lot less sense than doing so when you have an aging core you plan to keep into senescence that you are looking to jumpstart with talent ready to step in and make a difference. Ditto for trying to get Richards under contract. Looks ridiculous now, but with a ‘win now’ mandate it was a more reasonable thing to attempt.

  • schevvy

    On the whole Richards thing- saying they (Iggy, Richards, and Tanguay) would all get above 100 points was absolutely insane. When was the last time a whole line got 100 points each? The 80’s? If I’m ever in the need of a good laugh I remember that Feaster statement.

    We won’t be able to really grade the Feater regime for at least another 3 years IMO. This year coming up is going to be rough, and chances are the year after that might be even worse. That’s stuff that comes with most rebuilds, and if fans are wanting Feaster gone after a couple bad years following the rebuild declaration then they don’t fully understand the situation. Give him 3-4 years. Then judge him.

    Just don’t take any more ridiculous runs at free agents Feaster. Or make ridiculous proclamations like “Jankowski will be the best player of this draft class in 10 years”

    • SmellOfVictory

      I know you were making a point, but just for interest’s sake, the Pizza line juuuust missed the “100 points each” marker in 05-06. Alfie and Heatley both had 103, and Spezza had 90 due to injury (only played 68 games). So they were legitimately on pace for a trifecta of hundred pointers.

      Prior to that would’ve likely been the mid-90s Penguins.

  • Lordmork

    Right now, I remain cautiously optimistic about Feaster, because I hope that some of his questionable signings were handed down from management, and that the decision to rebuild means Feaster is now more in control and won’t have to make any boneheaded signings. I take the team’s lack of activity at free agency to be a good sign of this, and also that I like the look of the trades the team has made during the summer.

    I could, of course, be totally wrong about this, but only time will tell.

    I think my biggest complaint about Feaster is that he seems inclined to over promise. Best player in draft, best player not in the NHL, best goalie not in the NHL, etc.

  • Parallex

    Random question: How much more willing (if at all) are teams to surrender draft picks (1st round draft picks especially) in the next draft as opposed to the upcoming draft (2015 instead of 2014 for example)?

    Just wondering if it might make more sense at the deadline for Feaster to try to peddle the assets that he has (Basically Cammy, Stajan, Stempniak and maybe Hudler) for 2015 picks instead of 2014. Maybe try get yourself 2015 1st where you would have gotten 2014 2nds and similerly 2nds where you would have gotten 3rds.

  • Citizen David

    I think it is prudent to be hesitant on speculating on things like ‘who won the trade’ and ‘will these draft picks work out?’ and prefer to look at the things we do know, like ‘is this FA signing a guy that we need and did we pay market value?’

    On the things we DO know, I don’t think Jay has many particularly positive data points.

    Good roundup Kent.