Jay Feaster: Laying the Groundwork

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Jay Feaster certainly took it in the teeth during his tenure as Calgary Flames General Manager. Maybe it was only my perception, but Feaster seemed to take more abuse than was warranted. Perhaps that was because he came from a law background as opposed to a strictly hockey one, or maybe it was because he won a Stanley Cup over the Flames while GM in Tampa. Now, this is not a blanket defence of the man or his time in Calgary, because he certainly made mistakes. However, as the Flames return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, I think it’s pretty clear Feaster’s tenure in Calgary did more good than it did bad.

So let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. The Ryan O’Reilly fiasco in early 2013 could have been absolutely devastating, but luckily ended up not hurting the team. Despite winning a NCAA title recently, 2012 first round pick Mark Jankowski doesn’t look like all that shrewd a move either. Feaster potentially could have gotten more for Jay Bouwmeester when looking back at that trade with the Blues. The Fredrik Modin trade in February 2011? Yeah, it was just slightly worse than 2013’s Roman Cervenka experiment. I’m not saying the guy walked on water.

Now, for all of you screaming at me about the Jarome Iginla or Robyn Regehr trades, I hear you. But I’ll give Feaster a pass on those ones. Iginla wanted to be traded to Pittsburgh, had all the power with his no-move clause, and eventually became a member of the Penguins. There was at least one better deal on the table.

The Regehr deal, on the other hand, was pushed upon him. First off, Regehr requested a trade. Second, the edict had come down to move Ales Kotalik; the Flames weren’t going to pay him to play in the AHL, and no one was lining up to take him. And I mean no one, even with a great offer like the one above. The only way the team could move Kotalik was to throw in a second round pick. Tough to blame the guy for doing what he was told.

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So with all that out of the way, let’s delve into the positive stuff, because I believe it far outweighs the negative. Does Jankowski look like a great pick right now? No, and even with all the excitement he carried with him, Sven Baertschi didn’t pan out as hoped either. But you know who does look pretty good right now? Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

Selecting Monahan sixth overall in 2013 wasn’t necessarily rocket science, but the team still had to do it. Now he looks like the first potential number one centre they’ve had in the system since, well, many of us were born. Even more impressive was the Gaudreau selection in 2011, as Calgary stole him with a fourth round pick before his national title and Hobey Baker love. Ah yes, ye cynic, I hear you saying “that wasn’t Feaster, that was the scouting staff.” While I don’t agree with that statement, my body of evidence is but just beginning.

Who I didn’t mention in there are Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon. Both are fairly decent prospects in the organization, and both were taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, which would be worthy of mention to begin with. When you take into account that both picks were acquired from the New York Rangers in the Tim Erixon trade, it becomes even more impressive. Remember, Erixon had no interest in playing for the Flames and is now playing with the…Toronto Maple Leafs.  Good call young man, I’m glad it worked out for you. From a Calgary perspective, however, getting Granlund, Wotherspoon, and Roman Horak for a guy who didn’t want to play for you is pretty solid work by Feaster.

Feaster pulled off some pretty solid trades in his tenure with the Flames. Getting Mike Cammalleri, Karri Ramo, and a fifth round pick from Montreal in January 2012 looks pretty good in hindsight. Cammalleri was solid in his second stint with Calgary, Ramo is still with the team now, and that fifth round pick turned into Ryan Culkin. Going the other way you ask? Well, Calgary sent the Habs Rene Bourque, Patrick Holland, and a second round pick (Zach Fucale). Seeing as how Bourque and Holland are no longer with the team, I think that one goes down as a solid win for the Flames.

And don’t forget Feaster’s acquisition of Kris Russell in the summer of 2013. Sure, folks will debate the importance of his record setting number of 283 blocked shots this season, but I think we can all agree that a fifth round pick is pretty solid value. His 14 points in the 20 games played without Mark Giordano certainly helped the Flames get to where they are now.

More than anything though, I think appreciating Feaster’s work in free agency is important. Jiri Hudler for four years at $16 million looks like highway robbery right now. In fact, other than the shortened lockout season, Hudler has been strong value for Calgary throughout his tenure. People are talking about this guy for the Hart this season! And it’s not far fetched! Only seven players in the entire league had more points than he did! And nobody had more points five-on-five that Hudler’s 60, and if you remember, that’s one thing Feaster touted when the signing was made.

At $5.25 million per season, Dennis Wideman’s deal looks pretty good this year. With 15 goals and 56 points, he set new career highs, and will likely be hard pressed to get to those totals again. This one is slightly less resounding, however, as the first two years weren’t great. But still, if not for him this season, specifically after Gio’s injury, we might be talking about the Draft Lottery this week.

Finally, one of my personal favourite moves in the Feaster era came in the summer of 2013. The Flames signed a relatively unknown forward out of Union College by the name of Josh Jooris. He had attended their summer development camp and decided to forego his senior season to turn pro. Well, after a rather pedestrian year one, Jooris has been a revelation in year two. Not only did he put up decent counting totals, but he ended up as one of Calgary’s best possession forwards. For every Cervenka there’s a Jooris, I guess. I wonder if that would sell as a t-shirt.

Look, Jay Feaster made mistakes while leading the Flames. He’d very likely be the first to admit them. But what general manager hits on every move they make? Peter Chiarelli traded Tyler Seguin for Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith. Remember when Bryan Murray and the Senators traded Ben Bishop to Tampa for Cory Conacher? How’d that work out? So, we can criticize Feaster if we need to, but it’s pretty clear to me his successes scream far louder than anything else.