Jay Feaster has his work cut out for him as he takes over the reins as general manager of the Calgary Flames. (Larry McDougal/Canadian Press)
Early in Darryl Sutter's tenure as coach of the Flames, defenceman Denis Gauthier delivered one of his patented borderline hits. Asked about it, Sutter replied, "At least he has an identity."
At that time, the organization was trapped in a culture of losing. There was no Red Mile, few sellouts and little excitement. Sutter, demanding the best and expecting to win, revived the franchise. Under his watch the Flames became a power, coming within one goal of the Stanley Cup in 2004. The problem in creating that kind of identity is you can lose perspective. Sometimes you have to take a step back. And, as a player, coach or GM, Darryl Sutter couldn't deal with losing.
In the end, Sutter did Jay Feaster a huge favour by agreeing to step down in-season. It gives Feaster a legitimate chance to gain a stranglehold on the job. Even though he said Tuesday that making the playoffs is still the priority, you can bet he'll put together Plans B, C and D.
There are 11 different no-trade/no-move clauses on the roster, which is a Percocet headache, but the fact is the Flames have two other issues that must be addressed. First, Feaster must make it a priority to keep draft picks. Calgary didn't select until 64th last year, and won't have second- or third-rounders this year. The best prospects, like Ryan Howse, are still two or three years away. Opposing AHL coaches credit Abbotsford's edge and work ethic, but there isn't a big-league difference-maker on that roster.
That's why the Flames have serious holes at the NHL level. There's a great goaltender, a couple of good defencemen, a re-energized Jarome Iginla and a really strong fourth line (David Moss, Tim Jackman, Tom Kostopoulos). After that, it thins. The most high-end talent is available in the draft, and you can't take it if you're watching from the back corner. You must select it, and be patient.
Feaster is well aware of that. In 2002, he was Rick Dudley's assistant in Tampa when a power struggle erupted over Vincent Lecavalier. Dudley was considering trading Lecavalier to Toronto (for Tomas Kaberle and Nik Antropov). Feaster resisted. Ownership sided with him, firing Dudley and promoting Feaster. (Feaster did gamble by trading a first-round pick for Ruslan Fedotenko in 2002, a move that succeeded when the winger scored twice in Game 7 vs. Calgary.)
That brings us to the second problem. In their atrocious media conference after last season, the Flames confused fan loyalty with fan satisfaction. Barring a miracle charge over the next eight weeks, Feaster should point King and the owners at both Edmonton and Toronto. Which would the Flames rather be? The Oilers, who crashed, swallowed hard, and began anew, buying patience from their supporters? Or, the Maple Leafs, who made one panic trade too many?
1) At the GM meetings during the Stanley Cup Final, there was a rumour flying around that Sutter was going to hire Kelly Kisio as his assistant. I asked Sutter about that, and he looked at me like I had three heads. Now, I understand why. He interviewed Feaster that day.
2) Can't help but look at the Devils the same way I look at the Flames. Look who's left New Jersey for nothing in recent years: Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko (retirement). Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alexander Mogilny, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Bobby Holik and John Madden (free agency). I'm sure I'm missing others. No one can replace all of that. Time to start over.
3) If there's a Christmas Trade Freeze, why isn't there a Christmas Firing Freeze?
4) Jacques Lemaire complained the Devils are out of shape. Peter Laviolette said the same thing when he was hired in Philadelphia. So did John Tortorella in New York. Maybe players don't train as hard in the Atlantic Division.
5) Clearly, Martin Brodeur didn't like John MacLean. But when the coach was fired, Brodeur should've have come up with something better than "I'm excited" as his first reaction. Even if true.
6) Last Thursday in Los Angeles, Linus Omark tried what must have been the plainest shootout attempt of his life. Really hope the Tampa Bay "controversy" didn't affect him. Omark needs to be told that he's got to do what got him here. Also, the Oilers should show him video of Martin St. Louis skating backward against Marc-Andre Fleury/Alex Auld.
7) A lot of talk about what the Canucks will do once Sami Salo returns. Here's one potential scenario: Don't trade Kevin Bieksa. Keep your top six defencemen and go with only 20 players to save the cap space. Why? Because the group is playing well, you need a deep blue-line to win it all and you can't trust Salo to stay healthy.
8) I looked into that idea with a couple of execs. The risk: What if a goalie gets hurt? If you're maxed out, you're royally screwed. Who are you going to put in net, Ryan Kesler?
9) Speaking of Kesler, Detroit's coaches really noticed how quickly he's "blowing the zone" - charging out of Vancouver's end in hopes of a breakout pass - whenever he senses a turnover. Makes him even more dangerous.
10) Henrik Zetterberg on the Sedins: "Much more north-south [players] than they used to be. Also do a better job of getting the puck in deeper." He was telling some funny stories about playing against them in Sweden to The Vancouver Sun's Brad Ziemer, like losing one game 10-9 with the Sedins scoring all the goals.
11) It's inevitable: the same Ottawa fans moaning the loss of Jason Spezza will boo him when he returns.
12) There's a lot of angst about Sergei Gonchar in Ottawa. The good news: his first year in Pittsburgh was horrible, too, and he recovered to be a crucial piece of the puzzle. The bad news: He was 31 then, not 36.
13) One person who knows Gonchar well says the defenceman needs two things: structure and stroking. The Senators have the first, but not so much the second. Gonchar needs to be reminded that he's important, that he'll play against the best players and that he can be counted on against them.
14) James Wisniewski will be a nice fit in Montreal. Jacques Martin can now put a veteran with Alex Picard/PK Subban/Yannick Weber. The third pairing was really hurting the Canadiens.
15) Curious to see if the removal of Wisniewski's $3.2 million salary US will allow the Islanders to spend $2.5 million to land Brian Rolston on re-entry. Rolston is a positive guy, and the Islanders need that.
16) Next question: Do the two picks Garth Snow got from Montreal (second in 2011 and conditional fifth in 2012) set the market for Dwayne Roloson?
17) Finally got a chance to see the Consol Energy Center and was really impressed. First, it's incredibly well-lit. Second, the Penguins put all of the entrances at the top of each section. Why is that important? It's psychological. That way, everyone is going down to their seat. Think about it: how many times have you walked up to your seat and said, "How high are we going?" This way, you're feeling the opposite. Very smart.
18) Understand that one of the first organizations to tour that building was Edmonton. If the Oilers go that route - assuming a deal gets done - their fans will be very happy.
19) The only thing I didn't like? The Penguins kept putting Derek Engelland's knockout punch of Taylor Pyatt on the video screen. Pyatt was out of the game and hasn't played since. If a guy is hurt, that should be off limits.
20) If Dan Bylsma had his way, Mike Knuble would have delivered that stirring HBO locker room speech in Pittsburgh. Bylsma called Knuble at 12:01 pm July 1, 2009, singing Pittsburgh's praises. The Penguins just didn't have the cap room.
21) Rooting for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to meet in the playoffs. The Flyers have the East's deepest team, while the various Penguins are so accepting of their roles. And, they have the best player. What a series that would be.
22) Now, when I think of Paul Devorski, I think of "The Finger" from Seinfeld. Have no idea if the allegation is true, but players do say Devorski is the most creative/funniest referee to deal with. One claimed he got into a shoving match with an opponent, expecting the whistle to blow. Instead, Devorski looked at them and said, "If you're going to waste our time, you better fight." So they did. (The player was laughing as he relayed that story.) Could be worse, as NBA ref Joe DeRosa was suspended one game last playoffs for throwing a basketball at a fan.
23) Was watching the Niklas Kronwall goal that gave Chris Osgood his 400th win. In San Jose, there were a couple of times when Ron Wilson ordered an extra penalty in overtime when his team was already shorthanded. Why? Because it changes from four-on-three to five-on-three. He said he had statistical evidence showing it's easier to kill the five-on-three. Don't see that tried anymore.
24) A few scouts and such (non-Red Wing) are curious to see how Valterri Filppula fares with Pavel Datsyuk out. They want to see if he's got another level. He's never had more than 40 points in one season. Filppula tends to be a real good playoff performer, though.
25) Check out these two goals against Craig Anderson by Minnesota. First is by Matt Cullen, second by Andrew Brunette. Wild broadcaster Mike Greenlay said Minnesota intentionally shot wide, because Anderson goes down so quickly. Will more teams try this?
26) For those wondering why Evgeni Nabokov and Marek Svatos must clear waivers, you can blame Glen Sather and Reijo Ruotsalainen. In 1987 and 1990, the Finnish defenceman went overseas until March, when he decided to return with Edmonton for Cup runs. He got two rings, with 20 points in 43 playoff games. Then, the rest of the league put a stop to that.
28) Maybe Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner aren't there, but is it really accurate to be calling a group with approximately 15 first-rounders a "lunchbucket team" no matter how hard they work? That's a great team.
29) Referee Don Van Massenhoven brought his Junior B Strathroy Rockets to Joe Louis for a practice last week. The kids were so excited, but, due to a mix-up, forgot their sticks. Detroit's equipment manager, Paul Boyer, played Santa by getting one for everyone. Nice job, Paul.
30) Hockey families who deserve nothing but the best in 2011: the Burkes, the Turgeons and the Richardsons.
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