The Flames rebuild is on in Calgary and embraced by the NHL team’s management, ownership, veteran players and, apparently, longtime fans.
General manager Jay Feaster told Hockey Night in Canada Radio listeners Wednesday that he didn’t want to reload before the April 3 trade deadline, only to watch a potential late-season charge by his team result in a fourth straight missed playoffs and poor draft standing.
So, as it became clearer Calgary wasn’t getting into the playoff hunt, Feaster made the "tough" decision to trade two of his biggest assets in captain Jarome Iginla and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester for two first-round draft picks, two prospects and pair of collegians.
"I do believe that fans are ready for this," Feaster told HNIC Radio host Gord Stellick and co-host Kelly Hrudey on Sirius channel 207 and XM 92. "I think the fans welcome this opportunity to go in a different direction, and clearly ownership is fully supportive of what we want to do."
Feaster said the mandate for years in Calgary, long before he arrived in July 2010 to be Darryl Sutter’s assistant, has been to be buyers at the trade deadline, get in the playoffs and make a run at the Stanley Cup.
"But you have to go back to the [Flames] 03-04 Cup run to find the last time the team advanced past the first round," Feaster, who was named GM in December 2010, said.
With another missed playoffs in sight and Iginla 35 years old and a soon-to-be free agent, Feaster deemed change was necessary.
The Flames, since their move to Calgary from Atlanta in 1980, have never picked higher than sixth in the draft.
In 2010, they didn’t have a first- or second-round pick before selecting forward Max Reinhart in the third, 64th overall. A year earlier, the Flames chose defenceman Tim Erixon in the first round but he didn’t want to play for Calgary and was traded to the New York Rangers in June 2011.
Other first- and second-rounders have been dealt along the way so it was imperative that Feaster accrue some picks in the Iginla and Bouwmeester trades. The GM also picked up a 2013 fifth-rounder for forward Blake Comeau at this year’s deadline.
One of Feaster’s priorities is to get veteran forwards Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay and Lee Stempniak to understand the short- and long-term vision of management but doesn’t seem worried, calling them "good character guys" who want to be in Calgary "and be part of the solution."
He said Cammalleri, who shared the team lead in scoring this season with Tanguay through Tuesday, takes the responsibility of helping young players develop seriously while Tanguay has already shared some positive thoughts about Reinhart with head coach Bob Hartley and Feaster.
'What I love about T.J. is his attitude. He’s going to make mistakes … but Brodes doesn’t let that affect him. His mindset is right.' — Flames GM Jay Feaster on defenceman T.J. Brodie
Earlier this week, Calgary recalled Reinhart and fellow forward prospect Sven Baertschi (first round in 2011) from its American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford, B.C., while six-foot-one, 182-pound defenceman T.J. Brodie has seen an increase in ice time since Bouwmeester was shipped to St. Louis on April 1.
The 22-year-old played a season-high 26 minutes 24 seconds against San Jose on April 5 and 24:14 in Monday’s 3-1 win at Colorado, but his minus-11 rating is the worst among Flames blue-liners.
"What I love about T.J. is his attitude," said Feaster of Brodie, a fourth-round pick of the Flames in 2008 in his second full season with the club. "He’s going to make mistakes … but Brodes doesn’t let that affect him. His mindset is right.
"For us [managers and coaches] the challenge is to get him physically stronger, upper body and core, so that he’s able to be even more effective in the defensive zone, in terms of the one-on-one matchups and battles down low. That’s an exciting thing to watch, to see his development."
This weekend, Feaster will be at the NCAA Frozen Four tournament in Pittsburgh watching wingers Ben Hanowski (St. Cloud State) and Kenny Agostino (Yale), the two American collegiate players he acquired from the hometown Penguins in the Iginla deal.
The six-foot-two, 198-pound Hanowski is the St. Cloud captain and fresh off a 17-goal, 31-point season in 38 games with the Huskies. Agostino, 20, had 17 goals and 40 points in his third year at Yale.
"We have some college kids that we’re looking to get signed," Feaster told HNIC Radio. "We’re talking about getting Ben [Hanowski] signed.
"We have some real good kids out of our draft class in 2011 that were signed and we’re working [with]. To have those guys coming through the system it is, personally, an enjoyable time right now."