Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Get Off Feaster's Keister

Last week’s announcements signalled a new direction for the Calgary Flames. Maybe not leaps and bounds off the beaten path, but a new direction nonetheless. The first of which was Jay Feaster’s subtle promotion to full-time General Manager. All of the criticism about the move has me scratching my head. It seems most were going to be unsatisfied unless the Flames hired one of Jim Nill or Ron Hextall. Let me start by saying: I’m not sure what the love affair with Hextall is, over any other former player in management. On the Nill front, it’s naive to think the Flames would have been the first to consider him for their vacant GM position. I expect he’s been contacted by a number of different teams over the years about a full-time gig as General Manager. You think he was holding out for a job in Calgary all these years? Not likely.
 This fan base wanted change for the sake of change, which is a Darryl Sutter mentality: “Sign this guy... woops we underachieved... buy him out and sign this guy” or “Jimmy Playfair is our guy, nope lost to the Wings, It’s Keenan... No I hate that guy I’ll bring in my little brother to coach the team and pick on him.” New faces and turnover isn’t always the answer. Not to mention, do we know anything about Ron Hextall as a manager? Or are we simply impressed that he was the AGM when LA drafted Braydon Schenn at 5th overall? I don’t see how we can draw conclusions on any of these GM candidates, without first-hand evaluation of the individual. I’ll take Ken King’s appraisals and expertise over my own.
The second most prominent criticism of the move seems counter-intuitive as well. Why did the Flames wait to remove the “Acting” from Jay’s title? Well gee, everyone wants due diligence and for the team to take time to make the right decision, and yet there was ongoing “just give him the position already” chatter. How can these two views co-exist? Feaster wasn’t going to be handed the full-time gig as GM, as announced back in December. Ken King and Ownership made the decision to evaluate his contributions, while reviewing 3 managerial philosophy reports submitted by Feaster. You think Ken King had a quick skim through these reports and replied “Yup that’s fine, you’re our guy. We’ll inform the media in 5 months.” I’m sure there was some two-way dialogue, ownership doesn’t base decisions on convenience: “Well, he’s here anyway, so give him the job.” There was a process that was carried out, a plan that was approved, and the decision has been made. As a fan, that’s okay by me.
Does this mean I’m thrilled with Feaster as GM of the Calgary Flames? Of course not, how could I feel strongly one way or the other? When it comes to player trades, I’m prepared to formulate opinions on player trades and free agent signings, but I can’t pretend to know anything about what goes on behind closed doors in any boardroom in the NHL, and therefore no gut feel over management before any work has been done.
I share the same concerns as anyone else about Feaster’s track record: the Lecavalier signing, Brad Richards trade, and poor drafting record. I do, however, take solace in the fact that Jay is fourthcoming about these mistakes, and is able to pinpoint what should be done moving forward. Feaster never played the game, and doesn’t pretend to... but did anyone criticize Lou Lamoriello for his lack of professional playing experience? Most of my optimism for Jay’s promotion comes from a philosophical about-face. It wasn’t that Darryl Sutter didn’t understand hockey, or had a poor read on players. The issue was a top-heavy, autonomous structure by which decisions were made. This admission has been made by Ken King since Darryl's departure. From what I can gather, Darryl was an excellent hockey mind, and a brutal manager. The biggest change with this new regime will be the fundamental management of the organization. Jay will be more of a General Manager, and less of a straight up “hockey guy.” Former players that evolve into excellent businessmen and managers are a rare breed. Frankly, I’d rather have a manager with legal and business acumen formulating contracts and managing the team, while seeking input from “hockey guys” in the AGM or scouting positions for the expertise on developing and evaluating players. The new structure of the Calgary Flames was quoted as a “participative democracy,” something that was evidently lacking with the previous regime.
Do you think the supremacy of the Detroit Red Wings is entirely a result of Ken Holland’s playing experience? The Wings beefed up their scouting department, empowered secondary management resources like Jim Nill, and developed players from within. From what I can read, Holland is a fantastic manager because he manages. He doesn’t dictate, he doesn’t make trades or draft on a whim. He empowers strong resources in a number of different areas, in order to make sound, calculated decisions. I’m not aiming to convince anyone that Jay Feaster is a Ken Holland or Lou Lamoriello. All I can determine is that powerful, consistent organizations make joint decisions based on consensus.
The Glencross signing provided some reason for optimism. I wasn’t originally in favour of a Glencross return at all, based on his inflated market value that could have resulted in a 5 year deal worth 3+ million per. However, at 2.55 over 4 years, the cap hit is very manageable for a versatile player. Even if he pulls a Nik Hagman, or starts to regress as Rene Bourque has, 2.55 is not a toxic number for a 2nd or 3rd line contributor... and to think he will be earning less than the likes of Sarich, Stajan, Hagman and Kotalik next season puts the deal in perspective. Something tells me if this were Darryl’s deal, he would have hooked Glencross up with a Bourque-like deal: 5-6 years at 3.5 per with a no trade clause. Already, we’re seeing some steps in the right direction.
Obviously, the NMC for Glenny is a concern moving forward. Darryl set up this routine, making it difficult for Feaster to negotiate when over half the team has a no-move clause of some kind.  I expect Tanguay’s demands will be similar: lesser dough, at a greater term and a NMC. It will be a tough pill to swallow, but I’d rather see Tanguay here and deal with the no-move consequences. When guys like Ales Kotalik, Olli Jokinen and Matt Stajan have some sort of no-move arrangement, it’s impossible to expect your first line winger to settle for any less security.
Jay’s stated philosophy, based on input and collaborative evaluation, brings the Flames much closer to that process. If you’re a believer in the phrase “two heads are better than one,” then there’s reason for optimism moving forward. As pinpointed by Rob Kerr of the Fan960, the Flames have quietly added 7 resources to their management and scouting ranks within the last year. Jay’s experience alongside Craig Conroy, Michel Goulet (Hall of Famer), Mike Holditch and an additional AGM -to-be-determined will bring a number of perspectives to the table, governed by Ken King and Flames’ ownership. So, while the announcements last week were not thrilling headline-stealers, I’m prepared to suggest the organization is in a better position than it was 6 months ago. Can’t wait for June and early July. 

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