We all saw it coming.
No one saw it coming this fast.
The two summary statements of this mornings shocking news that the Flames and Brian Burke had disposed of both Jay Feaster and John Weisbrod.
Eleven weeks ago Burke was on message in his introductory news conference, stating over and over again that he wasn’t the GM of the Flames; that was Jay Feaster’s job, but stumbling just the same with errant statements that made it pretty clear that he was to be in charge.
We knew it then. He knew it then. Likely Jay Feaster knew it then. All that remains now are questions surrounding almost all aspects of the decision, and where the Flames will go from here.
1. What was Jay Feaster fired?
Clearly I have no idea, but why not float a few theories and potential reasons to help shape what is going on behind the scenes.
My favourite at this point is the obvious one. When you hire a guy at the top and he inherits a direct report that he didn’t put in place, the likelihood of that relationship lasting is very very slim. Burke has his guys and Feaster clearly just isn’t one of his guys.
My gut says he knew the day he took the job that he’d be letting Feaster go. He may have had a sliver of possibility in his mind that he might change his view on the guy, but he probably knew it was more a feel out situation as to how long he’d have to wait to make this change in order to be able to sell it to the city and to the city’s media.
I guess that time was now.
Personally I felt Feaster did a pretty good job of turning the team around both on the ice with moving out veterans, and off the ice in terms of re-stocking the Flames prospect cupboard. However the Ryan O’Reilly disaster from last season might have played a role, and perhaps Burke’s internal questioning of the team’s fate over the past two seasons suggested that it was Feaster and not the owners that hung on to Iginla and Kiprusoff two years longer than they should have.
I know personally I felt that Feaster’s hands were tied, but if I took over the hockey operations in Calgary, especially with the big personality of a Brian Burke one of the first things I’d dig into is why the team thought it was closer than they were for three seasons, seriously prolonging a broker roster, and reducing their chances to turn things around quickly. Perhaps a sit down with Murray Edwards unEarthed an ownership that was at odds with Feaster on what needed to be done, but stayed out of the way to let a hockey man do his thing.
Another potential reason for today’s move is the Pinocchio effect. Perhaps Burke was assuming that he would have control and Feaster would do the mucking, but instead found a voice that challenged Burke’s directions, and didn’t want to be a puppet. If that’s the case then look for a Burke puppet to be hired and some bad news for Calgarians as organizations run without challenge almost never succeed in a competitive world and market; this remains to be seen.
2. Who will replace Feaster as Calgary’s GM?
The big advantage the Flames have in finding a new general manager in the next weeks and months is the presence of Brian Burke at the top of the hockey food chain. He’s about as experienced at the role of GM as you can be in the National Hockey League, providing him and the franchise with the opportunity to bring in a less experienced person, without risking that said person would be over his head or require years to learn the extent of the job.
Craig Button was hired in Calgary in the 90s as a great amateur scout with an eye for talent.
Seemed like a good move for a team that needed to rebuild but he didn’t have the experience at other facets of the job in order to succeed including; salary management, player transactions, media management, or even having a set at the big boys table to even hear about available players on the market.
He was doomed to fail.
He did fail.
Burke can bring in a great amateur scout / player development guy and let him grow on the job while he provides guidance and direction on these other facets with a eye to developing a GM in his image.
Is that a good thing? Seems a bit like like an emperor / Vader relationship, but few could argue that Burke isn’t a decent enough of a hockey man to be cloned and likely help the Flames out a lot.
Either way it’s pretty hard to argue what has happened in Calgary today; the Flames are now Brian Burke’s team. He no longer will sit in the back, attend functions in Toronto, and be a ceremonial person in the background.
It’s going to be an interesting ride!
3. The Timing
For now lets put aside why it happened and who they are going to hire. What about the timing?
Simply love it.
Inevitable big decisions have to be made quickly and decisively, especially when a franchise is already in a rebuild and facing some very important decisions in the next 8 months. There’s little point in having a man in the chair that you know is on his way out when instead you can hire a guy that you plan to work with, and begin bouncing ideas around in and around all the tinkering and structure changes that are on the horizon.
Get it done.
The Flames have an olympic break coming up after Christmas, they could use that break as a leverage point to get a jump on the trade market and start moving out assets.
After that you’ll see a trade deadline on the horizon in year one of a rebuild, with several key veteran players heading towards unrestricted free agency, and the team looking for a top five draft pick for the first time in franchise history.
Further down the road you have that draft, and the chance to get a voice in sooner than later to start the process as to who Calgary should select in the first and second rounds, and then maybe biggest issue which is free agency day in July.
The salary cap is expected to move north of $70M next season, and with that we will see the floor move to north of $50M. The Flames have always been a spend to the cap team, but this season they’ve sat at or near the bottom (moved out of 30th when Smid was acquired) meaning they’ll have to jump upward significantly this summer. The Flames currently have only $35M tied up on 13 players meaning they’ll have to add $15M in salary in adding 10 additional players. Chris Russell and Reto Berra will chew up $3.5M of that gap, leaving 8 players and $11.5M and some pretty non spectacular RFAs up front looking for new contracts. There’s a good chance that the Flames will still need to add 6 bodies and have $9M to spend meaning a big piece will have to be added.
I personally feel this is one of the most important decisions the Flames will make in the next 18 months, one that just can’t be made incorrectly. Do they bring back Cammalleri and not trade the player potentially costing them a first overall pick? How can they ensure a new $6M will help and not hinder all the positives in the team’s foundation (culture) that they’ve developed this season? They simply can’t have a big guy come in with no work ethic and send the Flames back to the previous country club era and ruin the development of young players.
Going forward there will be even more questions, and a new direction that should become a little more clear in the next few months. The city has been happy to embrace the slow process of rebuilding with a likable hockey team that works hard every single night. It would be a shame to see a quick fix plan emerge as the new direction.
By mid March we should have a pretty good idea.