CALGARY – A week into his new job as acting general manager of the Calgary Flames, Jay Feaster was still evaluating what he has to work with.
But if the Flames don’t meet their target goal—which is winning at least two out of every three games—Feaster says he will become a man of action.
“If that isn’t happening, then we’ll quickly be beyond the evaluation stage,” Feaster said Tuesday in the owners’ box at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
As they near the halfway point of the season, the Flames (18-19-3) are six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and have to climb over a handful of teams to get there.
Calgary is 2-1 since Darryl Sutter resigned as GM and executive vice-president Dec. 28. Feaster, hired as assistant GM in July, was asked to step in on an interim basis.
Feaster was GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning when that club beat Calgary in seven games to win the 2004 Stanley Cup final. He was also GM of the Hershey Bears when they won the Calder Cup in 1997.
While he’s already proven his ability as a hockey executive, Feaster was willing to audition for the job as the Flames’ GM.
He’s working on a short-term plan to present to club president Ken King with recommendations on what moves should be made before the trade deadline Feb. 28. He’ll also develop a long-term plan for King and the Flames’ ownership group to review.
“I suppose it is an audition,” Feaster acknowledged. “Does the organization believe my approach and my philosophy, the things I believe, do they believe those things are right for the Calgary Flames?
“It’s important for Ken and the owners to get comfortable that, ‘this is the guy and we believe what he believes in.’ If it’s not, if they look at my approach and say ‘man, I just don’t know if that’s what we want here, what works here’ then I’m not the right guy to be the GM.”
The 48-year-old from Harrisburg, Pa., was hired on a three-year contract in July. Feaster says he’s willing to work with whoever the Flames choose for GM if it isn’t him.
“I told Ken, ‘If I’m not the right guy, all I ask is whoever is the right guy, you let him know he inherits me because I didn’t move my family across two countries not to work,'” Feaster said. “I want to work and feel I have something to offer.”
Feaster, like many Flames fans, is trying to unravel the mystery of why an experienced team—the second oldest in the NHL—plays as inconsistently as a junior club.
On a season-high, four-game winning streak, the Flames were flat and flat-footed early against the New York Islanders on Monday night, spotting the visitors a 3-1 lead after the first period in a 5-2 loss.
“If it were a young team, you could excuse it,” Feaster said. “This is a veteran hockey club. We should be beyond that in terms of being surprised that that team came here last night looking to work.
“I have to admit that was discouraging last night. That one kept me up into the wee hours because I’m trying to understand how and why that happens.
“I believe in the personnel, but I qualify that because we have to have the work ethic. If we believe that based on our talent alone, we can be a playoff team, we’re going to be disappointed.”
If Feaster concludes players have to be moved before the trade deadline, he’s limited by 11 Flames with no-trade or no-movement clauses, and a payroll at the NHL’s salary cap limit of US$59.4 million.
“The no-trade, no-moves really do make it more difficult,” Feaster admitted. “It’s not impossible. We’ve seen enough of that under this new CBA, that players with no-move, no-trade (clauses) do get traded.
“The difference is that the player is now in the process. It’s not longer manager to manager. Now, you have to involve that third party.”
While trade rumours will naturally follow Calgary’s biggest assets—captain Jarome Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff—Feaster is loathe to ask either of them to go elsewhere in a trade.
Five years after the Lightning lost Nikolai Khabibulin, their Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, to free agency, Feaster says that organization is still struggling to find a replacement. Calgary simply can’t replace Kiprusoff, according to Feaster.
“He is too good a player, he’s too important to this hockey club,” he insisted. “That’s a non-starter in our mind. The minute you do something like that, you’ll be trying to replace that player for along time.
“The same thing with Jarome. I think Jarome is a very productive and important part of the core here. I’ve never believed in trading core players.”
Starting with the Dec. 23 game in Dallas, the Flames broke their season down into three-game segments with the goal of winning at least two of every three. Calgary swept the first trio of games and is 1-1 heading into Wednesday’s game in Vancouver against the Canucks.
“We’re ahead of where we need to be as far as winning two out of three for the two segments, but there’s not a lot of margin for error,” Feaster said.
When he was in Tampa Bay, Feaster said he had conversations with coach John Tortorella five or six times a day on the hockey club’s operations. He’s continuing to keep the lines of communication open with Flames head coach Brent Sutter, who is Darryl’s younger brother.
“Jay came in this morning and we sat down and had a long talk,” Brent Sutter said. “It’s a consistent thing. It hasn’t changed really from the start of the year.
“Now it’s a little bit more detailed because his communication with me is from the general manager’s chair and not an assistant general manager’s. The communication has been outstanding and that’s really important.”
Also, the Flames recalled Swedish forward Mikael Backlund, their first-round draft pick in 2007, from the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat. Backlund is expected in the Calgary’s lineup Wednesday in Vancouver.