CALGARY – Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster fully expected his club to make the playoffs in 2013.
When it instead became apparent Calgary would miss the post-season for the fourth straight season, Feaster was forced into some tough decisions.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with how this season went,” Feaster said when he met the media Monday. “It’s not acceptable to miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Obviously with the way things went, we made the difficult decision to change direction prior to the trade deadline (and) get younger players in the lineup.”
With the season in ruins, Feaster decided to go the route of a rebuild, trading of long-time captain and face of the franchise Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues.
Despite his squad being out of contention and in line for a top draft pick, Feaster still enjoyed seeing the Flames remain competitive to the point where Calgary won three straight games, the last of which was a 4-1 road triumph over the Minnesota Wild on April 21.
“We’re not going to ask the coaches to coach or ever ask the players to play with the thought that it’s OK if we don’t win,” Feaster said. “After we won in Minnesota … I wanted to win the last three and we’d finish .500.
“It’s important that our guys develop in a winning atmosphere and have that we-want-to-win mentality. That’’s how guys learn. It becomes and organizational thing and a cultural thing.”
While he has admitted that the Flames have changed directions, Feaster has refused to declare that the Flames need to go through a prolonged rebuilding phase.
“We want to do it sooner rather than later,” he said. “This isn’t about let’s see if we can finish last for the next three years and have the first pick overall. That’s not the direction we want to go.”
Instead, Feaster wants to continue to develop prospects like forward Sven Baertschi and defenceman T.J. Brodie, who both took big steps forward in their professional careers this season.
While Baertschi struggled early in the year and was sent to play in the minors for the Abbotsford Heat before a late-season recall, Brodie took on the added responsibility of playing more minutes on Calgary’s blue-line, especially after the departure of Bouwmeester.
“We believe that this truly has been a breakout season for him and we think that there are special things ahead,” said Feaster, who would like to get Brodie signed to a new contract before he becomes a restricted free agent on July 5.
Prior to next season, Feaster said he would definitely like to add some more size and grit to Calgary’s lineup.
“We are a small team,” he conceded. “We are a team that is not always as hard to play against as we need to be and that’s a function of getting the right personnel.”
In addition, Feaster talked about a “desperate need” at centre position and of Calgary’s need for more muscle on the blue-line.
Heading into this June’s NHL draft in New Jersey, Feaster has plenty of options open to him due to the fact that the Flames currently have three first-round selections.
“They would include trying to package some things and potentially move up in the draft,” said Feaster, who would also consider trading one or more of the picks for a player or players that could help the franchise “from a long-term perspective.”
Now that the Flames don’t have to pay Iginla and Bouwmeester their hefty contracts, Feaster will has more leverage once the free-agency market opens up on July 5.
“As a result of the moves made prior to and at the deadline, we do have cap space,” Feaster said. “There are some teams that are going have a difficult time getting under the cap for next season depending on how they elect to go about their business.”
That will allow Feaster to make offers to free agents who he thinks can help the Flames improve.
“We have an ownership group that is committed and has always provided us with the resources to do that,” he said.
Feaster also addressed the hot topic of whether veteran goalie Miikka Kiprusoff will return for the final year of his contract or if he’ll decide to retire.
“As we have said all along, we’re going to give Kipper time at the end of the season to think about things, to contemplate what he wants to do and at the appropriate time we will in fact sit down with him,” Feaster said. “We have to start planning for the day in Calgary where Miikka Kiprusoff will not be our No. 1 goaltender.”