CALGARY – Jay Feaster is prepared to butt heads if he has to with Flames general manager Darryl Sutter.
“He can’t have a harder head than John Tortorella did,” the new assistant general manager insisted Tuesday. “It can’t be.”
The combative Tortorella was Feaster’s coach when the two won the 2004 Stanley Cup together with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning beat the Flames in seven games to take the championship that year.
Feaster was hired earlier this month to work alongside the strong-willed Sutter next season.
“I like those old-school guys,” Feaster said in his first face-to-face meeting with Calgary media.
The 47-year-old from Williamstown, Pa., says differences of opinion with Sutter are to be expected, but he’s not going to air those disagreements in public.
“I think it’s important as a member of the organization, a member of his staff that I can put that opinion out there and disagree with him,” Feaster said. “If it something I feel very strongly about, disagree with him passionately, but at the end of the day, it’s the loyal opposition.
“You do that behind closed doors and then when you walk out and you are with the players, you do present that unified front. It’s important once we make a decision, we are together. At the end of the day, Darryl is the boss.”
Feaster had been out of the NHL’s managerial ranks since resigning from the Lightning two years ago. He was the Lightning’s GM from 2002 to 2008 and assistant GM of the team for the three seasons prior to his promotion.
He says his role in Calgary will be somewhat different from that of other AGMs in the league. Feaster is going to travel with the Flames when they go on the road.
“It’s important the coach have someone to sound off on after a game,” he explained. “Maybe it was a guy who made a mistake and cost us. You hate him now, you don’t just want to send him down (to the AHL), you want to kill him.
“But it’s important a coach not have to deal with that himself and there is somebody else he could talk to.”
He says Calgary’s pro scouting staff will report to him. Feaster is currently working with Flames vice-president Mike Holditch to prepare for the July 30 arbitration hearing of defenceman Ian White. He’s also reading scouting reports to get a feel for what Calgary has in its prospect cupboard.
Calgary’s 40-32-10 record wasn’t enough to make the post-season in the Western Conference as the Flames missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Calgary was sixth in the NHL in defence, but last in goals scored.
Feaster says the bones of a championship team are in Calgary, which is why he decided to accept Sutter’s offer of a job.
“I know the trend now is maybe you don’t need that world-class goalie,” he said. “I still think you build from the net out and I think it’s one of the strong suits of this team—the fact we have a world-class goaltender and we have a solid blue-line. That is one of the things that makes this attractive because I think the pieces are in place.”
After 10 years in the Lightning’s organization, Feaster is equipped to judge the performance of rookie GM Steve Yzerman there.
“In my mind, he’s a strong candidate of executive of the year right now,” Feaster said. “He’s coming up aces.”
New owner Jeff Vinik fired GM Brian Lawton and head coach Rick Tocchet in April when the team missed the playoffs for the third straight year. Vinik then hired Yzerman, a Hockey Hall of Fame player.
Feaster approved Yzerman’s trade of defenceman Andrej Meszaros to Philadelphia, the free-agent signing of Simon Gagne, the contract extension for Marty St. Louis and the hiring of Guy Boucher and Julien Brisebois as coach and assistant general manager respectively.
“He’s made the team better right now, but just as importantly, he’s freed up some bad contracts that he’d rather not be hamstrung by over the next two or three years,” Feaster said.
“You look at the way Gagne played in the post-season, he certainly seemed to be rejuvenated and healthy. If he is, that’s a home run. You pair him with Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis, I think it’s a great deal.
“He did the right thing in my mind by extending Marty St. Louis (who is) still the heart and soul of that hockey team. No matter how talented Lecavalier is and Steven Stamkos, Marty is still the heart and soul.”
The Flames also announced Tuesday the re-signing of forward Brett Sutter, Darryl’s son, to a one-year contract and the signing of forward Stefan Meyer to a two-year deal.
Brett Sutter had nine goals and 15 assists in 66 games with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat and no points in 10 games with the Flames last season. Meyer had 10 goals and eight assists in 67 games for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage.