“You play to win the game.”
– Former NFL football coach Herm Edwards
When Jay Feaster pulled off the Mike Cammalleri-Rene Bourque trade, it solidified his intent to make a push for the playoffs and ignore the outside calls for an all-out rebuild.
And for that, the Calgary GM deserves kudos.
In the ultra-competitive world of pro sports, I can’t for the life of me understand how a guy can be painted as incompetent when he doesn’t try to lose. Whether, as a fan or follower of the league, you think it’s time for the Flames to sell off all their NHL assets for futures is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is getting positive results from that type of philosophical change is easier said than done – and the option is often overrated.
The mythical return of “picks and prospects” is desired by the general public because of the loose idea that if you trade everything good you have now, the investment is a can’t-miss pay off down the road. But to point at the successes of the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins as a support for this reasoning is to completely ignore the pains of the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets. A rebuild isn’t always a straight line; “picks and prospects” don’t always turn out as expected.
If you go down this route, you’re accepting the fact your team will be below average for a couple of years. Fine. But put yourself in the GM’s shoes for a moment: if Feaster set off on a rebuild today, do you think he’d be there to enjoy the fruits of any potential success on the other end? Heck no. If Feaster were given the mandate by ownership to forget the playoffs and set the franchise up for a push in 2015, he would have started toward the objective as soon as he arrived.
And it’s not as though the Flames are a horrible, unsalvageable, lottery-lock wreck. They’re in the top-half of the league in goals-against average, largely because of netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, who’s having one of the best seasons of his career. Goal scoring is Calgary’s main concern, but it’s not impossible to see them improving in that category with Jarome Iginla bouncing back from a slow start, Curtis Glencross finding chemistry with Olli Jokinen and now with Cammalleri eager to prove himself to Cowtown fans once more and primed for a resurgence.
Oh, and they’re only four points out at the midway mark of the season.
Now, this isn’t to say Calgary is a criminally underrated team, that making up four points in this system is simple or that Cammalleri suddenly makes the Flames a Stanley Cup contender. But he is certainly an improvement on the inconsistent Bourque despite the down season he was having in Montreal.
Last time around, Cammalleri worked well with Iginla and burst through with a career year. You can’t assume the same results will happen this time, but the addition of a scorer like that gives the Flames options. Iginla can play with the surprising combo of Jokinen and Glencross, or coach Brent Sutter can spread it out and reunite the 2008-09 linemates, while letting Jokinen and Glencross continue unchanged.
The bottom line is the controversial deal improved Calgary’s chances immediately and that’s what the GM is there to do. It’s the GM’s job to improve his club and get to the playoffs where his owner can make some money and where the team has the opportunity to overachieve. No one expected the Oilers to make the final in 2005-06 and few thought the Flames would do it in 2003-04. So, when anyone asks me “why would a team with no hope for the Stanley Cup make a trade like this,” I shake my head. If you finish in the top eight of your conference, you have a hope. More simply, when you have a goalie like Kiprusoff, anything can happen.
Calgary has been fading ever since its appearance in the final, but the flame is still flickering. When it’s time for a rebuild, the team’s hand will be forced and it will occur naturally. Those pushing for a rebuild this year were already resigned to the fact the team had to be bad before it got really good again, so delaying it for a few years in lieu of another couple playoff pushes is gravy.
To question or crack at a GM’s ability because he doesn’t fold up shop and raise the white flag is way off base. Feaster knows better than anybody where his team stands, which is why he made the move for an upgrade in the first place. This bold move of integrity deserves to be commended.
After all, no one calling for an all-out rebuild at this juncture has an ounce of the accountability for trading the likes of Kiprusoff and Iginla that Feaster does.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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