CALGARY - Jay Feaster has brought a more light-hearted feel to the Calgary Flames' front office, and the team thinks it's working.
The Flames finally dropped the "interim' tag from Feaster's title as general manager Monday. There was a distinct change in atmosphere around the Flames when the 48-year-old from Harrisburg, Pa., took over as acting GM on Dec. 28.
Under the stern Darryl Sutter, the Flames went 16-18-3 and were second-last in the Western Conference at that point. After Sutter was asked to resign and did so, music played loudly in the dressing room, the players smiled and laughed a lot more on the ice and the Flames went on a 25-11-8 run that put them in the playoff hunt.
Calgary finished the season 41-29-12 and three points short of a playoff spot. But the Flames feel Feaster's approach is the right one to get them back in the post-season after a two-year absence.
"It was pretty clear to everybody that we needed a philosophical adjustment," Flames president Ken King said. "One of the things Jay had said was he had never seen a team that liked winning less, or had enjoyed it less."
Head coach Brent Sutter gave the team several days off down the stretch in recognition of their effort and the gruelling schedule. Feaster says the players stopped playing like they were shouldering a heavy burden and rediscovered the joy of the game.
"The attitude change was 'We're going to look for the positives, we're going to be a positive and optimistic group,'" he said. "It's easy to do when you're winning. The secret is to be able to do that when times aren't as good."
There were moments of jocularity in Monday's press conference, but Feaster is serious in building the Flames into a Stanley Cup contender again.
He was GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 when they beat Calgary in seven games to win the Stanley Cup. The Flames hired him as Sutter's assistant GM last summer on a three-year contract.
"The vision is to be a team that is a consistent Stanley Cup challenger," Feaster said. "I think we're a whole lot closer than a lot of people think we are in terms of the players we have in that room.
"We have a group that cares. They want to be here and contribute to our success. We will be making some player changes, we will have a different look, but the big thing is we're going to be back to establishing an identity the way we want this hockey club to play."
Feaster confirmed Monday he'd re-signed Curtis Glencross to a multi-year year. His next priorities include re-signing winger Alex Tanguay and hiring his own assistant GM.
Glencross's deal is worth US$10.2 million over four years. The 28-year-old forward from Kindersley, Sask., had a career-high 24 goals for 43 points in 79 games last season and would have become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
His salary last season was $1.2 million. Glencross has a no movement clause in his deal which means he can't be traded, waived or sent to the minors without his consent.
"I feel very strongly we need to be judicious when we give those clauses," Feaster said. "At the same time, we asked a player to make a commitment to us. He was giving up an opportunity in the UFA market. He was willing to do it in order to stay here."
The Flames also confirmed Craig Conroy has signed on to be Feaster's special assistant for the next four years. Conroy retired in February after playing over 1,000 games during his career. While Feaster is looking for an assistant GM, he feels Conroy needs more seasoning in management before taking on that job.
"If Connie had retired a couple years earlier, he'd be the guy handling that role," Feaster said. "There's no doubt in my mind that is the progression path Craig is on."
Tanguay is among eight Flames scheduled for free agency on July 1. The 31-year-old had 22 goals and 47 assists playing alongside captain Jarome Iginla on Calgary's top line. He's in line for a raise on his $1.7-million salary.
"The number we were able to sign Curtis for, that number is consistent with what we had in our budget," Feaster said. "We set out in our budget process and in the plan to get both guys re-signed."
Brent Sutter has a year remaining on his contract and is currently searching for assistant coaches and a goalie coach. Dave Lowry is the only member of his staff whose contract was renewed.
"Brent will ultimately make those decisions," Feaster said. "It's important to us as an organization that Brent make these hires. I have a lot of confidence in Brent."
Feaster also said Jim Playfair again will coach Calgary's American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford, B.C., next season.