In Jay Feaster’s second off-season, he was forced to eat a bit of humble pie when his pre-season guarantee of making the playoffs blew up in his face and the Flames missed out by just six points in an eerily similar fashion to the previous year.
The first dilemma facing the GM was whether or not to re-sign Brent Sutter. To me it was a no-brainer. Sutter may be a good coach, but he was a bad fit in Calgary and in my humble estimation should have been fired after the 2010-2011 season.
Publically it was announced there was a mutual decision that Mr. Sutter would not return. So-far-so-good, from my perspective. So who would replace him?
The search was extensive and reportedly included Abbotsford Heat coach Troy Ward, AHL coach Dallas Eakins, Bob Hartley, NY Ranger assistant Mike Sullivan and former Oilers’ coach Craig MacTavish.
In the end it was determined that Troy Ward would stay in Abby; not because of his skill set, but because of his winning approach to player development, which I believe is second to none in the AHL. The ultimate choice as we all now was Bob Hartley. Along with Bob came assistant coach and perennial sidekick Jacques Cloutier. The two began working together in Hartley’s days with the Colorado Avalanche, where they won a Stanley Cup.
Dave Lowry, who was an assistant under Brent Sutter, graciously stepped down acknowledging his belief that a coach should have the freedom to pick his own staff: class act. This paved the way for the hiring of former Flame Martin (the eliminator) Gelinas to complete the French connection. Gelinas is/was loved in Calgary by both the Flames’ fans and players alike and a lot of fans couldn’t quite figure out why Marty was not part of the Flames after the lockout in 2004-2005.
After consultation with Bob Hartley and Mikka Kiprusoff it was determined that Clint Malrchuk would remain as goalie tutor and in separate consideration that Jamie Pringle would remain as head of video analysis.
There has been some criticism surrounding the hiring of Hartley, mostly citing his unsuccessful stint with the Atlanta Thrashers and subsequent departure to the Swiss league. Criticism I feel is unfounded.
When Hartley took over the Thrashers part way through the 2002-2003 season they were an excruciating 8–20–4–1, but under Hartley’s guidance the team rebounded to finish 20–14–5–1, flirting with a playoff position in the second half.
The following season Hartley coached the Thrashers to a 41–33–8 record which was a franchise high and narrowly missed the post-season by just two points. The following year the Thrashers improved to a 43–28–11, 97-point season and made the playoffs for the first and only time in their short-lived existence.
Hartley was fired after just six games when the Thrash got off to a slow start in 2007-2008 and was replaced by Don Waddell. The team dropped back to 76 points under Waddell and would never amass more than 83 points or make the playoffs again in their remaining time in Atlanta; bad for them, but great for Winnipeg and Canada.
Having the coaching positions sorted out, Feaster turned his attention to addressing some of the Flames on-ice needs. Feaster publicly outlined his three top-priority acquisitions as being a top-line center, a top-six forward and a top-four defenseman
Along with his staff and abetting software, Feaster determined which unrestricted free agents he would target and moved swiftly. On May 2nd Feaster surprised a lot of people by signing free agent Roman Cervenka from the KHL. The Golden Helmet winner and leading playoff scorer was linked to at least two other teams who must have amongst the most surprised when he signed in Calgary.
Not willing to wait until he hit the open market, Feaster struck a deal with Washington Capital’s GM George McPhee allowing the Flames to negotiate with pending UFA Denis Wideman. Wideman was signed and the Capitals earned a compensatory fifth round pick which was contingent on the signing.
Within minutes of ‘free agent frenzy’ Feaster contacted Jiri Hudler’s agent Peter Svoboda and made a pitch which was accepted. The Wings had made offers to Hudler’s camp believed to be in the neighbourhood of $3.3 million, but Feaster’s offer of $4 million for four years and the promise of an increased role was enough to pry the winger loose. At the time the Wings still believed they were in the running for Zach Parise, and one can only wonder if they may wish they had matched with Parise singing in Minnesota.
This has addressed two out of three of the Flames’ professed needs, unless Roman Cervenka surprises and makes it a trifecta.
Following the sniping of the Cap’s top scoring defenseman and Detroit’s 50 point winger, Feaster turned his attention to the Flames’ free agents. Accepting offers to return were defenseman Cory Sarich, right winger Lee Stempniak and left winger Blake Comeau.
Feaster also dipped into the NCAA free agent pool and signed forward David Eddy as well as Calgary-born defenseman Brady Lamb.
Rounding out the signings to date (excluding entry-level deals) are the re-signing of restricted free agents Mikael Backlund, Akim Aliu, and goaltender Leland Irving.
Next time out I will conclude the recap of Fester’s actions since being named GM by looking at the Flames’ activity in the 2012 entry draft.
Factoid: Bob Hartley has had success in every league he has coached in:
• Junior A Hawkesbury Hawks-League championship
• Major Junior Laval Titan- QMJHL championship
• AHL Hershey Bears-Calder Cup
• NHL Colorado Avalanche-Stanley Cup
• Swiss League ZSC Lions-Swiss League championship.
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