So here is the task facing Jay Feaster, appointed on Tuesday as the interim general manager of the Calgary Flames to replace Darryl Sutter.
Feaster inherits an organization that is old, slow, overpaid and encumbered by nearly a dozen players on no-trade or no-movement contracts. It is a team with few blue-chip prospects in the development pipeline, thanks to a series of ruinous trades over the past two years in which the future was sacrificed for quick fixes in the present that backfired in big, meaningful ways (can anyone say Olli Jokinen?).
The Flames are a disaster in the present – 14th in the Western Conference standings – and not in position to execute a quick about-face in the standings any time soon either.
It is a daunting challenge facing Feaster, one that will take time to fix. Officially, Sutter stepped down Tuesday, but president Ken King acknowledged that he asked the former GM to do so. Had Sutter refused, who knows what might have happened? As it is, a decision that was coming anyway and would have been made no later than the end of the current season happened now. Presumably, that also gives the new man, Feaster, time to evaluate what the organization has, what it lacks and what steps are needed.
This is not going to happen overnight, which is why Feaster has been asked to develop short-, medium- and long-term plans. If they’d waited until the summer to make the move, it could have cost them yet another year in the rebuilding process.
Assuming Calgary continues to slip-slide away in the standings – and is hopelessly out of playoff contention by the Feb. 28 trade deadline – then that might give Feaster the right window to unload some contracts that would otherwise be unmovable.
Feaster comes to the job with a great deal of experience. As recently as 2004, he was presiding over the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup championship. That stirring seven-game victory came at the expense of the Flames and also marked the high-water point of Sutter’s eight years with Calgary.
Once upon a time, a trip through Alberta was akin to visiting the NHL’s version of Death Valley. Nowadays, teams pop into Edmonton and Calgary, grab their points, mutter some platitudes about the weather and then get out of town.
The Oilers, at least, have put some youthful building blocks in place, by drafting the likes of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, giving their fans a glimmer of hope. With Calgary, it has been the same-old, same-old for years and years. There is Jarome Iginla, there is Miikka Kiprusoff and there isn’t much of anything else to support them.
So Sutter clearly had to go and probably the smartest thing the Flames did last summer was put Feaster in place. Feaster stressed at Tuesday’s press conference that he didn’t join the Flames with his eye on Sutter’s job, but it was clear from the outset that an organization not known for its forward thinking was putting a succession plan in place.
Feaster said a lot of the right things upon his introduction – how he’d like to lighten the mood and maybe hear some loud music when he enters the dressing room postgame. Within the hour, as Iginla was giving interviews, the sounds of Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill could be heard in the players’ private alcove, in the back of the dressing room.
It didn’t take long for that change to filter down. It may take a little longer for the second phase of Feaster’s plan to fall in place.
“I want to make the playoffs, but I don’t want to just make the playoffs and then go out in the first round,” Feaster said. “I don’t want to be a team that says, ‘Well, we made it every year for four years.’ I’m telling you, when you win a Stanley Cup, that’s the only thing that matters.
“It’s the only place you want to get back to, and that’s where I want to get back to here.”
Music to the ears of long-suffering Flames fans, who can expect to suffer a little more in the immediate future before the corner gets turned.