Jay Feaster had a lot to say Tuesday, during his postseason address.
He talked about how the Calgary Flames’ 2011-12 NHL season was a disappointment and a failure. He said if people were looking to blame someone he was their man. He even apologized to the fans and team owners for missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third year in a row – something that wasn’t supposed to happen, if you recall what Feaster had said the year before.
But more than anything, it was what the Flames general manager didn’t say Tuesday that struck the deepest chord.
Asked if he was going to replace or re-sign head coach Brent Sutter – and what of forward Jarome Iginla’s wish not to stick around if a full-on rebuild is ordered? – Feaster replied: “I’m going to review every player on the team, every member of the hockey operations department and make a recommendation.”
It was a marked departure from a year ago, when Feaster made it abundantly clear team captain Iginla wasn’t going anywhere.
“It’s not in our best interests to tell 29 other teams today this is what we plan to do,” the GM insisted Tuesday. “I’m not going to talk about individual players on the hockey club.”
Collectively, though, Feaster admitted there is much work to be done with a team poised for a significant revamp of some sort. With six players bound for unrestricted free agency, and four others set for restricted free agency, motive and opportunity have aligned themselves quite nicely.
Without stating his plan of action, Feaster pinpointed what went wrong this season. Despite being warned about the repercussions of last year’s poor start, despite being reminded again in training camp, the players hit the ice last October and November and produced yet another poor start.
Worse was how the team found a way to put itself back into contention, only to fall apart when it mattered most.
“Every time we had an opportunity to push through, we failed to do it,” said Feaster, who met with 24 players during last Monday’s exit meetings looking for answers. “I had guys talk about the pressure, being the hunted instead of the hunter. Other guys said there was almost a sigh of relief, ‘We’re there.’ Your level drops and you don’t have that same energy. It’s a number of different things.
“We need to find a way to push through that. That has been the case the last two years. Why? That’s the $65-million question.”
Sutter, who said he didn’t know if he would be back to coach the Flames, also pointed to the team’s inability to play at a high level on a regular basis. He described the Flames as a group that can play “with the best [in the NHL] then, 24 hours later, it looks like we’ve never played before. It’s mental toughness and understanding every night is an important game.”
What was noticeable to both the head coach and GM was how much livelier the team was when infused with younger players.
“When we had energy in our lineup – like the five-game opportunity with Sven Baertschi – he had energy, passion. Some of our best hockey was played with those young guys,” Feaster said. “I think the teams that have those youthful, dynamic players, those teams can win. Our biggest issue is we don’t have enough of them.”
The likelihood for the Flames is Feaster will try to reload as best he can without tearing the franchise to pieces. The feeling is Sutter won’t be back as coach, while the organization and Iginla will soon talk about what’s best for one another. If that involves a trade, the Flames will begin making that known to their 29 rivals prior to the NHL entry draft.
Although he wouldn’t make comment on any such speculation, the Calgary GM did reveal a personal preference in one regard.
“I don’t subscribe to that theory, that you have to miss [the playoffs]for a couple of years in a row. There are a number of ways to improve your hockey team – signing free agents, trading for players. We do need to make changes,” he said.
“At the same time, I don’t want to be standing here doing this again next year.”