The Calgary Flames’ patience with Jay Feaster has finally burnt out.
The Flames have fired their general manager, along with assistant general manager John Weisbrod, after yet another slow start to a season. Brian Burke, the team’s president of hockey operations, has taken over as acting general manager, with no other personnel moves planned.
“Jay’s a good man, and he did his best here. His fingerprints will be on this team for many years, so I want to thank Jay for his hard work here,” he said.
“It’s not fun firing a friend.”
Best known for being the architect of Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup-winning team in 2004, Feaster joined Calgary’s front office in July 2010 as assistant general manager before taking over as acting general manager in December 2010 after current Kings head coach Darryl Sutter was fired. The Flames made Feaster the permanent general manager in May 2011.
However, the Flames didn’t make the playoffs during Feaster’s front office tenure, and they sit one point outside the Western Conference basement with an 11-15-4 record this season.
At a press conference announcing Feaster’s firing, Burke indicated that, after an evaluation period of about 60 days, he felt a management change was necessary for the organization to take the next step.
“We decided what we were doing wasn’t going to get us there as fast as we want,” Burke said.
The Flames have been in a rut for the last five to ten years, having missed the playoffs each of the last four seasons; they also haven’t won a playoff series since their improbable run in 2003-04, where they lost in the final to the Feaster-run Lightning.
Calgary’s search for Feaster’s replacement starts now, though they may not look outside their own office. It’s no secret that Brian Burke likes to be in control, no matter where he is. However, Burke clearly stated he has no interest in being Calgary’s full-time general manager, instead preferring to be a “presence of continuity,” as he put it.
As Burke wants to remain solely as president of hockey operations, whoever they hire as Feaster’s replacement may cause a domino effect in Cowtown. Burke said the new general manager will need to have expertise in both drafting and scouting to help further the rebuild.
TSN’s Darren Dreger believes former Flame and Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk is a premier candidate as a replacement, though he also named Bruins assistant general manager Jim Benning (also a key figure in the Buffalo Sabres’ general manager search), Maple Leafs executives Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle, Kings director of amateur scouting Michael Futa, and Coyotes assistant general manager Brad Treliving as possibilities.
In terms of the current on-ice product, Burke said the Flames simply aren’t as big as he’d like them to be, pointing to the 2007 Anaheim Ducks as a blueprint the league’s best teams have followed in subsequent years.
“We want black and blue hockey here, it’s what we do in Alberta. We have to be big and more truculent, and I want more hostility than what I’m seeing right now,” he said.
While Burke believes his team needs to get bigger, small players can still thrive in today’s NHL.
“There’s room for small players in this league, but you better surround them with some beef,” he said.
He also is frustrated with the team’s inability to hold a lead, though he praised his team’s efforts so far.
“I honestly think this is the hardest-working team in the National Hockey League this season,” Burke said.
A new general manager may also turn up the heat on current Flames head coach Bob Hartley. The Flames have not been a good hockey club under Hartley, who has one year remaining on a three-year deal he signed last summer.
Though Burke has promised the coaching staff their jobs are safe for the rest of the season, general managers traditionally like to hire their own head coaches. Therefore, if Hartley can’t turn his team’s hard work into more tangible results (they’re currently 14 points out of the final playoff spot), he may not see the final year of his contract.