Ever since the Calgary Flames missed the playoffs in April, fans and media have been speculating on whether the team’s irrational love affair with general manager Darryl Sutter would blindly ignore his colossal failures of the past 12 months (never mind the past five years), or if the increasingly bizarre series of management stumbles had finally put the Viking Curmudgeon on thin ice.
Well, now we have the answer. He’s on thin ice. Very thin. So thin that the guy likely to take his job is now sitting in the next office down the hall, holding a blow torch and an ice saw.
When the Flames named Jay Feaster as assistant GM on Thursday, the official line was that they’d decided to bring in an experienced NHL exec to help Darryl handle the management of the on-ice product, the scouting, etc. Something they’d been thinking of doing for a long time, Sutter said. Happy to lend a new set of eyes and a different perspective to help Darry out, Feaster said.
Think about the timing. This happened two weeks after the NHL draft, a week after Sutter made a couple of a the strangest free-agent decisions not just in Flames history, but in the entire history of the league (and, I might add, a day after several of the Flames’ scouts were fired).
If the Flames were really adding a senior hockey exec based on a long-term plan they’d been working on for some time, wouldn’t you do that before the draft and free agency, to capitalize on that new assistant GM’s wisdom and experience now, rather than have to wait months before his talents will have any impact? Why do it immediately after the draft and free-agent frenzy – both of which garnered the Flames poor reviews?
The answer – based largely on my best guess, but it all fits – is that Flames ownership has had enough. They gave Sutter the benefit of the doubt one last time, but when they saw the total lack of creativity and common sense he exercised over the past two weeks (see the Olli Jokinen file if you need any further evidence), they decided it was time to slip a noose around the GM’s neck and see how it fit.
In Feaster, the Flames now have in place a hockey man fully capable of taking over the GM’s job at a moment’s notice. This is the guy who quickly turned the Tampa Bay Lightning from an out-of-the-playoffs also-ran when he took over in 2002 to Stanley Cup champions (at the expense of the Flames) in 2004. He’s got a strong draft record and has learned some lessons about wrestling with the salary cap that have yet to sink into Darryl Sutter’s thick skull.
In the past month or so there had been rumours that the Flames were ready to bring in someone at assistant GM who would be groomed to take over if and when Sutter would get shown the door and/or kicked further upstairs where he could do less harm to the on-ice product. The name of Kelly Kisio, the hugely successful GM of the Flames-owned WHL franchise the Calgary Hitmen, had surfaced often. But the one big knock against Kisio – and one reason for skepticism about that rumour – was that he had no management experience at the NHL level, so would be a risky successor if Sutter was given the boot.
With Feaster, that issue is solved. Now the Flames ownership have a built-in safety net should they decide to get rid of Sutter.
If nothing else, this is a screaming signal to Darryl Sutter: You’re hanging on by a thread. We have a guy ready and able to take your job, he’s already on the payroll, he’s learning everything about the organization so when the time comes, we can do this with one quick swing of the axe, quick and painless. Well, painless for the team, anyway. Sutter might feel a bit of a sting.
My sense is that the Sutters – Darryl and kid-brother head coach Brent – might have until November to either rescue their jobs or hang themselves. If the Flames have a poor first month, one or both will be gone – more likely than not, both. The time for the endless fiddling and the arrogant bullshit from the front office is over; it’s produce with the mess you’ve cobbled together, or pack up and head back to the cow pasture in Viking, Alta. where you came from.
As an aside, I loved the story of the first thing Flames co-owner Murray Edwards said to Feaster when he met the ownership after taking the job this week. Edwards shook Feaster’s hand and simply said, “That puck was IN, you know.” – a reference to the controversial Cup-winning-goal-that-never-counted, the one that may or may not have crossed the line off the Flames’ Martin Gelinas in the third period of Game 6 of the 2004 Cup. Good thing Murray doesn’t hold grudges, eh?