A little more than a month into the Jay Feaster era, and in so many ways, life is much better in Flame Country. The team has clawed its way back into playoff contention (honestly, how the hell did that happen?), Brent Sutter and people around him are cracking smiles occasionally, and GM Feaster is starting to slowly clean up the mess Darryl Sutter had left behind.
But in Feaster’s first significant move as GM, he showed that maybe the organization hasn’t changed as much for the better as we might suppose.
Last week, Feaster placed Craig Conroy – one of the best things about this franchise for much of the past decade, both on and off the ice – on waivers. Once the 1,000-games-plus NHL veteran cleared the waiver wire, he was asked to make a choice – retire or go down to the Flames’ minor-league affiliate in Abbotsford.
Feaster’s rationale is simple: He wants to clear some deadwood off the NHL roster and free up some spots so some young guys in Abbotsford can be brought up to the Bigs from time to time, to reward them for their good play. Fine, fair enough.
I have no argument (and few would) with his decision to do the same thing with Ales Kotalik, who has been an extraordinary waste of space since he arrived in Calgary last year from the New York Rangers, bloated contract in hand but former on-ice abilities missing in action. Kotalik is now getting paid $3-million a year to play in the AHL (and is still under contract through 2012) – obscene, to be sure, but at least he’s getting no worse than he deserves for a player who has done nothing since he arrived in Calgary but use up more than his share of oxygen, let alone cap space.
(To recap, the fallout of that Rangers trade is that the Flames are saddled with a $3-million minor-leaguer, while the Rangers are enjoying the tenacious, hard-nosed and ever-improving play of Brandon Prust at less than one-third of that price. But I digress.)
But Conroy deserves much better treatment than this. He’s done everything this team has asked of him, has been a leader as well as a superb off-ice ambassador, for too many years to be treated with such public disrespect.
Would it have killed Feaster to have simply gone to Conroy, explained the situation and asked him to retire – or, alternatively, asked him if he would accept a demotion to the minors? And if he’d refused both, would it have really hurt so much to have simply let him play out his string for a couple more months with the Flames, and head off to retirement properly at the end of the season?
By Feaster’s own admission, no one in Abbotsford has shown enough to deserve a full-time NHL job yet. That’s especially true of the forwards playing for the Heat, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the AHL. Anyone he brings up in Conroy’s place is going to see spot duty at best, and will likely spend as much time in the press box as Connie was spending – if he lasts beyond a cup of coffee.
Yes, Feaster and company have been saying the right things after Connie cleared waivers – like he can take his time deciding what to do, like they might find a place for him in the organization if he wants it post-retirement (Conroy has coaching written all over him, but he’s also great in front of a camera and microphone, so broadcasting would also be a natural.)
But Conroy didn’t need to be put on the spot like this – being asked to make a decision on his future with the public watching. Nor did his teammates – who to a man adore Conroy, one of the truly decent and nice people in hockey – need this kind of disruption and distraction in the dressing room, when they were finally getting their act together.
It was an insensitive, heartless, bush-league move by Feaster – just when the Flames fans had hoped we’d seen the last of bush-league management.