The Western Conference’s playoff bubble features a stunning muck of teams between positions four and twelve. Few teams capture that up-and-down mood quite like the Calgary Flames.
The team looked like lottery fodder when Darryl Sutter stepped down in favor of new general manager Jay Feaster, but like many floundering squads after big changes, they are showing some signs of life (at least in a very small sample size). Feaster says that while the team has been playing much better since he took over, the actual philosophy change happened two games before he took the reins. The coaching staff mapped out an interesting running objective: win two out of every three games or earn four out of six points in three game chunks.
Since then, Feaster points out that the team is on an impressive 11-3-3 run in their last 17 games. Yet with all that success, the ultra-competitive and parity-packed West is an unforgiving place. The Flames could jump back into the thick of the race or drift back into the cellar every other week, something Feaster acknowledged while discussing the team’s murky picture heading into prime trade rumor time this month.
One thing that is not murky to Feaster, however, is which players are touchable and which ones are not. The former Tampa Bay Lightning GM says that the team won’t move its “core” players such as trade rumor targets Jarome Iginla and Robyn Regehr.
Feaster might have more insight into how the rumor mill works from his time as a member of the media before he joined the Flames organization this past summer. Even if the Flames were unable to continue their current momentum and Feaster wound up as a seller when the deadline arrives, he has a list of players who he says are not available.
Iginla and Regehr are on that list.
“I think the responsibility of the manager is to identify the core players and the guys who are key to your hockey team and build around them,” Feaster said. “We have a very strong core. We have one of the best goaltenders in the League in Miikka Kiprusoff, we have one of the best power forwards and best right wings in the game in Jarome Iginla and as far as I’m concerned three of the best defensemen in the game in Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr and Mark Giordano. I’ve said that I’m not trading the core of the hockey team and those guys are core guys.”
The Iginla rumors reminded Feaster of his days as the GM with the Tampa Bay Lightning. During the 2003-04 season there was plenty of speculation about the future destination of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
He had a $6.5 million club option for the 2004-05 season, but Feaster was adamant that he wasn’t going to trade his No. 1 goalie. It turned out to be the right move, as Khabibulin backstopped the Lightning to the Stanley Cup.
Of course, one must also note that the Lightning ended up losing Khabibulin for nothing the summer following that Cup run. Meanwhile, the team handed some questionable deals to Brad Richards and Dan Boyle, two players they eventually had to move for disappointing players such as Mike Smith.
That’s not to say that such a gamble wasn’t worth it, but there’s no denying the fact that a solid long term plan can help a team retain its “core players.”
Then again, the $7.5 million question is whether or not Jarome Iginla is the kind of core player the Flames need to retain. The probable future Hall of Famer has had a great career, but he’s not getting any younger and carries that big price tag.
Much like when a team sees a temporary bump from changing coaches, the Flames are likely to regress to the mean over time. Feaster should be careful not to overrate short term results if it means improving the overall outlook of a team that ultimately needs some serious renovations.