Skepticism will remain until action actually occurs but Jay Feaster's end of the year press conference was music to my ears. A tune many critics or rebuild advocates for the Flames have been waiting to hear for years.
Gone were the familiar cliches and irritating propaganda of just "wait till next year." For the first time in a long time there were strong hints of significant change ahead for the Flames. A change in philosophy, all players are under evaluation, no one's future is certain.
It wasn't a shocking surprise if you have been listening closely to Feaster since January.
He has dropped several hints to the media. "We have to be intellectually honest about this team." "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." He had essentially come up in mid-season and admitted in not so many words that he had over-estimated the stature of the team.
A complete 180 degree turn from his boisterous confidence in the pre-season of "Write it down, we'll be in the playoffs."
Mercifully, none of the press corps in attendance called him to account on that pre-season statement.
The tone of his end of the year media scrum was not a big surprise but it was the accountability and clearly leaving the door open on all options that an increasingly disgruntled fan base needed to hear.
Make the jump for some direct quotes from Feaster and my take on them. Could very well be different from yours.
I also forward a theory on how Kipper is the problem, paradoxical as that may sound, his play in my view has lead to a mindset on the Flames skaters of not giving top-effort because they are subconsciously thinking he can steal games for them.
He is the root problem.
Falling on the Sword
I want to be clear that the responsibility for where we are is mine. I'm the GM of the hockey club, I make the personnel decisions, I hire the coach. So, as we look at what went wrong this season and as we review where we are, understand that from the perspective of the GM of the club and from the front office, the season has been a failure. Jay Feaster - April 10, 2012
Feaster is stepping up to take the blame but really is it all on him?
For the most part it is Darryl Sutter's mess that is slowly being cleaned up. Taking the fall is the job of the GM. It makes it simple to tag one guy but really is that accurate? Feaster uses the pronoun "I" and then immediately switches to "we" in the next sentence.
Don't kid yourself, the Flames process is not all Feaster, it is a collaborative one.
Nothing could make it more obvious than such an instantaneous switch in pronouns from " I " to " we " from one sentence to the next.
Go listen to Brian Burke's end of the year presser. Nothing but " I " in that one. There is no doubting that one man is running the show in Toronto. Today in Calgary, it is collaborative and given the Flames disaster under the " one man show " with Darryl Sutter, that is probably a good thing.
Although from the recent Mike Keenan interview there is now at least one source that states even Darryl Sutter was under influence from above. More on that later…
The Kipper Crutch
Feaster then focuses on the Flames poor start to the season and seems bewildered.
Despite a lot of preparation and talk about it, they failed to start the season on the right note. A little tongue in cheek comment on playing Miikka Kiprusoff far to much. Clearly not part of the plan.
This team, in my view, has been using Kipper as a crutch for years now. It has created a mind-set in the locker-room in Calgary, an infectious one that hits every roster skater quickly.
Instead of stepping up to do their job harder with a back-up in net, they come out flat with anyone but him in net.
The players have had this approach far predating Feaster. In a sense Kipper has spoiled the team. Spoiled them into slacking off when he is in net because in the back of their minds they think they can win games on his back, even if they don't give 100% effort.
Kipper has been spoken of glowingingly by all Flames players for years and rightly so. I am not sure how to describe it but a analogy would be like a magic carpet that you use to get around and when it isn't available you find you have forgotten how to walk.
Kipper's service to the Flames has been squandered, wasted by the players in front of him taking it for granted.
Players talking about him being one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, one who gives you a chance every night and who can steal games for you.
The problem is that every single player on the Flames in Kipper's tenure should have been looking in the mirror, saying to himself "I am the player who is going to steal a game tonight for the team," - "I am the player who is going to give us a chance to win every night."
In short Kipper, through no fault of his own, made the team in front of him lazy, took the consistent edge from their game when it was needed most. This required that he be overworked season after season. More on this work ethic later…
Feaster recognizes it as well but he doesn't see realize that Kipper is an energy Vampire, he doesn't see the answer that I just postulated as per his next quote.
The Surge and Sputter
What troubles me the most I guess about this season and what we as a hockey group need to find answers to and need to come to grips with is that every time our hockey club had an opportunity to push through, we failed to do it. Jay Feaster - April 10, 2012
Feaster talks about how the team constantly approached a 0.500 record in the season and then took their foot off the gas. A car that was jerking forward and stalling. Surging forward and then stalling, over and over.
There is no denying that the Flames had several opportunities to get over the hump and into the playoff ranking and gain ground. This team was going for 8th spot, it wasn't driving for a top ranking. It was never evident.
Did they think once they got to that point, that Kipper would pick up the car and carry it the rest of the way? I suggest that was the mind-set, consciously or subconsciously for the roster skaters.
"Clearly as a club, as an organization we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do both on the ice and again to try and figure out what it is mentally that stops us from breaking through when we have these opportunities" Jay Feaster
Well, Jay the answer in a paradoxical way is Kipper. The Kipper Crutch that is in the head of players.
This club from 2004 forward has been weaned on thinking Kipper can win them games. All 24 players you talked to probably don't even realize that the paradox of a star goaltender, is the danger that some players may think they don't have to play the "full" game or even all games.
The solution - trade Kiprusoff. Remove the crutch, throw the water wings away and get players thinking they are the one who have to steal the game each night…
Sink or swim...
The Positive of the Youth
Feaster talks about this extensively and it is, outside of Kipper's season, probably the primary highlight of the season.
Whatever infects the Flames dressing room. Whether it is Kipper as a crutch, energy Vampire or whether it is too many Vets seasoned on pacing themselves through a marathon NHL season, whether it is lack or drive, whatever it is, it didn't infect the young players, not yet.
Kipper didn't have enough time to absorb their energy, not yet...
Whatever it may be, the young players performed. The Flames final ranking would be much lower if it were not for these young players coming in and playing well.
Maybe not lighting things up but just not looking out of place on NHL ice. I have long considered this a success for rookie players. They don't have to storm over the NHL and be in the Calder running, they just have to look like they belong.
The Flames have long been maligned as having a terrible prospect pool, marked as one of the worst in the NHL. Fall-out from the Darryl Sutter era but these young players did a good job. They do provide some hope at least that the Flames may not plummet to bottom of the NHL.
Troy Ward got a shout-out for his work with the Heat.
Flames Need Change
We are the highest seed of any non-playoff team. So you say that is 9th and it is really close but it wasn't close… We have to change the nature of the discussion here. The discussion shouldn't be can we assemble a team that is good enough to be 8th… That isn't what this organization aspires to be and it isn't good enough… We need to make changes.
I will be sitting down with Ken King and Ownership and I will be reviewing every player in the organization and every member of the hockey operations staff. Jay Feaster.
Music to my ears to hear this. That finally a change of philosophy of just "making the playoffs" isn't good enough. Gone should be the desperation trades for older Vets, at least that is my hope. An ephinany has finally occured, years late of course but still, at least it is finally here.
To Our Fans
On behalf of the organization, on behalf of the Players, the Coaches, the Management on those of us who failed to deliver what we expected to deliver, which is a playoff berth, we apologize to those fans.
From the standpoint of the hockey operations group we apologize to Ownership, we have a very committed Ownership group, they give us the resources necessary to do a job and it is our responsibly to do that job.
Having failed at that, yet again, this is not where we want to be… and we have a very, very busy off-season ahead of us and we have already started on that off-season. Jay Feaster April 10, 2012
I appreciated this, I know it is only a gesture but I will wipe the slate clean on the team going forward. The majority of Feaster's moves have been ok in my book.
The Coach question
Will be dealt with quickly.
Offers were not there for a sufficient return and injuries impacted the decision process as well. No regret on not making moves, overpayment was not a good idea.
Are there any untouchables?
Every player on the hockey team will be reviewed. We can't miss the playoffs for 3 years in a row.
Identity of the Team
Feaster - the team was not hard enough to play against. Again Feaster echos Brent Sutter's comments that the best hockey the Flames played this season was with the young players and their energy in the line-up.
I would venture forth that they are not yet infected with the Kipper Crutch Mentality. Hence they gave top effort and more energy.
Ownership Issues ?
Feaster says that he has never had interference but at the same time he says even when he wants to send a player to the minors, he has a conversation about it.
That seems a little paradoxical.
Now my take on this, is that it is a delicate situation. Like many Flames fans I am extremely concerned about Ownership's "input" and it is a legitimate concern to have. Billionaires who run businesses and are successful elsewhere does NOT necessarily translate to good hockey decisions. * COUGH * CHARLES WANG * COUGH*
Ask anyone in Long Island how they feel about it.
I see a hockey team as analogous to an expensive luxury sports car. The guy who buys it and owns it, should never be the guy under the hood working on the engine. This is a disaster waiting to happen and I think we have enough evidence of it at this point. It may be his car but if he does anything more than wash it? Danger, Will Rogers, Danger.
I don't care how Feaster spins it, trying to protect and shield his bosses. The Flames ownership at this point is clearly involved in this team behind the scenes. You can visit any hockey message board and read about 12 year old fans talking about how the first year the Flames missed the playoffs, change was needed.
Why did this team drag its heels for 3 years? The hockey analysis on the Flames has been pretty clear for several years in the MSM, the Internet, the hockey blogs, even the bottom of the barrel message boards.
Jarome two years ago would have gotten the Flames Tyler Seguin as 2nd overall pick and Jarome would have his Cup today.
Would we not all be happier?
But it is time to let the coulda, woulda, shoulda go at this point. I am happy to hear the Flames make the announcements they have. I look forward to changes in the off-season.
Brian Burke is hungry like the Wolf for a true #1 G and overflowing with NHL prospects. It is time to hammer out a deal that finally favors Calgary and costs Toronto for a change and I want to swap first round picks with Toronto and more.
Burke will deal. He wants his team in the playoffs next year and Kipper will deliver that even if he is an energy vampire. The crowd in Toronto can give him his energy and Neuf massive ego can feed the masked man as he stops bullets of shots in T.O.