As his final act in Calgary, Jarome Iginla should have provided his team with one last asset: a significant return on the trade market. Instead, Iginla’s departure to Pittsburgh bruised just about every party involved.
About midday on March 27, the Bruins had practically hailed cabs to whisk Matt Bartkowski and Alexander Khokhlachev to Logan. Approximately 12 hours later, the fallout began.
There were peeved Bruins executives. They believed they had landed a No. 2 right wing. They were left with squat.
The Flames could have nabbed a future top-four defenseman in Bartkowski. Instead, they were saddled with Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino, two of Pittsburgh’s mid-tier prospects. Iginla, once Captain Calgary, left town looking selfish by leaving his longtime employer with fewer assets than possible. The only happy party was Pittsburgh. The Penguins couldn’t stop giggling after parting with pennies compared to Boston’s nickels.
It was not a good day for Jay Feaster. The Calgary general manager has not had many of them since joining the organization in July 2010. Three flat-line years underscore what the Flames turned into reality on Thursday: Feaster needs help.
Brian Burke is now Feaster’s boss. The former Toronto, Anaheim, and Vancouver GM is now Calgary’s president of hockey operations. For now, Feaster will remain as GM. He will be involved in remaking the Flames to fit Burke’s vision.
“We’re going to play an entertaining style of hockey. A physical brand of hockey the people of Calgary will appreciate,” Burke said during his introductory news conference. “We’re going to stay that course of getting bigger and more physical. We’ve seen in the NHL that successful teams get big. We’re going to get bigger.”
Alberta is minting money off the boom of oil sands. Their hockey clubs, however, are paupers. Edmonton has missed the last seven postseasons. Calgary hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2009. Both franchises deserve better. The Oilers had their 1980s dynasty. Calgary’s 2004 club remains an important model; eight players from that club (including Iginla) landed in Boston.
Edmonton, however, has assets: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, NailYakupov, and Justin Schultz. The Oilers are expected to fix their postseason futility shortly.
No such expectations exist in Calgary. Feaster bears some of that responsibility. On Dec. 28, 2010, he became acting GM after Darryl Sutter resigned. At the time, there was more tread on Iginla’s tires. The return could have been greater had Feaster moved Iginla then.
Instead, Iginla remained in Calgary too long. Feaster acquired fading shooter Mike Cammalleri and his $6 million annual cap hit from Montreal for Rene Bourque. Feaster couldn’t move goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. It’s uncertain whether Kiprusoff will return to fulfill the final year of his contract or retire.
The gear-grinding moves haven’t fixed years of poor drafts. Elsewhere in the NHL, players from the mid-2000s drafts are assuming go-to roles. Not so in Calgary.
Burke, as Toronto GM, stole Dion Phaneuf (No. 9 pick in 2003) from Sutter for a lint-in-pocket package that included Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White, and Jamal Mayers. Of their regular contributors in 2013, only Mikael Backlund (first round, 2007) was drafted and developed by the organization. Feaster was not in Calgary when the drafting went sour.
Burke credited Feaster’s haul at the 2013 draft (four forwards, four defensemen) as the league’s best. But Feaster may not be around long enough to see any of those youngsters pull on a Calgary jersey.
Feaster has been in a similar position. He was the Tampa Bay GM when the Lightning won the Cup in 2004 by beating the Flames, his future employer. Feaster was still the GM in 2008 when Tampa’s new ownership group of Oren Koules and Len Barrie took over. But Feaster resigned in July 2008. Brian Lawton, vice president of hockey operations, had been calling the shots.
In retrospect, the Koules-Barrie-Lawton group was a train wreck. They hired Barry Melrose as their coach. They signed Vincent Lecavalier to an 11-year, $85 million contract. The Lightning bought out Lecavalier this past summer. They are free of Lecavalier’s cap obligation. But over the next 14 years, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik will pay Lecavalier almost $33 million as an ex-employee.
Feaster’s Calgary colleagues aren’t as toxic as those he said goodbye to in Tampa. According to Burke, owner Murray Edwards will spend to the cap. Burke’s former Toronto club was half a period away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs last year.
Burke’s acquisition of Phil Kessel was once mocked. But the deal looked better after TylerSeguin shriveled last year, and upon every tweet the ex-Bruin posted. Burke acknowledged he didn’t expect the Bruins’ picks (Nos. 2 and 32 in 2010, No. 9 in 2011) to be so high. But Burke said he wouldn’t hesitate to make the trade again. Kessel is the player the Stars hope Seguin will become. If Feaster and Burke can work together, the Flames should improve. But the reconstruction will be long.
“It’s hard, in a cap system, to turn a team around. It is,” said Burke. “In a cap system, it’s a slower process than it is in a non-cap system.”
WORD TO THE WISE
Young players get education
Young NHL players believe they are invincible. A session with Rob Ramage aimed to teach them they are not.
At the end of August, approximately 90 players convened at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va. They attended the inaugural rookie orientation program, where Ramage was among the speakers. Ramage was convicted of impaired driving in a 2003 crash that killed former teammate KeithMagnuson. Ramage’s presentation reminded the players to be responsible for their actions as pro athletes.
“There’s a lot of pressure on young players,” said NHLPA director of operations Alex Dagg. “In the world we live in, there’s a constant news cycle and social media pressures. We think it’s useful to have some time with them and get them a little more prepared on what will happen when they become NHL players. There’s more scrutiny, more publicity.”
The NFL and NBA have similar programs. The NHLPA negotiated for the program as part of the lockout-ending collective bargaining agreement.
Each team can select a maximum of three players on their entry-level contracts to attend. Selection was based on players who are expected to play in the NHL “for a significant period of time in the upcoming season,” per the CBA.
Sessions included financial planning, sensitivity training, substance-abuse awareness, and media training. Former players Brendan Shanahan, Mathieu Schneider, Stephane Quintal, RobZamuner, Joe Reekie, and Colin Campbell were speakers, along with current NHL goalie Johan Hedberg. Performers from Second City, Chicago’s famous comedy group, joined the youngsters in an improv sketch.
“I definitely took some things out of it,” said Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner. “Now I can say, ‘If that happens to me, I know what to expect and I know how to prepare for it.’ It was definitely beneficial for me.”
A new start for Darche
Congratulations to former NHLer Mathieu Darche. According to the Montreal Gazette, the ex-Canadien is now director of business development and public relations for Delmar International, a global customs broker.
The bottom-six grinder played an active role in negotiating the end of the lockout. As his reward, Darche received a two-way offer from the Canadiens, which he declined. Darche retired last February to conclude a 250-game NHL career that also included stops in Tampa Bay, San Jose, Nashville, and Columbus.
Darche’s McGill University degree played a part in helping him land his post-hockey employment. Perhaps not by coincidence, some of Darche’s negotiating colleagues are still seeking NHL work. The group includes Ron Hainsey, Rick DiPietro, Chris Campoli, Jamal Mayers, and Manny Malhotra.
Earlier this month, Jokerit started its last season of SM-Liiga competition. The Finnish club will transfer to the KHL in 2014-15. The move emphasizes the Russian league’s legitimacy and could prompt other European clubs to join. Jokerit, which played its first game in 1967, has international appeal. During the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Jokerit’s roster included ex-Bruins Tim Thomas and Glen Metropolit as well as current NHLers Valtteri Filppula and Brian Campbell. Last year, former Boston College captain Ben Eaves and Joonas Rask, younger brother of Tuukka Rask, played for Jokerit. Eaves, older brother of Detroit forward PatrickEaves, has retired because of concussion issues.
On Labor Day, the Blackhawks signed Corey Crawford to a six-year, $36 million extension. Terrific payday for Crawford, who’s been the starter in Chicago for three years but an ace for only one. The 28-year-old goalie should be in his sweet spot for the six-year run. GM Stan Bowman followed up Crawford’s extension by re-upping smooth-moving defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a five-year, $20.5 million contract. The left-shot defenseman is No. 3 on the depth chart after Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. But Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya took most of the defense-first responsibilities last season, including against Boston’s first line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton. The 26-year-old Hjalmarsson was second on the team to Keith in average ice time in the playoffs. He is smart, mobile, and tough. During their previous negotiation, Chicago overpaid him out of necessity; San Jose had signed Hjalmarsson to a four-year, $14 million offer sheet. When the Blackhawks matched on Hjalmarsson, that shook Antti Niemi loose. Chicago walked away from Niemi’s arbitration award, allowing the Sharks to sign the goalie. Hjalmarsson would have reached unrestricted status after this season.
Crawford’s $36 million bonanza was the latest in an offseason crammed with top-shelf goalie deals. In 2013, clubs committed $174.8 million toward six high-ticket puck-stoppers: Crawford, Rask ($56 million), Mike Smith ($34 million), Sergei Bobrovsky ($11.25 million), Jimmy Howard ($31.75 million), and Jonathan Bernier ($5.8 million). It is a staggering total for players who are just a wrenched knee or shattered ego — both are commonplace setbacks in this workplace — away from irrelevance. The sum underscores the importance of the position. It also counters the approach, advanced just a few years ago (Detroit GM Ken Holland was one of the principals), of applying dollars toward skaters instead of goalies. If you have an ace, you pay him appropriately.
Ex-Bruin Hal Gill accepted Philadelphia’s tryout offer on Saturday. Gill was bought out by the Predators after they selected defenseman Seth Jones with the fourth overall pick. The 38-year-old Gill appeared in 32 games for Nashville last season. The tread is wearing down, but Gill could still serve as a bottom-pairing stay-at-homer. If Gill makes the roster, it would be at minimal cost. The Flyers are over the cap, but they can receive relief by using the long-term injury exception on Chris Pronger at the start of the regular season. If the Flyers want more space, they would waive one of their veteran defensemen. Andrej Meszaros, once Zdeno Chara’s partner in Ottawa, has been slowed by injuries the last few seasons and is in the last year of a deal that pays him $4 million annually.
Chatter around the league pegs Phil Kessel’s annual asking price at $8.5 million. That would be comparable to the eight-year, $69 million, post-lockout contract Corey Perry signed with Anaheim. It’s fair value for Kessel, and even more so if Toronto can land a legit top-line disher. If Kessel reaches the market, it’s virtually guaranteed he’ll land a seven-year contract with an average annual value north of $8 million . . . A new feature of the CBA is that teams must give players two days off during training camp. Teams will determine the scheduling of the offdays . . . This will be the first full season in which veterans can enjoy single-room accommodations on the road. Players on their entry-level deals must continue to bunk up . . . Patrice Bergeron’s injury tally: torn rib cartilage, broken rib, separated shoulder, and punctured lung. According to a local emergency room resident who didn’t want to be named because of privacy concerns, Bergeron’s injuries would have been consistent with a car accident, fall from a height, or a tumble down the stairs. So Bergeron literally suffered car-crash injuries while playing hockey . . . Dave McGrath will host his third annual Skating For Hope event at Holy Cross in Worcester. The 24-hour skate-a-thon starts at 5 p.m. on Sept. 20. Proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in Worcester. The event raised $30,000 in its first two years. For more information, visit www.skatingforhope.org . . . Next month, for the first time in 25 years, KevinPaulDupont will not be chronicling the start of another NHL season. The Hall of Famer concluded his hockey notes run last week, which leaves our Sunday reading routines significantly diminished. Best wishes to my ex-linemate on his other Globe duties. The last seven shift-sharing years illuminated Kevin’s unparalleled writing touch, questionable dining choices, and unshakeable friendliness.