To some extent, you can separate hockey news into two categories: surprises and foregone conclusions. The Calgary Flames firing (now former) GM Jay Feaster wasn’t a surprise to many, as it seemed like just a matter of time once Brian Burke was hired above his head.
Feaster probably wasn’t even all that shocked.
(Deep down, I’ve had this column’s delightful/terrible/terrilightful headline in mind for some time. Maybe even the moment Burke was hired.)
In all honesty, I’ve never been all that impressed with Feaster’s work over the years, even with that Stanley Cup ring in mind. It’s easy to see that jewelry and assume that the guy wearing it made shrewd moves, but sometimes executives get downright lucky.
The Lightning’s total collapse following that championship said quite a bit, yet giving poisonous contracts to Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Dan Boyle only planted the seeds of doubt regarding Feaster's shakiness. Feaster’s Hockey News writings seemed to reveal a genuinely unscientific approach to assessing players, including this baffling takedown of Tomas Vokoun.
On the other hand, Burke deserves quite a bit of credit for taking a hideous Toronto Maple Leafs roster and eventually renovating it into a team that made the playoffs … after he was fired.
He also did some great work in Anaheim and Vancouver, which helps to explain why he can be such a lightning rod. (That and his gift for blustery quotes.)
Sure, he certainly had his missteps, but many of his broad brushstrokes look bright-to-brilliant in hindsight. The Dion Phaneuf and James van Riemsdyk trades have paid dividends and grabbing Phil Kessel for a significant bounty doesn’t seem quite so foolish anymore.
It sounds like Burke will hire a GM instead of assuming the role, although that might be a matter of semantics. I wouldn’t be shocked if he becomes a looming executive presence like his pal Kevin Lowe despite his claims to the contrary. So let’s assume that Burke will be pulling at least some of the strings, and with that, try to extrapolate a few bits of fantasy insight about this change.
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FROM SUCCULENCE TO TRUCULENCE?
The media narrative is that Burke is a huge proponent of fights. Deep in his hockey soul, that is probably true. That being said, I also think that Burke might be merely feeding the media’s obvious delight in using the word truculence.
I decided to take a look at Maple Leafs penalty minutes before and during Burke’s tenure to see if he had a huge impact in that area. I also took a look at fighting majors, although I could only find those figures from the beginning of his time (2008-09) rather than beforehand.
For the sake of future comparisons, I also looked at how “truculent” the Flames have been under Feaster. (Note: Being ranked first means being penalized the least while 30th means the most.)
LEAFS BEFORE BURKE
2005-06: 1,378 PIM (19th)
2006-07: 1,127 (13th)
2007-08: 1,079 (15th)
2008-09: 1,113 (15th) tied for 13th with 52 fighting majors
2009-10: 1,071 (19th) tied for 9th with 58 FM
2010-11: 983 (17th) 10th with 50 FM
2011-12: 824 (9th) tied for 14th with 35 FM, including Calgary
2012-13: 776 (30th) first with 44 FM, 10 more than anyone else
LEAFS AFTER BURKE
2013-14: 514 PIM, 26 fighting majors lead NHL
FEASTER IN CALGARY
2010-11: 836 (7th) 18th with 35
2011-12: 885 (13th) tied for 14th with 35 FM, including Toronto
2012-13: 518 (10th) tied for 15th with 22 FM
So, maybe tough guys will get an extra look or two by Burke, but the numbers indicate that his proclivity for pugnaciousness is overblown. If anything, it’s coaches who move the needle, which makes perfect sense since they’re the ones who unleash the thugs; Randy Carlyle’s love of fisticuffs should be that much more obvious from these numbers. (Stats-minded Leafs fans might be grumbling now.)
Could Flames players (and thus, their opponents) get more fighting majors/penalties with Feaster out of town? Maybe, but I wouldn’t expect anything dramatic.
AFTER THE FREEZE
Burke says he’s bringing his extended roster freeze to Calgary, so don’t expect any big moves until after the holiday season. That doesn’t mean we can’t speculate on what might happen, though, right?
Bring on the Americans - It’s not as if Burke made a bunch of bad moves to infuse the Maple Leafs with some red, white and blue. Still, if I were the GM of an opposing team hoping to get rid of a marginal ‘Merican, I’d probably give Burke a call. (Possibly with Hulk Hogan’s entrance music playing in the background.)
Lee Stempniak is the most prominent U.S.-born player on the team, and probably the most tradeable commodity … at least if you factor in ease of movement the most. (More on that in the next section.) If Burke doesn’t trade Stempniak, then we can add another bullet point on the “Yup, he’s really obsessed with Americans” argument. Even though Stempniak’s a solid forward in the grand scheme of things.
Clauses - Say what you will about Feaster’s work, but at least he got rid of a lot of expensive pieces. With Miikka Kiprusoff retired and former key pieces traded away, the only real concern is that many of the team’s best players not named Stempniak have no-trade or no-movement clauses.
Now, plenty of moments over the years have proven that players are regularly willing to waive such clauses, but it does limit Burke/Burke hire’s flexibility.
Michael Cammalleri, Matt Stajan, Curtis Glencross, Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano all have a clause of some kind that gives them some power to shoot things down. Cammalleri, Glencross and Giordano could all bring in some value, unless they heavily restrict their potential locales.
Getting a goalie - People probably beat up on Feaster for the Flames’ lack of, you know, NHL goalies, but I think that was by design. After all, if you’re going to shortchange one area of your team in order to land a lottery pick, wouldn’t you skimp in net?
(Sorry, New York Islanders fans …)
Might Burke decide that he doesn’t want to wait until free agency to grab a goalie? There are some interesting possibilities if so.
Ryan Miller - He’s AMERICAN! And prominent! Burke likes his splashy moves, after all.
Granted, Miller is almost certainly tired of playing behind poorly constructed teams. The Flames are one of the few franchises in a situation that’s as comparably morose as the Sabres’ outlook (after all, Calgary is in the brutal West; the jump from OK to good is tougher than from awful to mediocre, right?). Miller has a limited no-trade clause, so he’d have to be sold on what Burke is building and the price would have to be right for both teams to make it happen.
It seems like a scenario that becomes less likely as you break it down a bit more.
James Reimer - Reimer is an RFA, so the Leafs could very well retain him by playing hard ball.
Still, if anyone can grab Dave Nonis’ ear, you’d think it would be Burke. Reimer would probably benefit from a change of scenery and a legitimate shot at a top gig. He’s been putting up nice numbers for years, but for whatever reason, he just can’t get much respect, which could make him affordable for the Flames. Especially if the Leafs are as unimpressed with Reimer as some may believe.
It would be interesting to find out what kind of package Toronto would require to trade Reimer, if nothing else.
Jonas Hiller - Hey, another former Burke goalie! Hiller’s stock is low, which actually could really help the Flames’ cause in grabbing a quality netminder without giving up TOO many assets. Meanwhile, Burke likely holds Hiller in pretty high regard, so if the goalie market is really dry, Anaheim can at least find a buyer.
Other former Burke goalies - Oddly enough, a lot of former Burke goalies are in contract years. Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens both face uncertain futures, with each guy generating some of the best work of their up-and-down careers. Scrivens, in particular, could be an unexpected fit; with Jonathan Quick possibly coming back by the end of 2013/early 2014, the Los Angeles Kings could face a logjam if Martin Jones keeps up his strong work.
Hudler’s place - One Feaster signing that is quietly working out in its second season is Jiri Hudler, who almost has a point-per-game (28 in 31 games) in 2013-14. He’s generated 13 more points than anyone else on the team.
What if Burke isn’t sold on Hudler? Could the former Detroit Red Wings forward see less of a role or will Burke sell high on him if he isn’t convinced? For a team with few guys of fantasy value, it’s a situation to watch.
INJURIES (full list)
Well, so much for that. Curtis McElhinney suffered a lower-body injury on Thursday. Bummer ... Jacob Markstrom was recalled thanks to another Tim Thomas injury. Thomas was hurt during Florida Panthers practice yesterday ... The Washington Capitals send Michal Neuvirth to the AHL for a conditioning stint. Could Philipp Grubauer’s window close quickly? ... It's not all bad goalie injury news. Evgeni Nabokov has been activated from the injured reserve. He hasn't been all that great this season anyway, but maybe he can provide the Isles with some stability in net? ... One Flames player whose stock isn't high at the moment is Sven Baertschi, who was sent down to the AHL ... Shane Doan is expected to miss a substantial amount of time with an "illness." Sounds like the Coyotes aren't being particularly forthcoming with injury updates ... Alexander Semin returned from his concussion last night and logged plenty of minutes. Great news … Cody Hodgson is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury … It sounds like Jimmy Howard’s knee injury isn’t too severe … Derick Brassard is indeed a little banged up, as he's struggling with a lower-body issue.