CALGARY - There were plenty of softballs lobbed at the panel at Flames Central Thursday night as the Calgary Flames hosted a Town Hall question-and-answer period with season ticket-holders.
But there were some curveballs from voices of discontent, as well.
Despite a pretty promising summer of work by GM Jay Feaster, some worries still exist regarding a club that's missed the playoffs in two NHL consecutive seasons.
They worried about being 'stuck' with Alex Tanguay for five years, Curtis Glencross' no-trade clause, the loss of a second-round pick in the Robyn Regehr trade and Miikka Kiprusoff's workload.
It didn’t take long, however, to get the crowd applauding.
All they needed was Feaster to mention the departure of winger Ales Kotalik and his US$3-million salary, which headed to Buffalo in the Robyn Regehr trade.
So smooth a talker, Feaster quickly quelled some of the fears while explaining elements that weren’t so eagerly embraced during his relatively short tenure at the top.
He vehemently defended the Glencross deal, which wouldn’t have happened without the clause.
He explained the second-round pick (which some thought was added to the Regehr deal just to get rid of Kotalik’s salary) as a decision to add young speedster Paul Byron, who is further along in his development than anyone they’d pick up in next spring’s draft.
“Our pro scouts said that but for the fact Buffalo already has two small young players, he’d be in the NHL,” Feaster said, adding the deal wasn’t for a 30-year-old.
“When we’re doing it for a 21-year-old who we believe is ready to play ... we feel good about what we did.
“With Curtis, it was the right thing to do, and I’d give up a second-round pick again for Paul Byron.”
In Tanguay’s case, they believe the 31-year-old will still be producing by the end of his contract, and hope is that his long-term deal will ensure linemate Jarome Iginla re-ups when his current contract ends.
None of this was headline-making news.
But Feaster did provide some new info.
When someone asked whether goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff would play more than 70 games again this season, Feaster wasn’t looking around for head coach Brent Sutter for an answer.
It was a resounding, “No.”
“The workload’s too great,” said Feaster of his all-star netminder. “In order for us to reduce Kipper’s workload, we have to have a backup goaltender the coach has confidence in there. We have to have a backup goaltender the players believe in the same way.
“I can tell you Sutter has all the confidence in the world in (Henrik) Karlsson.
“I promise you that we’re going to reduce Kipper’s workload this year.”
He stopped just short of guaranteeing Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan having rebound seasons but offered positive reviews of their training this off-season.
But if you want to see Feaster angry, just ask him why they don’t burn things to the ground and rebuild through the draft the way the Edmonton Oilers did.
“I’m tired of this question, quite honestly. I’m gonna get a little sour,” Feaster said. “How many players play so they can lose night after night after night?
“I look forward to the Battle of Alberta for the next X number of years.
“If the idea is let’s burn it to the ground, then Ken can get another manager, because that’s not why I signed on.”
He also had a parting shot for No. 1 draft pick Tim Erixon, the defenceman who refused to sign with the Flames, forcing the team to trade his rights to the New York Rangers because he didn’t see an opportunity to crack the Flames’ lineup.
“I know the head coach of the New York Rangers,” Feaster said of former Tampa Bay Lightning employee John Tortorella. “And I know what he’s going to have to go through to make that team.”
President Ken King said the club will honour three former Flames by hanging their jerseys in the rafters at the Saddledome this season. But he wouldn’t say who. Al MacInnis has to top that list ... The team has been working with architects and consultants on the new arena, but King said there’s still “a lot of work to do with the city” and the province. More will be made public in a few months with a project timeline of two-to-four years ... Those who want a copy of the Heritage Classic on DVD will be getting their wish. The NHL production is in the works, but there’s no known timeline for a release.