There weren’t many on-ice changes for the Calgary Flames. Certainly not when you compare them to squads such as the Florida Panthers, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Minnesota Wild.
Don’t tell Flames GM Jay Feaster he wasn’t busy during the off-season.
“It was an unusual summer because of all the positions we had to fill organizationally,” Feaster said.
In his first off-season as a GM since his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Feaster was certainly not overwhelmed by the work needed to rejig his team.
It was all those people whose duties are off the ice which kept him busy.
The Flames hired an assistant GM in John Weisbrod, added Craig Hartsburg (associate coach), Clint Malarchuk (goalie coach), Jamie Pringle (video analyst), Troy Ward (head coach of the Abbotsford Heat) along with Heat assistant coaches Cail MacLean, Luke Strand and Jordan Sigalet.
The Flames added a handful of new scouts, too. They may not be moves which fans see readily, but they are key to the organization going forward.
“The thing that was different this year from my time in Tampa was the fact we had so many off-ice positions we were looking to fill at the same time,” Feaster said.
Fans, understandably, look at the on-ice product.
The Flames aren’t the same team as the one which failed to make the NHL playoffs last season but are quite close to being the same.
Veteran lynchpin defenceman Robyn Regehr and centre Daymond Langkow are the headliners on the departed side of the ledger. The biggest names on the arrivals board are winger Lee Stempniak and defenceman Chris Butler.
“We attempted to do something major with Brad (Richards) on July 1. We made a deal at the draft that enabled us to have some cap space to do something,” Feaster said of trying to ink the highly sought-after free-agent centre. “That was the biggest issue — would we be able to play in the free-agent pool from the standpoint of having cap space? We had a number of irons in the fire July 1 and, certainly afterward, were right there in the Richards deal to the end.
“Could things have gone differently? Sure, they could have. At the same time, we felt good about the group — we had the ability to get those guys signed. We feel the (Regehr) trade improved our depth. It’s the totality of things, not just what we did July 1. We look at the blueline and think we’re significantly deeper.”
Certainly, the Flames have more financial flexibility having jettisoned Regehr and Langkow’s salaries. In fact, Feaster has the salary cap space to do what he needs over the coming season, even after re-signing a trio of key unrestricted free agents in Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross and backup goalie Henrik Karlsson, who’s expected to take more off the shoulders of No.-1 netminder Miikka Kiprusoff.
“We have to find a way to reduce (Kiprusoff’s) workload,” Feaster said. “I know we talk about it every year, and it never happens, and I know the buck has to stop on my desk now.
“It has to happen now. One of the things we needed was to have a backup goalie the coaching staff has confidence in … so you can roll him out on a regular basis. It wasn’t a big-ticket signing or high profile, but organizationally, it was important to get him signed to lesson the load on Kipper.”
Feaster also made strong changes to the prospect pool. A pair of first-round draft choices who never reached expectations were set adrift in Matt Pelech and Kris Chucko, as were others such as John Armstrong, Gord Baldwin and Matt Keetley.Feaster believes he has a deeper defence crew, even after trading away Regehr.
“We’re legitimately 14-deep on the blueline in terms of players we think can come in and play,” Feaster said. “It doesn’t mean they can play a full season or 40 games. But if we lose a guy, we have depth to recall players and have them step into our lineup.”
For his mental health, Feaster did squeeze in a getaway — an August family trip to the Okanagan — which finally served as a chance to refresh having gone through a hectic 13 months since joining the organization in the summer 2010.
“It’s been a whirlwind since I got here in July of last year, and it was good to get away and recharge.”