Jay Feaster makes no bones about his long-standing friendship with Bob Hartley.
It goes back more than a decade and a half, and is so tight the new Calgary Flames head coach is godfather to Feaster’s son, Ryan.
“He’s a super human being. If you ask my other kids, they’ll tell you they’re jealous because Uncle Bob sends the greatest gifts. His godson has it made,” Feaster, the Flames GM, said with a burst of laughter.
“And the reality of it is, now from Bob’s perspective, he’s going to give the greatest gift he can, his time.
“I know he told (ZSC Lions GM and CEO) Peter Zahner in Zurich, ‘I’ve been able to throw a baseball with my godson one time. That’s why I’m asking permission to go to Calgary.’ ”
Calgary was privy to the fracture of the relationship between Darryl and Brent Sutter. It would be a tragedy if Feaster and Hartley go down that same path.
The way Feaster sees it, though, their friendship — they won the AHL’s Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears in 1997 — is a big reason Hartley signed a three-year contract with the Flames while being pursued by the Montreal Canadiens.
But it’s not the only reason.
“If Craig Conroy and John Weisbrod said, ‘He’s good, but he’s not in our minds the clear-cut leader, not the No.-1,’ it would have been easy to say we’re not bringing him in,” Feaster said.
“It isn’t about me having somebody I know and am comfortable with. We had some real good candidates, and I would have been comfortable with three of the guys we had interviewed.
“With those guys on side, it was easy.”
Easier than the task at hand for Hartley, who’ll turn 52 before the curtain lifts on next season.
He’s coached teams to championships in the NHL (Colorado Avalanche in 2001), AHL, QMJHL (Laval Titan in 1993) and, after a few years working for French TV, the Swiss league with the ZSC Lions.
Hartley, whose resume also includes a stint in Atlanta — guiding them to their lone playoff berth — takes over a Flames team which has missed the playoffs each of the last three seasons and faces a tough future with an aging core and a dearth of top-end talent youngsters.
“When I talked to Alex (Tanguay), he assured me this is a good team,” Hartley said. “He wanted me to be here. That instilled lots of confidence in me that we’re moving forward and not backward.
“I watched a great game last night. One of those teams finished five points ahead of the Calgary Flames. It goes to show the difference between a Stanley Cup winner and a non-playoff team is very slim. I can promise the fans that we will not only give you entertaining hockey but we will make sure the Flames are a top team in the NHL.”
To his credit, Hartley does have an engaging personality, which the local media and fans will like.
Even better is his plan to make the Flames an up-tempo, aggressive squad.
“This is about entertainment and winning hockey games,” Hartley said. “We have some proud fans and a great tradition in a Canadian market. For me, it’s very much fun. Having coached in Colorado for years, we worked hard in a market to keep it on top. Now I’m in an established market and winning is the only thing. We will draw a plan with the players. They are the performers. We will make sure they are ready.
“My teams are known to be hard-working. We talked about the culture. We want people to leave the building feeling those guys gave everything.”
With more time for that godfather job as an added benefit.
“For me, it’s the ultimate show of respect,” Hartley said of his duties.
“You can invite friends to dinner, but you don’t always ask friends to be godfather of your son. For me, it only increased the admiration I had for Jay Feaster.”