Flames GM's image taking big hit

Calgary Flames draft Mark Jankowski at the CONSOL Energy Center during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in...

Calgary Flames draft Mark Jankowski at the CONSOL Energy Center during the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania June 22, 2012. (Andre ForgeT/QMI Agency)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

CALGARY - Roughly an hour after the Calgary Flames defied conventional wisdom by drafting high-school star Mark Jankowski 21st overall, one high-profile agent made a ruthless prediction.

“The kid will never play in the NHL,” he wrote in an unsolicited email.

“I saw him play several times. He’s scared of his shadow.”

On Wednesday, it took less time than that for a flood of negativity from media types, executives and fans reacting to the Flames’ acquisition and signing of Dennis Wideman to a five-year, US$26.25-million deal.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks pointed out Wideman played on the Washington Capitals’ third pairing in the playoffs against the New York Rangers last month, a Toronto columnist suggested the Flames are the NHL’s most confusing a club, and a GM told the Calgary Sun, “They grossly overpaid and may have created a problem with (fellow Flames blueliner Mark) Giordano.”

The sentiment is clear around town and the league: Very few people are willing to give the Flames the benefit of the doubt these days.

Their lengthy record of draft blunders, inability to effectively fill cracks in an aging lineup and refusal to consider a rebuild through three years of playoff-less hockey has understandably done wonders to breed such negativity.

Ticket prices keep going up, as does the frustration level of local die-hards.

It’s to the point that unless GM Jay Feaster is able to land Jaromir Jagr or Zach Parise July 1, there’s little the club can do to radically turn the tide on public sentiment until … well … until the team actually starts winning again with any sort of regularity.

And that’s too bad in many ways, because Feaster deserves credit for at least a few things.

First, on the Jankowski front, there can be no question the ballsy move was made with the organization’s best interests at heart as the best-case scenario would have Jankowski in a Flames uniform in three years. That means there’s a reasonable chance by the time Jankowski plays in the bigs — assuming he ever does — Feaster could well be a memory in Cowtown.

Self-preservation wasn’t a consideration as Feaster has to know he has two years to turn things around here or he’ll likely be a UFA himself.

The easier — and many people believe far more prudent — move on Day 1 of the draft would have been to take a safer first-round pick, as this team so desperately needs an injection of talented youth sooner rather than later.

That said, if indeed they were hell-bent on taking Jankowski, the move to trade down and grab a second-rounder was a shrewd one.

Again, many locals aren’t willing to cut Feaster much slack right now given his and the club’s draft record.

Fair enough.

As for the debate over if Feaster overpaid for Wideman — of course, he did.

But that’s what snapping up unrestricted free agents is all about.

In exchange for not having to give up any other assets other than money, any such desirable has to be overcompensated or he’ll simply turn to the next team willing to do so.

Taking the chance to get an early shot at Wideman paid off, giving the Flames the powerplay anchor they somehow hoped fellow Flames blueliner Anton Babchuk might be a year earlier.

The Flames are content with a top four of Giordano, Wideman, Chris Butler and Jay Bouwmeester. Feaster insists he has no plans to trade Big Bouw now, which is believable given the club has only spent $21 million of its $70 million in cap space on its seven blueliners. It leaves plenty of room to make another splash Sunday in search of a top-six forward and gives the team depth at defence — the most sought-after commodity in today’s NHL.

If so, maybe then the masses will start altering their mindset on a club whose public relations struggles mirror those on the ice.

However, it will more likely take at least three more months before any such headway can be made with club critics.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis

Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

 


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