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Analysis: Burke made necessary move in Calgary

Thursday, 12.12.2013 / 5:36 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

It took Brian Burke 99 days to make his first big splash as Calgary Flames president of hockey operations. He waited long enough.

Thursday, Burke announced he fired general manager Jay Feaster and assistant general manager John Weisbrod, hours before the Flames played Game No. 31 of the season. The reason it took Burke until now to come to his conclusion is because he promised ownership in Calgary he would conduct a thorough review after he was hired Sept. 5.

Burke didn't make any rash decisions so he could take the proper amount of time to evaluate the franchise from top to bottom. During that period, he compared its current state to his vision.

Burke found he didn't like the way the Flames played, nor did he like the direction the team was going. That's why the hammer fell Thursday on Feaster and Weisbrod.

The Flames have been a stagnant team since before Feaster arrived as assistant general manager in 2010. Feaster didn’t move the needle far enough.

Calgary never made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his three full seasons, including his two as general manager. The Flames finished ninth in the Western Conference in 2011-12, falling five points short. Last season, the Flames went in the wrong direction, finishing 13th with 42 points, 13 fewer than the eighth-place Minnesota Wild.

This season, Calgary has become known for being a hard-working team, but that work hasn't paid off on enough nights. The Flames are sixth in the Pacific Division with 26 points (11-15-4).

The other numbers aren’t much prettier. The Flames are No. 28 in the NHL in goals-against (3.30 per game), last in faceoff percentage (45.3) and No. 24 on the power play (14.7 percent). They have given up a League-high 40 goals in the third period and have been outscored 28-17 in the first period. Their minus-11 goal differential in the first period is fifth-worst.

To Feaster's credit, he drafted Sean Monahan and Sven Baertschi, two young forwards who should figure prominently in the future. He signed forward Jiri Hudler and defenseman Dennis Wideman, two veterans who have been good players for the Flames. Hudler leads the team with 28 points in 30 games.

However, Feaster will be remembered as a GM who too often had his hands tied.

The Jarome Iginla saga is a perfect example. Initially, there was little interest by ownership to trade the franchise icon. By the time it became acceptable to all parties, Feaster had to work under the parameters set by Iginla, limiting the teams he was allowed to contact. Then, things got further complicated when Iginla made the decision to go to the Pittsburgh Penguins instead of the Boston Bruins, netting Calgary only a first-round pick and a pair of mid-level prospects.

It was considered a minor return for a major player.

Feaster never was able to trade aging goalie Miikka Kiprusoff because he had a no-trade clause he refused to waive. He eventually retired, and the Flames were hamstrung without a true No. 1 NHL goalie on the roster.

Reto Berra, Karri Ramo and Joey MacDonald have split the games this season and none has stepped up in the way Ben Scrivens has for the Los Angeles Kings or Josh Harding has for the Minnesota Wild. Calgary's best goaltending prospect might be 19-year-old Jon Gillies, who is at Providence College.

Burke arrived in early September with the understanding the Flames are not close to being contenders. They're probably at the very beginning of what could be at least a three-year rebuild. That's why it was important for Burke to evaluate the franchise and act quickly once he came to his conclusion.

By making the change now, Burke afforded himself time to conduct a thorough interview process with several GM candidates. His hand-picked successor to Feaster should be someone with whom he is familiar, one who shares his philosophy of building a tough, physical hockey team.

Burke can look to his old team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and find Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin as potential candidates. Former Dallas Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk worked with Burke in Toronto and spent the best part of his Hall of Fame playing career in Calgary.

Nieuwendyk is under contract with the Stars, but TSN's Darren Dreger reported Dallas has granted permission for the Flames to speak with him.

Acting now gives Burke a chance to beat his lone competition. Buffalo Sabres president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine is in the process of conducting his search for a general manager, and some of the same names on his list might also be on Burke's.

Provided Burke acts quickly, the GM he hires will have ample time before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 5 to conduct a thorough, top-to-bottom review of the franchise to see what he has inherited and what immediate changes are required.

The new GM will have a chance to scout the minor leagues and Calgary's amateur prospects to determine the course he needs to set for the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia.

Burke said he promised Calgary's coaches they will remain for the rest of the season. It's the right decision, because changing the coach now would undercut the new general manager. Instead, the new GM will have a chance to evaluate Bob Hartley and his staff before deciding if the team needs to move in a different direction on the bench as well.

The new general manager will pick Weisbrod's successor. That's the way it should be because the GM and assistant GM have to be able to work together and share the same philosophy.

Burke waited almost 100 days to get his fingerprints on his new team. He was right not to wait any longer.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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