Six weeks ago the Flames were plummeting toward the bottom of the NHL standings with a roster full of expensive veterans -- a prime candidate for other teams to call, right? Calgary has won 11 of 17 since a pivotal shift in philosophy, and if the success continues it could be interim general manager Jay Feaster who is placing those calls looking to add a veteran or two.
"From the day I took over the mandate from our team president Ken King and from ownership hasn't changed and the mandate is we want to be a playoff team this year," Feaster said. "One of the things we talked about when I took over is we have to be intellectually honest with ourselves about where we are. If, in fact, it is a pipe dream that we can make the playoffs then that leads you down one path as you approach the deadline.
"What has transpired here with going 11-3-3 is we're only two points out of the eighth spot and five points back of Nashville in fourth place. Now it is not a pipe dream, but that's right now as we talk today. We've won five in a row, but if we lose five in a row we're going to be back at the bottom looking up. It is a constant, daily analysis and there's no question that where we sit as we get closer to the deadline will impact to a large extent what we do at the deadline."
Two of Feaster's players have been among the most talked about when it comes to the trade market this season in captain Jarome Iginla and defenseman Robyn Regehr. Both players have been linked to various teams in speculation, but Feaster said he's never talked to another team about Iginla and Regehr told the Calgary Herald he's never been asked to waive his no-trade clause.
Feaster might have more insight into how the rumor mill works from his time as a member of the media before he joined the Flames organization this past summer. Even if the Flames were unable to continue their current momentum and Feaster wound up as a seller when the deadline arrives, he has a list of players who he says are not available.
Iginla and Regehr are on that list.
"I think the responsibility of the manager is to identify the core players and the guys who are key to your hockey team and build around them," Feaster said. "We have a very strong core. We have one of the best goaltenders in the League in Miikka Kiprusoff, we have one of the best power forwards and best right wings in the game in Jarome Iginla and as far as I'm concerned three of the best defensemen in the game in Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr and Mark Giordano. I've said that I'm not trading the core of the hockey team and those guys are core guys."
The Iginla rumors reminded Feaster of his days as the GM with the Tampa Bay Lightning. During the 2003-04 season there was plenty of speculation about the future destination of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
He had a $6.5 million club option for the 2004-05 season, but Feaster was adamant that he wasn't going to trade his No. 1 goalie. It turned out to be the right move, as Khabibulin backstopped the Lightning to the Stanley Cup.
"Everyone was convinced we couldn't afford to do that so therefore we would trade him prior to the deadline," Feaster said. "I said repeatedly ad nauseum that we weren't trading him and the deadline came and went and we didn't trade him. ... I learned along time ago that no matter how many times you say it and how many ways you say it, it is not going to go away. What I said from day one in taking over here is I am not somebody who believes that you come in and just blow it up."
"I learned along time ago that no matter how many times you say it and how many ways you say it, it is not going to go away. What I said from day one in taking over here is I am not somebody who believes that you come in and just blow it up." -- Calgary GM Jay Feaster
Feaster said Calgary's turnaround began just before he took over as interim GM for the departed Darryl Sutter. The team is 9-3-3 since the change, but he said it all started two games prior to that.
"I trace it back to our coaching staff breaking it down prior to our game Dec. 23 in Dallas," Feaster said. "We took the approach that rather than look at the teams ahead of us or our place in the standings or even trying to focus on five-game segments that we were going to look at is we have to win two out of three and we have to get four out of six points. We've broken everything down like it is a three-game series and since that time we're 11-3-3. We've been successful at trying to keep that focus very narrow and just worrying about the things we can control.
"Our work ethic has been very, very good and that is the key to our team. When we work hard and we commit to our work ethic, that is when we have success. When we try to rely on talent alone, that is when we struggle. We need to be a team that sticks to the system and brings a work ethic every night."