By Allan Muir
At some point, hopefully soon, a good friend of Jay Feaster will pull him aside, show him a calendar and make sure that Calgary’s GM has a firm grasp on the year in which he’s living and working.
Feaster’s dogged determination to wear Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff down to the wire for a team that has no real chance at the playoffs is enough to make you wonder.
So does his decision to acquire Brian McGrattan today from the Nashville Predators in exchange for minor league defenseman Joe Piskula.
McGrattan, you’ll recall, is a player whose skill set is so highly valued around the league that he passed through waivers yesterday. The Predators propped him up on the curb, slung a sign around his neck that read “Free Enforcer! Help Yourself!” … and they had to bring him back inside when it got dark out.
But it turns out Feaster took a shine to the big lug after all.
The issue here isn’t so much that he sent Nashville an asset when he could have had McGrattan for nothing. That’s a matter of moving a contract out in order to bring one in — the Flames are at 49 contracts, one away from the limit of 50, so this was a matter of preserving some breathing room.
And it’s not that Piskula has any great value. He’ll fill a hole on the blueline for Milwaukee, Nashville’s top AHL affiliate, but he’s not considered a prospect.
The issue here is with Feaster’s way of thinking.
It’s not 1994 anymore. Iggy and Kipper aren’t men in their prime who can help turn things around in Calgary. And heavyweights like McGrattan are no longer a staple of (or stapled to) every bench.
Do the Flames need to be tougher? Absolutely. One of their biggest issues throughout this miserable season has been an inability to respond to a physical challenge. A group of Girl Guides from a bad neighborhood could push this team around some nights.
But the solution needs to be group toughness, a compete level that resonates up and down the lineup. Look around the league. Middleweights like Brandon Prust or Shawn Thornton cast a menacing shadow, but they can play the game. They’re the now. A thug who skates six, maybe eight shifts a night either looking for a dance partner or responding to a distress call is a relic.
And that’s all McGrattan is. His value is so limited that he earned about six minutes in each of Nashville’s first two games, but hadn’t cracked the lineup since. That’s for a team that was looking to add some toughness, too.
McGrattan himself isn’t that important. He won’t make any significant impact either way on Calgary’s roster.
But what he symbolizes makes this a big deal.
Of the 30 general managers working in this league, just nine can claim to have built a Stanley Cup winner. Feaster is one of them and because of that, he’s gotten the benefit of the doubt.
But decisions like this, and his death grip on Iginla and Kiprusoff, reveal an old, tired way of thinking. And that’s the last thing this franchise needs.