By Allan Muir
There was a scarcely hidden undercurrent of pity in Calgary today where Brian Burke was introduced as the new president of hockey operations for the Flames.
While the man of the hour shared his thoughts on rebuilding the shattered organization, the team’s general manager, Jay Feaster, sat quietly to his left, all but ignored.
You could almost hear what everyone in the room was thinking. “The poor guy. Forced to sit there and smile as they introduce the man who’s about to pull the chair out from under him.”
It’s understandable. The easiest thing in the world right now is to be cynical about Feaster’s tenure. But it’s also wrongheaded. In fact, if someone offers you a line on his future, take the over. For all his failings, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
“I’m not the GM of the Calgary Flames. Jay Feaster is,” Burke confirmed today. “I think I can help, but Jay has great ability.”
That’s probably where the cynicism comes in. Feaster’s competence has often come under fire, including more than once in this space, and if that’s what this move had been about, I would have applauded the team for taking the matches out of his hand before he burned the whole thing to the ground.
But if the Flames had any doubts about Feaster’s abilities, they would have fired him today and moved Burke directly into the general manager’s office. That’s not how it played out. For whatever reason, they believe in Feaster, the man who managed to trade Jarome Iginla twice and who almost cost the team a lottery pick with an ill-conceived offer sheet signing of Ryan O’Reilly.
That he’s still there after those stumbles says it all about his job security.
And who says that’s a gig that Burke really wants, anyway?
Sure, Burke has an ego, but honestly, this newly created position is ideal for him. He gets to keep his hand in the cookie jar without being directly responsible for filling it back up with cookies.
So instead of doing the day-to-day grunt work, Burke will serve in an advisory role, offering his input on player personnel, trade opportunities and the scouting process. It’s a job that takes advantage of his considerable management experience, but sets him up as an added asset to the organization rather than a GM-in-waiting.
“Jay might say to me, ‘what do you think of this kid?’ or ‘what do you think about this trade?’ but he’s the general manager,” Burke said. “If he wants to make a case, I’ll listen and then we’ll take it to the owners. They’re the only ones with a veto.”
It’s an unusual arrangement — Burke said only one other team in hockey has it, though it’s not so uncommon in the NFL, NBA or MLB — and one that initially failed to pique his interest. But after being passed over for four GM jobs since he was let go by the Maple Leafs in January, Burke saw this as his best opportunity to get back into the decision-making process in a meaningful way.
Sure, it’s a limited role, but that’s in the best interests of the team. It’s not as if Burke’s previous work as a GM has garnered universal praise. The reviews are mixed on his approach in Toronto. Plenty of people will tell you that he’s all bluster. But for better or worse, he’s an experienced voice, and a value add for the organization.
“I’m determined to make it work and I think it will work,” he said. “People think I need to be driving the bus all the time. I’m actually a pretty good teammate, too.”
You can take him at his word on that. You can bet Feaster does.