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In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the Calgary Flames finally pulled the trigger on a deal they've been sitting on, in outright defiance of all things logical or even reasonable, for two seasons now.
Jarome Iginla: Shipped out of town. Saying adieu to the franchise's long-time captain, most beloved personality, greatest ambassador, and best player to ever put on the jersey couldn't have been easy, but it was the right decision. Kind of a circle of life thing, to some extent. Iginla himself was once a prospect traded for a well-liked, very good player, and so for this to happen now seems a little poetic if nothing else.
However, the return the Flames worked out of Pittsburgh was, flatly, not good at all. The widely-held belief was that the Flames were seeking at least a passable prospect — not necessarily the top one in a team's system, but one that people have at least heard of — a roster player, and a first-round pick.
They got one out of three, and that, to borrow a turn of phrase, ain't good. And that one might prove to be exceedingly underwhelming as well.
Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino are perfectly good, not great, college players; but anyone who would confuse either for anything resembling a top prospect needs to call a doctor immediately, as they have suffered traumatic brain damage and been walking around, possibly for days, without realizing it. That they were the return for one of the most respected players in the league, a 500-goal and 1,000-point scorer, and the face of a franchise is just about right, considering it was the Calgary Flames that were involved. As for the pick that's probably going to end up being in the Nos. 27-30 area? The best thing you can say about it is that it will definitely be in the first round.
People have said that Jay Feaster can't be blamed for this horribly mishandled situation, and the paltry return the Flames pulled for their best player ever. That seems like it's about half-true.
On the one hand, because Jarome Iginla had a no-movement clause that allowed him to dictate the teams to which he would and would not go, there were only three horses in the race — Los Angeles, Boston, and obviously Pittsburgh — and when you're not fielding five, eight, 10 offers for a guy like that, the asking price is necessarily going to be somewhat limited.
The rumored Boston offer of Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Bartkowski, and the Bruins' first-round pick would have better fit the rumored asking price given that Bartkowski fits the bare minimum of an NHL roster player and people have actually heard of Khokhlachev outside of his immediate family. But because Iginla had final say, Feaster had to just take whatever the Penguins would give him and consider himself lucky to have pried that much out of Ray Shero; we can debate whether the Pens' GM paid a higher price for useless defenseman Douglas Murray than he did for at-least-semi-useful future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla.
Two second-round picks looks a lot better than a first and two D-level prospects, given the respective pieces coming the other way, does it not?
Feaster also didn't get any help when Iginla originally said he'd go to Boston a month ago. In the intervening time, something happened that made Iginla change his mind and, because of his no-move clause, he got to veto the trade at the 11th hour and 59th minute. A tough break there as well.
Moreover, when it comes to looking for things for which to lay the blame at Feaster's feet in all this, let's not forget what he's been doing the last few years. He is at the very least complicit in the decision to keep on "Going For It" because he knew exactly what he was signing up for not only when he took the GM's job, but also when he became the man down the hall from Darryl Sutter who was suspiciously always bringing a measuring tape in there while Sutter was trying to work.
He knew Flames' management and ownership had no intention of breaking down what was clearly a flawed, decaying roster, and agreeing, essentially, to be a puppet for people so intent on chasing the ghosts of 2004 for reasons that go no deeper than exploiting people's nostalgia for the team — no true hockey person could have looked at this roster for the last four years and said it was anything more than a playoff pretender — is the very definition of selling out.
The alternative is that Feaster looked at the roster as it was constituted when Sutter got pink-slipped and swore up and down to King and Edwards and whoever else was in on the hiring process there that this was, indeed, a playoff team.
If he believed that, he's worse at hockey evaluation than anyone thought. If he didn't believe that and said it anyway, then see above about selling out.
Either way, though, he took a job in which he knew his role would be neutered by the whims of people above him who didn't value winning as much as they did making a buck, and he was more than happy to get up there and tapdance around. "You want me to guarantee the Flames make the playoffs? Yes sir, right away sir. And then go spend way too much money on mediocre free agents? Whatever you say sir. And you want me to go out there even after we trade Iginla and say this isn't a rebuild? Anything you want sir." It's sad, really.
Feaster's pursuits of all the wrong people not only this season but over the summer and last season and the summer before that tell you everything you need to know about how much integrity he brings into the office each morning. I would say he's a Waylon Smithers for one of the NHL's most Montgomery Burnsian owners, but Smithers has repeatedly proven a competent yes-man. Feaster gave Dennis Wideman five years and a no-movement clause, so there goes the competence argument, if it was sticking around at all after the Ryan O'Reilly situation.
The real blame for this almost inconceivably bad return for Iginla falls on team president Ken King, who should have been asked to pack his bags around the time Darryl Sutter but for his ability to be such a good soldier, and owner Murray Edwards, who is probably the guy who ultimately had the say in whether Iginla stayed or went given how much the captain meant — in terms of dollars — to the organization.
They both have more culpability than that as well, because of the culture they engendered among the team as far back as when Iginla first signed his current five-year deal. In an effort to lock up "the core" around that time, which you'll recall is also around the time when the Flames stopped making the playoffs, they started giving out no-move and no-trade clauses fairly indiscriminately.
Iginla got one, because you have to give your captain a no-move. I get that. Kiprusoff got one, because you have to give your franchise goaltender one as well. But then it got really and truly wacky, and continued to this day. The Flames started the year with 10 players having either full or partial clauses that prevented the team from moving them, including Matt Stajan, Dennis Wideman, Anton Babchuk and Cory Sarich.
Whatever the reasons for handing out these deals like Halloween candy, I can't see where people make the point that you have to judge Feaster by how he handles Jay Bouwmeester in the next few days. Bouwmeester, similar to Iginla, has a no-trade clause which gives him final say-so over his destination, and if he, too, decides he wants to go to Destination X, where the offer might not have been as good as it was from Destinations Y or Z, then do we absolve Feaster for that as well? The Flames sure seem to love blaming Darryl Sutter for everything, and certainly he plays a role in all this, but where does the buck stop.
Darryl Sutter, Jarome Iginla, Jay Feaster, Ken King, Murray Edwards. You start to run out of fingers to point. If this is the really the beginning of the Flames' actual rebuild, it's off to a richly-deserved poor start. It feels as much an effort to save face with a fanbase that was, at long last, finally growing restless with the club's direction, as one to improve the team's chances in the distant future. So far, both efforts seem to be going quite poorly.
But sure, getting two meh college prospects and a late first for the best player in team history isn't the true measuring stick.
Let's wait and see how they bungle the Bouwmeester trade, if it comes. Which it might not.
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