Flames GM Jay Feaster Talks Front Office Changes, Team Direction, Realignment
After a tumultuous offseason, Flames GM Jay Feaster is finally ready to drop the puck. The Flames traded captain Jarome Iginla prior to the playoffs, longtime G Miikka Kiprusoff retired in the offseason, and the entire lower level of the Scotiabank Saddledome was flooded in June. The Flames also shook up the front office, hiring former Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke as President of Hockey Operations. Feaster recently spoke with THE DAILY about marketing plans for the new-look Flames, the chain of command with Burke on board, and the community response to the Calgary floods.
Q: With Jarome and Miikka gone, who do you market? Will you try and promote any individual players to push sales, etc., or do you just market the team aspect?
Feaster: In the past maybe we decided we’re going to have the face of the franchise sort of thing, but what I’m looking for out of this group is that we have 23 faces of the franchise and we have 23 guys playing for the crest on the front as opposed to the self aggrandizement of the names on the back.
Q: You were in Tampa for a while and now have been in Calgary for a few years, what’s the difference in the two markets in terms of selling your product?
Feaster: There’s a tremendous difference. When I was in Tampa we had to try and convince people to come and give people a reason to come out to the games. It wasn't really until we started winning when there were some compelling reasons and people started coming out. The great part about Canada in general -- and certainly Calgary’s market -- is that hockey is so important. It’s such an important part of the fabric of everyday life here, clearly there’s a difference. It’s hockey 24/7. In Tampa, certainly there was one afternoon drive show that occasionally talked about hockey. Here, it’s hockey programming 24 hours a day. It’s radio, it’s print, two different newspapers. Stories about hockey run front page of the paper, not front page of sports.
Q: Hiring Brian, was there a specific plan for chain of command laid out and, if so, how has that played out so far?
Feaster: I report directly to Brian and he’s the president of the hockey department. From our perspective, we've added someone who’s won a Stanley Cup, someone who has such a wealth and experience of knowledge in the game. Now it’s a chance for us as a group, we can sit down and get his thoughts and get his input and thinking. From that perspective, it’s great to have someone of his stature in the hockey department. It’s been great so far. Brian and I have known each other a long time. My relationship with him goes back to my first days in the American Hockey League. So as far as that goes, we have a great relationship and it’s been super.
Q: What has the city’s response been to the flooding at the Saddledome? Any reluctance by fans to come back for any reason?
Feaster: It hasn't had an impact on ticket sales. This is such a tremendous market and such a strong market that the flood demonstrated the resiliency of the people here in Calgary. The minute that it happened, the idea was that we were going to rebuild, and be back bigger and better than ever. I thought it was demonstrated with the Calgary Stampede -- their motto was "Come Hell or High Water." The Stampede went off without a hitch, and once again I believe it drew over 1 million people. What’s incredible here is that you think about this building being under water -- the lower level -- and for us to be able to play a preseason game here on September 14, the building hosted a couple of concerts, it’s just incredible. So many man hours went into it and people working around the clock to get us back into the building. The work that was done in this community to get us back in business -- to get this building back up and running and people back in their homes -- that kind of work ethic, there’s no question that we look to that and are inspired.
Q: (Oilers President of Hockey Operations) Kevin Lowe said a while back that hiring Brian was great for the Battle of Alberta. Would you say the rivalry has died down a little and, if so, would Brian be able to pump some extra life into it?
Feaster: Perhaps they believe it’s died down because they haven’t been able to win too many games against us for quite some time. They gave us a pretty good drubbing in one game last season here in our building which stung and we won't forget, but from our perspective it hasn't died down. If in fact Brian being here takes it to another level, that's great with us.
Q: What are your thoughts on the league expanding to six outdoor games this year? Will they lose any luster?
Feaster: I don't think so at all. I'm confident that in the individual markets themselves, the fan bases within those markets, I think it's wonderful. We had the good fortune of participating in the Heritage Classic here in Calgary a few years back against Montreal and it was absolutely tremendous. Our players loved it, our coaches loved it. The NHL does a great job of involving the families and communities in that. I applaud the league for being visionary in terms of continuing to grow that brand and product.
Q: What kind of impact will realignment have on the league?
Feaster: I think overall for the league, it's positive. I applaud it and think it's good within the context of getting the new CBA in place, it was something the league was prepared to do a year ago and the players weren't. Now everybody's on one side and I think it's going to be good. I think it will be tough on some teams -- certainly you look at the guys in Florida having to fly to the northeast. But that's part of the give-and-take of being one of the 30, there will be some pluses and minuses for each individual team.