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Op-Ed: The Calgary Flames owe their success to Jay Feaster

The Calgary Flames were supposed to be golfing in late April. Local sports radio should be talking about who the Flames should draft with a high first round pick. Instead, the team continues to wear magical red shoes, with no signs the clock will hit midnight.

That story was written by a man who no longer works for the team.

In 2012, Feaster traded for the rights to defenceman Dennis Wideman, and signed him to five year deal, worth $26.25 million. For two seasons, the deal looked like a disaster, but since an early season benching by Featser hire Bob Hartley, Wideman has been one of the most reliable players on the team. Speaking to Sportsnet, Hartley glowed about the improvement of Wideman by saying, “It’s quite a story, to go from being scratched the second game to having a letter put on his jersey towards the end of the year — in a season where we’re right in the thick of things. And it was an easy decision.”

Wideman’s contract may be a bit too much when it comes to value, but his 56 points this past season is a career high, and double the mark of his first two seasons as a Flame where injuries and inconsistency drew the ire of hockey analysts. Since his early struggles Wideman has earned extra minutes of playing time which has lessened the blow after losing Mark Giordano to injury.

The addition of Wideman is not the only piece Feaster put together that put the Flames in the position they currently find themselves. Calgary’s top line is entirely Feaster’s creation.

Lady Byng finalist Jiri Hudler was coming off a then career year in Detroit when Calgary signed him to a four year contract in 2012. Playing on a line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, Hudler averaged almost a point per game, scoring 76 points on the year. In game four he scored two points, including the game winner, to put the Canucks in a 3-1 hole.

Gaudreau, a Calder finalist has taken the entire city by storm, the diminutive playmaker uses his speed and skill to create scoring chances. With the 104th pick in the 2011 draft, Feaster selected Johnny Hockey; in 2013, while the hockey world was clamoring over Nathan MacKinnon, and Seth Jones, Calgary used the sixth overall pick on Sean Monahan. Those three players combined for 202 points as the team’s top three goal scorers; out performing the Penguins line of Crosby, Hornqvist, and Kunitz by 27 points.

Feaster also made trades to acquire Wideman’s defense partner Kris Russell, as well as local boy Joe Colborne, who along with Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett was Calgary’s best line in games four and five. Although the hiring of Brad Treliving has not blown up in the faces of the Flames upper management, credit must be given to the man Treliving replaced. Without the likes of Hudler, Wideman, Monahan, and Gaudreau, Calgary would not be in the playoffs.

However; despite all of those genius acquisitions, the most valuable man on Calgary’s bench is the head coach that has inspired the young guys, and the vets to play the best hockey of their lives.

When Bob Hartley was hired, he was coming off a coaching gig in Switzerland. He had previous coaching stints in Colorado and Atlanta, but wasn’t on the radar of any NHL team, except Calgary’s. As the Calgary Sun’s Eric Francis has noted, Hartley should be awarded the Jack Adams. Citing the Wideman benching among other things, Francis argued Hartley is “a leader in every sense,” which is hard to argue when you look at the Flames roster. There is no Alexander Ovechkin, or Steven Stamkos; this is a team of young guys who should have already cleaned out their lockers; not a single hockey expert predicting the Flames were on the verge of moving on to the second round, but Hartley willed a team of fresh faced hockey players to buy into his system, play hard, and have some fun on the ice. He holds players accountable, but has not made anyone not want to play for him.

Cars and trucks all over the city of Calgary are decorated with Flames flags, sports bars are packed, and the city is getting prepared to party like it’s 2004, and it is all thanks to the players and coaches brought in by a man who no longer works for the team.

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