Burke, Feaster claim they will coexist just fine in Flames front office
GM considers new president of hockey operations one of his longtime mentors
Jay Feaster understood that he had an ally almost from the very beginning. He’d only recently been hired as assistant GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning and had flown into New York to attend his first big managerial think-tank awash in excitement and anticipation.
“Back then,” Feaster is recalling, “the assistant GMs could still go to the general managers’ meetings. It wasn’t just one guy only. (Bolts’ then-coach/GM) Jacques Demers had left the team on the west coast to be there.
“So I walk into the room and Jacques, in his excited fashion, starts pounding the seat beside him. ‘Sit here! Sit here!’ So I sit down. My first time at one of these things, right? And in strolls Burkie.
“Well, I’m looking around the room at all these GMs and thinking ‘This is unreal!’ I say ‘Hi, Burkie.’ And he leans in and says ‘Hey, Jaybird, howya doin’?’ Then he leans in closer, so close that only I can hear, and says: ‘You do what you want to do. Your call. But look around the table. The table seats are reserved for the GMs. Look around at the chairs at the back of the room? I’m not telling you where to sit, but that’s where your colleagues are.
“‘Like I said: You do what you wanna do ...’
“Well, I jumped up like I’d been shot in the butt. And Jacques, of course, is hollering ‘Where you going!? Where you going!?’
“I guarantee you if I stay at that table the GMs think I’m so arrogant that I believe I belong at the table or my colleagues think I’m so stupid that I can’t figure out that it’s GMs only, and those are the guys who are my buddies, who are now GMs, the Doug Armstrongs, the Ray Sheros the Peter Chiarellis.
“So Burkie was looking out for me, had my back, as early as that.”
Together, all these years later, they are both at the same table.
Will try and raise a sunken ship together.
Neither man can fail to grasp that Burke’s presence in the organization is, from the outside, viewed as a rather sinister omen for Feaster’s long-term security, an on-side replacement should things go even further south than the pessimists fear, regardless of how many times Burke himself uttered “I am NOT the GM of the Calgary Flames” during one media conference.
Burke’s garrulous public persona, his track record in the league as a GM in Vancouver, Anaheim and Toronto, his. He’s advertised as the most complete one-man show since Henry Fonda played Darrow on Broadway. Fierce. Uncompromising. Controlling. Single-minded.
Feaster doesn’t seem in the least deterred.
In fact, he was giving off those Genial Jay vibes of old at the unveiling of Burke as the Calgary Flames’ President of Hockey Operations on Thursday.
“Jay is going to be the general manager of this team,” said Burke flatly. “He is going to be in charge, but with my guidance.”
The power strata is well defined. But this, they both insist, is a collaboration, Burke adding his voice of experience — along with the voices of Feaster and assistant GM John Weisbrod — to the reinvention, as quickly as possible, of a franchise that is in essence starting from scratch, from Ground Zero.
“I remember that story, about the chairs,” Burke is reminiscing. “Jay sat in the wrong seat and everyone else would’ve let him sit there and then someone would’ve hollered at him, so I just went over quietly and said ‘You don’t want to sit there.’ Like telling the young GMs to wear ties when they should.”
Feaster counts Burke among his most supportive role models, along with Lou Lamoriello and Pierre Lacroix.
“Those guys,” he says, “have always been there for me. Whether you want to call it mentors, senior advisors ... whatever. They are people I always felt I could go to who were going to help me.
“From my perspective, Brian and I have been together in a terms of a professional relationship for a long time. And I do know him. He’s an interesting guy, Brian. Confident. Committed. I loved — absolutely loved — working with John Tortorella. You knew that every day was going to be an adventure. As Brian said, he’s not going to change who he is. As long as we don’t care who gets the credit, I think we can do a lot of good things.”
Burke, too, believes the characteristics of the two men are good complements to one another.
“First off, you gotta have to have the determination to make it work, which we both do. Second, you’ve got to have a pretty good foundation in terms of friendship, which we do.
“I knew Jay before he worked in the NHL. I had a hand in him getting his first NHL job. I was called by Jacques Demers and he said ‘I want to hire this guy but he hasn’t played hockey. He’s really bright.’ And I said ‘You’re talking about Jay Feaster, aren’t you?’ And he said ‘Well, yeah.’ And I said: ‘Hire him.’
“I go back a long way with Jay and I think he has a lot of ability, so, yeah, I think this can work.”
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgeohnsonCH
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald