by Jon Jordan on 05/23/11 at 01:14 PM ET
On the day Jay Feaster’s interim tag was removed as Calgary’s general manager last Monday, his former club, the Tampa Bay Lightning, would jump out to a 1-0 series lead over the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final with a 5-2 performance on the road.
Feaster, who resigned from his post as Lightning GM in July of 2008, in the early days of the then-incoming OK Hockey ownership group, has taken notice of the rejuvenated Bolts – it’s been hard not to, of course – and, like so many others, has come away very impressed at what they’ve been able to accomplish in year one under new management, now just a pair of wins away from competing for the Stanley Cup, tied with Boston in the series at 2-2.
Impressed, naturally. But surprised at the quick results?
“Quite honestly, I am not surprised,” he explained. “I felt there were some excellent pieces of the puzzle already in place and I was confident that quality ownership and management would make a huge difference.”
The era of the regime under which Feaster’s days in the organization came to an end was marred with owner infighting, financial difficulties, questionable personnel decisions and poor on-ice results. All of that, he noted, was difficult to see transpire.
“It was painful to watch what we had built under [previous] ownership destroyed in such a short period of time,” said Feaster, referring to the late Bill Davidson, who owned the Lightning from 1999-2008. “It was also very difficult for me to talk with the many friends and colleagues I left behind and hear the kind of environment they were working in for that unpleasant period.”
But, just as it has for fans of the Lightning franchise, this year’s turnaround and the ongoing success of the team under owner Jeff Vinik, CEO Tod Leiweke, GM Steve Yzerman, head coach Guy Boucher and a host of other new faces throughout the organization has washed away a lot of that for the man who was at the helm for its Stanley Cup championship of 2004.
“Seeing the franchise rejuvenated and back on top means the world to me.”
And, to Feaster, the reasons behind Tampa Bay’s success, even this quickly, are pretty clear.
“Jeff Vinik has been a committed owner. He hired an outstanding GM. Steve hired one of the game’s best and brightest, up-and-coming coaches and the club’s best players are their hardest working.”
“While I may not have predicted a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals this year, I was predicting a playoff berth and once you get to the dance, great things can happen.”
As they have indeed for this year’s Lightning, thanks in part, to a common trait that their former GM sees between these Bolts and his championship squad of 2004.
“The 3rd and 4th lines have stepped up and contributed to the offense,” he said. “That kind of contribution from more than your top players is so critical to post-season success.”
“In 2004, we had significant contributions from role players such as Chris Dingman and Andre Roy. Ruslan Fedotenko stepped up and scored goals at a pace well ahead of his regular season average,” Feaster added and went on to encompass the defensive side of things as well. “Jassen Cullimore and Nolan Pratt contributed significant minutes on the blue line.”
The current Lightning can speak of an equally impressive list, from the production of Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie, Teddy Purcell and several others up front, to the minutes eaten by a late-season acquisition in Eric Brewer, a reinvigorated veteran in Mattias Ohlund and 20-year old sophomore Victor Hedman, one and all, on the back end.
But another key factor going for the Lightning, one that members of the current team speak of so often that is also visible from afar, is the team’s willingness to buy into what its coach has sold from the get-go. Perhaps this group intangible – yet another quality today’s Bolts share with their champion predecessors, according to Feaster – is most important of all.
“Truly great things can happen when you get 23 players working for the crest on the front of the sweater rather than worrying about the name on the back,” Feaster said.
“In 2004, our entire team bought in to what [then-coach John Tortorella] had been preaching.”
In 2011, the Bolts have done that again, only this time with Boucher at the pulpit.
These days, despite running things for the Flames, Jay Feaster’s well wishes for the Lightning organization and the area he called home for ten years remain.
“I hope there is another Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony at the [St. Pete Times] Forum at the start of the 2011-12 season.”
“The only thing that would be better is Tampa trying to defend their title in a Calgary vs. Tampa rematch of the 2004 Final [next year].”
That matchup taking place a little over a year from now wouldn’t draw any argument from the Lightning faithful – not with the implied pre-requisite for such a future showdown for this year’s team.
Only Feaster had to put forth one minor caveat in so looking ahead.
“With a different result for Calgary this time.”
Bolts fans can surely understand that kind of stipulation from the Flames’ GM, just as much as they can appreciate the support of an old friend.
In this case, that person is one and the same.
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