Top Shelf: Burke sends GM Feaster packing

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Philadelphia, PA ( - When Brian Burke was announced as president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames in September, it seemed obvious time was running out for general manager Jay Feaster.

Burke did his best to sell his new job as an advisory role and spoke of a potential long-term partnership between him and Feaster, saying things like: "I know people think I have to be driving the bus, but I'm actually a pretty good teammate, too."

On Thursday, it became clear that the doubters were right to believe Burke's arrival in Calgary spelled the beginning of the end for the GM. Both Feaster and assistant GM John Weisbrod were handed their walking papers, as Burke tries to put his stamp on a team that is in the early stages of a rebuilding phase.

For the time being, Burke will absorb the GM's duties until he can find a suitable replacement for Feaster.

It's hard to argue with Burke's decision. Since becoming the Flames' acting GM during the 2010-11 season (Feaster became the permanent GM in May of 2011) Calgary has done little to improve.

The club missed its fourth straight postseason in the spring of 2013 and the Flames, who are second from the bottom in the Western Conference this season, are well on their way to pushing the playoff drought to five years.

Whomever Burke picks to succeed Feaster -- former Flames player and ex-Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk appears to be the odds-on favorite -- you can be certain it will be someone who gets what the president of hockey operations is looking for in an NHL team. At least more than Feaster did, anyway.

Burke, a veteran NHL GM who helped build the Anaheim Ducks into a Stanley Cup champion, is known for taking on big reclamation projects. He joined Vancouver in the late 1990s and helped turn around the ailing Canucks and had mixed results after leaving Anaheim for Toronto during the 2008-09 season.

While the Maple Leafs never made the postseason while Burke was in town, they did qualify for the playoffs months following his dismissal by Toronto, ending a club-record seven-season postseason drought. Needless to say, the club is in a better place today than it was before Burke set up shop at Air Canada Centre.

At those previous stops, the always outspoken Burke has tried to build teams that strike a balance between highly-skilled players and bigger guys who know how to throw their weight around.

The latter category of player is the kind Burke will be looking to add to Calgary in the short term. First of all, it's easier to acquire players whose primary talents are size and physicality, and secondly, Burke believes the Flames as currently constructed are too small and therefore too easy to push around.

"We're not hostile enough for me," Burke said at Thursday's press conference announcing Feaster's firing. "I don't like flag football, I like teams that bang. I don't like the way we play. We want black-and-blue hockey, that's what we do in Alberta. That's the first thing."

That doesn't mean Burke will put up a sign outside the locker room that says "You Must Be This Tall To Play For The Calgary Flames," but it does sound like the Flames are in store for an identity change.

"There's room for small players in the league, but you better surround him with some beef," Burke added.

Burke also copped to being an impatient guy at Thursday's presser, but he has to know the road back to respectability in Calgary will be a long one. One thing is sure, he's not going to change his philosophy simply to appease someone else's idea of how the team should be run.

"I'm not kissing babies up here. I'm not running for office. This is about winning hockey games," said Burke. "I'm frustrated like all of our fans are."


At this same time last year, the NHL and its owners were mired in a seemingly endless labor dispute with the players.

The fight, of course, was over how to split the billions of dollars generated by the NHL each year. Like most fights centered around money, it was a cynical display of self-centered ideals and neither the league nor the NHL Players' Association came out of the squabble looking dignified.

But, it does seem like everybody -- owners and players alike -- could come out of the lockout considerably richer.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman reported to the league's Board of Governors on Monday that next year's salary cap ceiling is estimated to rise from $64.3 million in 2013-14 to $71 million next season. The cap, of course, is tied to revenue, so a bump of more than 10 percent means business is booming for the NHL.

This is good news for fans of the sport because it means professional hockey is in magnificent fiscal shape. Of course, ballooning revenues could also mean expansion, and there are few hockey purists who believe adding more franchises to an already unwieldy field of 30 teams would be good news for the NHL's on- ice product.

But, just like NHL fans were powerless to stop the lockout from happening, they'll also be unable to prevent the next wave of expansion from becoming a reality.

In closing, "I, for one, welcome our new NHL overlords ... "