Former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Jay Feaster says, "I still bleed Tampa blue"
Former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Jay Feaster was at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Tuesday night as part of the team's 20th anniversary celebration that includes honoring people and moments voted for by the fans.
Feaster, who was GM from 2002-2008 and helped lead the Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup title, is now the general manager of the Flames, the team that lost to Tampa Bay in the Cup final. Even so, Feaster said participating in the Lightning's 20th anniversary celebration was not awkward, and declared, "I still bleed Tampa blue."
Feaster spoke at length with several Tampa Bay area reporters about the importance of the Daryl Sydor trade to winning the Cup, how a Vinny Lecavalier trade was avoided, healing the rift between Lecavalier and then-coach John Tortorella and, of course, the best stories from the championship run, including 'shut your yap.'
Why was returning for the 20th anniversary celebration?
I love it here. I still bleed Tampa blue. I spent 10 years with this organization and we did some real good things, so this is always home.
Does it mean something that the fans selected you?
It means a lot. But again, when I left it wasn’t as thought I necessarily wanted to leave. So, from that perspective, to have the fans vote that, and to be asked to come back; (owner) Jeff Vinik has been great to me. (CEO Tod) Leiweke has been great to me. I appreciate the way they handled everything though the years. They took over and I still had a year on my contract and they were great about me going out there and how they handled all the things with my contract. ... I mean, seriously, Marty and Vinny is still here. The staff is still here. When I was in Calgary my first year and they were playing a preseason game, the Lightning were playing out there -- something that had been set up long before I ever got to Calgary -- I took the old staff and we went for dinner, and even before the game I stopped down to see the guys, the trainers and everything. So, yeah, it’s special, there’s no doubt about it. And I do, I follow the Lightning and, obviously, being in a different conference you can root for them. And I said outside, I hope we end up meeting I June, the two franchises.
What were the keys to the 2003-04 Stanley Cup season?
I think as much as anything, the big thing was the (Daryl) Sydor acquisition. Syd had been a winner and he knew how to win, and you go back to that Islanders series (in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal) and he’s the one when we got up there to Long Island that we had that meeting, the team meeting, and he talked about how important it is and you think you’re going to get back and you think you’re going to play for the Cup all these years and then you don’t. And he used Andy (Dave Andreychuk) as somebody, look at the career David’s had, he hasn’t had that opportunity. I just think he was such an important guy in terms of the minutes that he logged and, again, his leadership. And everybody recognizes David for what he was, he was the captain, but Tim Taylor was really important in that whole process, too. Because it was Tim Taylor when we got beat in Game 6 in Philly (in the East final), he was the one who kind of took over, you’ve got to look the devil in the eye, the whole bit.
When you close your eyes and think about the Cup season, what do you see?
I think more than anything it’s how Torts (coach John Tortorella) changed. He’s such a hard ass and yet when it comes playoff time he always says, ‘I’m with them.’ And I thought right from the get-go that the series against the Islanders when the Islanders have all kinds of doors and pathways locked up there and before I even get to the arena he’s ready to fight (Islanders GM Mike Milbury) and he’s in Milbury’s office. And then you go to the Philadelphia series and the shut your yap. All that stuff was planned. When we were flying out to Calgary for Game 6 (of the Cup final), he’s talking to me in the plane and he’s saying, ‘I’m going to put the pressure on (the Flames). I’m going to paint the picture. Hockey Night in Canada and their families are in,’ and he did it. I can still hear him when he has the team assembled in the locker room and he’s telling them the pressure is all on Calgary. And the prime minister was in at the time visiting the Flames and he has all the Canadian-born players sitting in front of him. And (Tortorella) goes, ‘Look at the pressure on them. The mayor of Canada is over there,’ and there’s Vinny and Marty over there trying not to laugh. ‘The mayor of Canada.’
What’s your best memory of the 'shut your yap' episode with Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock?
All of it was designed to take that pressure off the team. When we got to Philadelphia, that bus backs down the drive there (at the arena) and the people were 10 deep up above on that balcony area. Normally, it’s just a gong show when you’re getting off that bus, and the honest to God’s truth, it was silent. (Nik) Khabibulin gets off, walks in, nothing, Vinny Lecavalier, they walk in, not a word. They’re silent. I get off the bus next to last and then (Tortorella) and then all hell broke loose. He loved that stuff. He loved trying to take that pressure off. As a result, you think about it. What did we get beat in Game 2? It was bad. And nobody is asking about Nik or if it was a bad goal, just shut your yap. He went for a run there before Game 3 and he told me, ‘I had a school bus full of little kids pass me and one of those little kids gave me the finger.’
Talk about the Sydor trade.
The guy who doesn’t get any credit on that is (team president) Ron Campbell. But the reality of it is we didn’t have the budget to do that deal. And had he called Detroit and asked (team CEO) Tom Wilson for permission there’s no way. And I explained to him what we were thinking and what (player personnel director) Billy Barber thought of this player and what he could do for us. And to Ron’s credit, he said we’re not going to ask for permission we’ll just beg for forgiveness later. And he told me, ‘Do the deal,’ and he says, ‘After you do the deal, tell me so I can call Tom and let him know before it’s announced.’
If there had been a different GM here would Lecavalier have been traded?
I was the assistant GM and Duds (GM Rick Dudley) had a deal for him (in December 2001). It was a Friday. We had lunch here with (owner Bill Davidson) and Tom Wilson came in and Torts and I were at the lunch and Duds and Ron Campbell. And Mr. Davidson laid out the criteria that if you want to consider trading him you need to consider these things. I was the note-taker and the classic of that was that Ron Campbell made a comment at the lunch. He said, ‘Rick, that doesn’t mean you have to trade him by the weekend.’ And Mr. Davidson got upset and he snapped at Ron. He said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous Ron, he’s not going to trade him by the weekend.’ Torts and I left that day to go to Ottawa -- we were playing in Ottawa the next night -- and by the time I got off the bus at the hotel in downtown Ottawa I had a message from Duds that said, ‘Call the NHL, set the trade conference call, I traded Lecavalier.’ So, the first call I had to make was back here because we had to tell Ron, and Ron said, ‘I have to get in touch with Tom. Don’t do anything.’ And then I got the phone call later that night from Ron, and Ron said, ‘You work for Bill Davidson. You took all the notes. Tomorrow when we’re on this conference call, you need to read the notes back.’ And, of course, the criteria had not been met, so Tom and Ron said we’re not going to do it. That was the beginning of the end for my relationship with Duds. And I said when I took over, and my first meetings were, I met with Vinny after the Olympics, and I told him, ‘I’m not going to be known as the GM who trades you.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what my legacy will be, how long I’m going to be here, but I’m not going to be the trivia answer: who trade Vinny Lecavalier?’ I said, ‘But I’m also not going to get rid of Torts because Torts is the right guy to coach this team.’ I had that same conversation with John.
So, how was that relationship repaired?
I always thought the best meeting on that was after we had won and we were up on Long Island and it was a time again where Vinny’s game wasn’t making John happy and Torts decided he wasn’t going to talk to him for a while, and I said to him, ‘We have to meet.’ It was a case of the two of them sitting there and Torts explaining to him how a coach thinks and he said, ‘I have 20 guys and if they’re going that’s who I’m going to play. It’s what have you done for me during that game?’ And Vinny sat and soaked it all in and then he said, ‘I understand that Torts, but I also have the ability and all I need is one shot and I can tie that game for you. I can win that game for you.’ Torts to this day will talk about the fact that for him it was tremendous insight into how an elite athlete thinks about the game. I always thought that was a good experience for both of them. It was insight for Vinny into coach-think, but for Torts it was, ‘You know what, he’s right too. He is the guy that with one shot can tie the game or make the spectacular play.