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Feaster resigns from Lightning's GM position

Chris Gratton

Chris Gratton

TAMPA — If Jay Feaster really wanted to stay on as Lightning general manager, he might have been able to do so.

His ability as a lawyer, his business acumen, his knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement would have been a valuable resource. But after a free-agent period in which his role was drastically reduced by new owner OK Hockey, Feaster had seen enough.

He resigned Friday after six years on the job and a Stanley Cup championship on his resume.

"It became apparent to me," Feaster said in a statement released by the team, "that this ownership group did not need my advice or expertise, and I came to the conclusion that it was time to move on."

Feaster, 45, will receive full compensation from a contract that has three years to go and pays from $800,000 to $900,000 a year, though an "offset" provision would reduce the amount if he took another hockey job.

"Jay did a tremendous job," owner Len Barrie said. "It was more of when you come in, you want to go with your own culture."

So Feaster and vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton communicated by phone and e-mail the past week or so — Feaster at his Pennsylvania home, Lawton in his hotel room or St. Pete Times Forum office.

"He made the decision to resign," Lawton said. "It was somewhat mutual, but he was certainly the leader in it. … He's a professional. He did an incredible job here. We thank him for his service. At the same time, the club is moving forward."

And doing so in a somewhat unconventional way.

Lawton said the general manager job might not be filled, and as head of hockey operations, he, Barrie and owner Oren Koules will make personnel decisions.

Lawton gave no indication co-assistant general managers Claude Loiselle or Tom Kurvers will change job descriptions.

Kurvers will handle personnel issues, mostly on the minor-league level, while Loiselle handles contract negotiations and CBA compliance.

Director of player personnel Jim Hammett will oversee the scouting department, which is scheduled for an overhaul, and run the draft.

"It's a group decision on everything," Lawton said. "At the end of it, we canvass everybody's opinion, and then we come down to, generally, Len, Oren and myself."

Lawton reports to Koules and Barrie.

"So, my (butt) is on the line if things don't go well," he said. "I know that, and I accept it. … Everybody else gets the praise if we can do everything successfully, and I'll take responsibility if things don't go well."

A lot went well for Feaster while with the Lightning.

He is credited with calming a transaction-happy organization when he took over in February 2002 after three-plus years as assistant GM and instituted a "meritocracy" based on performance rather than contract considerations when it came to playing for the big club.

His acquisition of defenseman Darryl Sydor in January 2004 from the Blue Jackets was key in the team's Stanley Cup run and is one of the franchise's best trades.

After Tampa Bay won the 2004 title, Feaster was named the Sporting News' NHL executive of the year.

"He's the person who brought credibility for our franchise," Lightning president Ron Campbell said.

But Feaster was part of the team's decline that included terrible goaltending decisions and one of the franchise's worst trades: goaltender Marc Denis from Columbus for big left wing Fredrik Modin and goalie Fredrik Norrena.

The 2004-05 lockout — which cost the team goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, made free agency a quicker reality for players and blew up Feaster's well-calculated plan of staggered contract endings for his stars — did not help.

"Just a well-rounded first-class guy," Campbell said. "He'll have a job when he wants one, but the situation has to be right for him. He can be a general manager in this game, the president of a team in hockey or any other sport."

We don't know Feaster's plans because he declined to speak to the media.

We do know he is part of the Lightning's massive turnover in which ownership changed from Palace Sports & Entertainment to OK Hockey, coach John Tortorella was fired and the roster, so retooled since 2004, retains only Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis from the Cup-winning team.

"It's a sad day," Campbell said of Feaster's resignation, but added, "It's the nature of the business. You're compelled to change the face of an organization when there's an ownership change, so I'm not surprised. But I am disappointed."

Gratton SIGNS: Just a few weeks ago, ownership indicated center Chris Gratton was not in the team's plans. But Gratton said he wanted to keep his family in the area and initiated contract talks that ended with his signing for one year at $1.25-million.

Gratton, 33, had 10 goals and 21 points in 60 games last season in an injury-filled year that ended in February with left hip surgery.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Feaster resigns from Lightning's GM position 07/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 14, 2008 7:36pm]
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