Ex-Thrashers coach takes over in Calgary
Almost nine years ago after a Thrashers practice at the old
Spectrum in Philadelphia, Bob Hartley pointed to the spot on the floor where he
was standing when he received an offer to become head coach of the Montreal
At the time of the offer, he was coaching the Hershey Bears of the American
Hockey League and he eventually would lead the organization to a Calder Cup,
the AHL championship. While Hartley, a native French speaker, grew up about an
hour from Montreal and the chance to become the head coach of the Habs would
appear to be his dream job, he turned it down.
As the coach in Atlanta, he would often talk about things like loyalty and
accountability – this was not some Nick Saban-like platitude that he did not
believe he had to live up to -- and at that moment, he stood on that principle.
He was committed to the Bears and he was not about to give up on them at a
critical juncture. He felt loyal to those who gave him his job.
A few years later, he was promoted as head coach of the Colorado
Avalanche and won the NHL's top prize, the Stanley Cup.
This was the same reason why, when he went to coach in Switzerland in 2011 that
he agreed to a contract that would not let him out until his team, the ZSC
Lions, had finished its season. Again, while he might have made an enticing
choice for some NHL team that had fired its coach in midseason during the
2011-12 campaign — notably Montreal again — he instead finished out the season
and again won himself a league title.
So early last week, when reports began filtering out that Hartley would become
coach of the Canadiens, it made sense on a number of levels. After the
Canadiens' debacle in naming former Thrashers assistant Randy Cunneyworth as
interim coach — someone who did not speak French – and the backlash that
ensued, the Canadiens essentially committed to hiring a French-speaker for the
position on a permanent basis. Their choices were limited.
Once there was a delay in confirmation of those rumors, the Calgary Flames,
perhaps surprising those who believed the situation in Montreal was a done
deal, named Hartley as coach on Thursday.
In retrospect, for those who know Hartley best, it shouldn't be a surprise at
all. The Flames general manager is Jay Feaster, the same man who was GM with
the Hershey Bears when Hartley turned down the Canadiens for the first time
back in the ‘90s.
Feaster and Hartley are about as close as a general manager
and a coach can get — Hartley is godfather is to Feaster's son.
So, circle back to those things that are most important to Hartley like
loyalty. He will be loyal to Feaster as coach and he knows that Feaster will be
loyal to him. In the pressure-cooker of the Montreal market, Hartley would not
have that dynamic at work to the same extent.
However, what he would have had in Montreal might have given him a better
chance to win. For one, he would have had a better roster. The Canadiens were
the only team in the NHL last season to boast three 30-goal scorers. They have
an All-Star goalie in Carey Price coming into his prime and they are one of the
wealthiest teams in the NHL and will be willing to spend up to the league's
salary cap limit to win.
In Calgary, his best players will be his oldest, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff will
be 36 shortly after the season starts. Left wing Alex Tanguay, who will be 33
in November, was on Hartley’s Colorado team 10 years ago. Right wing Jarome
Iginla ranks amont the league's most respected players, but, with 516 goals
under his belt, he will turn 35 over the summer and enter his 16th season in
In addition, Hartley's his best defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester,
doesn't play the hard-nosed style that Hartley prefers.
Furthermore, a reporter who covers the team tweeted on Monday that the Flames
no longer will spend to the cap limit — expected to be a hefty $70 million next
season unless changes are made under the league's expiring Collective
Bargaining Agreement — and that they will likely spend closer to the floor.
But that's the thing with Hartley. He believes in his will to win and in his
own abilities more than any of those other factors might deter him. He has a
keen eye for talent and will probably be able to identify some productive
players on the cheap. He also has an incredible self-belief that he can coach up
the players he has.
It's the reason he's been able to win a Quebec Major Junior League title, a
Memorial Cup, a Calder Cup a Stanley Cup and now a Swiss League championship.
The Flames finished ninth in the Western Conference, just five points behind Los
Angeles, which is one win away from capturing the Stanley Cup. Hartley might
make the difference in getting the Flames into postseason, but the question is
how far will he be able to take them?