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Flames coaching carousel says more about management than coach

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DH Calgary Staff May 23, 2016 1:31 pm

Bob Hartley, just a year after receiving the Jack Adams Trophy for best bench boss in the league, now has Indeed bookmarked in his web browser. Who would have thought?

This happened because the 2014-15 Calgary Flames were the epitome of the popular business tactic “under promise, over deliver,” and Bob Hartley was the beneficiary. But to the chagrin of Hartley, the Coach of the Year Award above his mantelpiece couldn’t prevent him from turning into the scapegoat just a short year later.

Hartley’s young team came back to Earth and performed just as everyone, fans included, expected them to perform the year before.

Being fired while riding an award winning high is nothing new to Hartley. In 2000-01 Hartley won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche and took them back to the conference finals the following season. However, after a slow start to the 2002-03 season, he was “Tebow’ed” out of the Mile High City, bound for the hockey wasteland in Atlanta.

From a Colorado point of view, a team bolstering the likes of all-time greats Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, and Patrick Roy (among others) can justify letting go an underperforming young coach. But 10 years later, the Calgary Flames letting go of a veteran and proven winner seems odd. Or at least it would be for any other professional team (our provincial rivals to the North excluded, they have their own problems to deal with).

Head coaches in the Stampede City have always lasted about as long as a Hollywood wedding. Don’t believe me? In the team’s 36-year history Calgary has gone through 15 different head coaches. Even worse, Bob Hartley had the second longest tenure, lasting just four seasons.

It’s getting hard to see Calgary as an ideal coaching destination for that reason.

Would you be alright getting into a relationship with someone, full-knowing that their past 15 committed relationships all crashed and burned? For whatever reason, management has started each season with a quick finger on the reset button. Looking back at the team’s recent firings you begin to wonder, is it always the coach’s fault, or is management to blame?

Let’s investigate…

Darryl Sutter (2003-2006)

This one may slip by some fans, as he wasn’t actually fired but chose to step down upon finding he bit off more than he could chew handling both the GM and head coaching positions.

Sutter never really accomplished anything eye-popping as GM and with “blinged up” fingers due to his success coaching the Kings it’s easy to see that the Flames would have been better off keeping him as coach and looking elsewhere for a GM. Don’t worry, Jay Feaster wasn’t on the market in 2006.

Jim Playfair (2006-2007)

Honestly, the perennial NHL assistant/AHL head coach didn’t even have that bad of a one-year stint as an NHL bench boss, accumulating 96 points. However (like a broken record), a first round exit isn’t going to cut it.

Ever think, “what ever happened to Jim Playfair?” Me neither. But in case you were wondering he’s now serving as an assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Mike Keenan (2007-2009)

Keenan was a great coach… A few eras ago.

While it’s one thing to play and adapt to the ever-changing hockey landscape, Iron Mike’s coaching style fit in better in the hard-nosed pre-lockout NHL days.

Keenan’s been around seemingly forever. In fact, Keenan led teams never missed the playoffs from 1984-1998, giving him legendary status in the NHL.

However two straight first round knockouts with the Flames sent Keenan out of the NHL faster than Marty Biron after getting embarrassed by a between-the-legs Tomas Hertl goal a few years back.

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Back to Keenan, we can chalk this one up to a bad hiring by management. Who’s next?

Brent Sutter (2009-2012)

The second Sutter to get the job in Calgary, and for three seasons he gave it his all.

The Brent era in Calgary is well known as the “almost make the playoffs, just enough to get a mid-grade draft pick that management screws up anyway” era. Three years, no playoff births.

But looking at the 2009-2012 Flames on paper, Sutter didn’t have much to work with. In fact, he was probably kept up at night wondering which mid-30-year-old he was going to slot into the first line. To get a better understanding of how disastrous the Flames were during this era, think about how for a few weeks David Moss centred Jarome Iginla on the first line.

It’s one thing for a young hard working team to surprise and make a playoff run, but this team making a deep playoff run would be equivalent to Andre Agassi winning Wimbledon this summer. We’ll chalk this one up to management firing Sutter for being unable to turn water into wine.

Bob Hartley (2013-2016)

Back to Hartley.

If you want to find the only coach who spent more time leading the Flames you’d have to go back to Sidney Crosby’s birth year, 1987, where you’d find Bob Johnson in his last year as head coach with the Flames. Hartley took the Flames on their deepest playoff run of the past decade, and seemed like a good mentor for the young players. We’ll chalk this one up to management loving to fire people.

That brings us to present day. Who will the Flames bring in to fill the void next? Whoever it is, tread carefully; buy Ken King a bottle of Johnny Walker or offer to run his errands. In Cow-Town is appears no coach is safe.


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DH Calgary Staff
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