Hockey Headlines

Monday, 28 May 2012

A Wanted Man

It was widely known last season that the handling of the trade involving Mike Cammalleri was a huge blunder made by the Canadiens. While Cammalleri would be swapped for Rene Bourque, the Canadiens and Flames seemingly got rid of two players that were deemed expendable despite their solid production on the ice. But it seems that the two teams are not only zeroing in on players they want, but on unemployed personnel as well. Today, it was revealed that the Calgary Flames had interviewed Bob Hartley a second time for their vacant head coaching job - a job that a number of people thought Hartley would be taking with the Canadiens. With that news, this story could become very convoluted depending on what Bob Hartley does in the coming days.

The only problem? Bob Hartley signed a multi-year deal with the ZSC Lions in Zurich, Switzerland earlier this year, and Hartley coached them to the Swiss Championship. It's doubtful that with the success Zurich had in winning this year that they would be willing to just shred that contract and allow Hartley to go on his way. Winning is good for business, and the ZSC Lions definitely were in business last season with their championship victory.

While Hartley has been a successful coach in the NHL in the past, there needs to be a reminder passed on here before we discuss which team is a better fit if he were to be given his release from the ZSC Lions. Hartley won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with a talent-laden, veteran Colorado Avalanche squad that had the likes of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, Chris Drury, Ray Bourque, and Patrick Roy in the line-up. They also acquired Rob Blake at the deadline, and saw Alex Tanguay play some of his most-inspired hockey. While I'm not here to say that Hartley's contributions as head coach were not significant in getting the most out of his players, a lot of the men listed above are considered to be some of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates. Hartley's systems were put in place and the Avalanche played them well, but he had significant talent to compete for the Stanley Cup.

When you look at the rosters of either the Flames or the Canadiens, you don't get that same feeling that you do when you see the 2001 Avalanche roster. Aside from Jarome Iginla, you don't see many Hall-of-Fame names on the Flames' roster. And I'm not sure you can find anybody who will make the cut on the Canadiens' roster either. In short, Hartley will have to work hard to push one of these two teams into the playoffs, but his recent gig with the Atlanta Thrashers should tell you that the success seen in with the Stanley Cup victory in 2001 was more a product of the great players he had available rather playing and executing his system than just his system being the difference.

Hartley didn't fare well in Atlanta, but he did put up decent numbers. He went 137-118-13-19 (W-L-T-OTL/SOL) during his four years as a head coach in Atlanta. He missed the playoffs in three of the four years, but did get Atlanta into the playoffs for the only time in their existence in 2006-07 when the team won the Southeast Division. The only problem? The Rangers swept the Thrashers out of the playoffs in four games. While this paragraph doesn't sound exactly like a ringing endorsement, Bob Hartley got more out of the Thrashers than anyone else was able to during the team's existence, and that says a lot about how Hartley can help a maturing team.

Hartley won a QMJHL Championship as the head coach of the 1992-93 Laval Titan, and while that may be twenty years ago, he has shown that he can work with younger players and be successful. He also won the 1996-97 Calder Cup Championship in the AHL while coaching the Hershey Bears. Toss in his success with some of the younger Avalanche players during their heyday at the turn of the millenium - Tanguay, Drury, Martin Skoula, and Dan Hinote - and Hartley seems like he would be a great coach for a team of younger players mixed with solid veteran leaders.

His success in Zurich followed nearly the same blueprint. The ZSC Lions have nine players under the age of 25 on their roster, but also have a great collection of veteran players who can lead by example. Jeff Tambellini, Dominic Pittis, Juraj Kolnik, Steve McCarthy, and Cory Murphy have all had NHL experience, and have played well internationally when given the chance. Having these experienced players buy-in to what Hartley's systems makes it far easier for the rest of the team to make the transition. The Lions shocked a heavily-favored SC Bern to win the Swiss Championship in a closely-fought seven-game series that was decided on a Steve McCarthy goal with just seconds to play. The Lions rallied from being down 3-1 in the series with three straight wins to secure the championship! But to reinforce the point, Hartley gets the most out of all his players, and his time in Zurich is more proof of that.

With all of this in mind, the question needs to be asked: which team is a better fit for Hartley's coaching style?

I'd have to say that Calgary is a better fit for Hartley than Montreal is. Sure, Hartley can speak French and clearly has a pedigree of success in hockey, but Calgary has a roster with more accomplished veterans and a few rising up-and-comers. Montreal's tumultuous season resulted in very left being left in the cupboard for Hartley to work with in terms of veterans and solid blue-chip prospects, so I'm going to say that Hartley will end up in Calgary. He worked with GM Jay Feaster in Hershey when he won a Calder Cup, so the two have a solid history together.

The only question that needs to be answered regardless of where he chooses to coach is whether or not Zurich will grant him his release from their contract. After all, winning makes these types of decisions very tough.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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