May 31, 2012
Flames need more fixing than coaching hire
By ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
CALGARY - The Calgary Flames may have a new coach, but unless the organization takes on a new direction, it won’t mean squat.
Fact is, the Flames had a good coach the last three years and fell short of their modest goal of making the NHL playoffs.
Their problems year after year don’t revolve around coaching issues, although it sure makes for a convenient excuse/scapegoat.
The problems in Calgary have long revolved around skill — or more precisely a lack thereof — both on the ice and in the scouting ranks.
Jay Feaster has paid lip-service to changing the organization’s approach by declaring it’s no longer acceptable to simply aim for one of the final playoff spots.
He says it’s time to start aiming for the top.
That’s simply not possible with the rag-tag bunch the Flames have employed the last handful of years.
It’s time to make hard, meaningful decisions with an eye on effecting major change down at the Dome — and that means everyone including Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla have to be part of the discussion.
While it’s an encouraging move, replacing Olli Jokinen with Roman Cervenka doesn’t count as major change unless it’s coupled with all sorts of other significant signings or trades.
At the very least, a new philosophy has to be laid out, and while Hartley will certainly play a role in shaping that, it’s up to Feaster to provide him with fresh ammunition.
Hartley’s main goal will have to be re-establishing some sort of identity for the squad as nobody — players included — is quite sure who they are or what type of team they should or could be.
As for Hartley, it’s encouraging the former Stanley Cup winner (Colorado Avalanche, 2001) bowed out of the running for the same post with the Montreal Canadiens to be the head coach in Calgary. After all, the 51-year-old Francophone grew up just outside of Ottawa and had to consider the Canadiens gig to be a dream job.
It speaks to his longstanding relationship with Feaster dating back to their days in Hershey, when the duo won the 1997 Calder Cup. A bond that included having Hartley named the godfather of Feaster’s son certainly offers a guy plenty more job security than he’d have in headline-hungry Montreal.
Feaster joked Thursday if he’s put in a position where he has to fire his pal before the end of the coach’s three-year term, “We can probably just help each other pack.”
In other words, now that Feaster has selected “his guy” for the coaching duties, the GM’s future now rests largely on Hartley’s success. And that means he’ll have to arm the coach with plenty more than the club offered up Brent Sutter.
Either that or declare a rebuild, buying plenty more time for everyone.
As it stands, the fiery coach won’t be coaching anything near the Cup-winning Avalanche or the cellar-dwelling Thrashers but rather a hybrid of veterans, muckers and a woefully few future impact players.
It’s way too early to speculate on whether he’s the right man for the job, as there are still far too many unknowns in terms of how the Flames will fill out their aging roster over the next few months.
Hartley’s been a winner at every level he’s coached, and he said all the right things Thursday by suggesting he wants to play an exciting, up-tempo style of hockey.
The sad reality is few NHL teams win games anymore by playing exiting, up-tempo hockey, unless, of course, you have mad skill throughout your lineup — something Feaster admitted last month that’s lacking on this club.
Hartley got plenty out of Ilya Kovalchuk and Marc Savard in Atlanta, not to mention the likes of Joe Sakic, Alex Tanguay and Ray Bourque in Colorado.
Can he get Jarome Iginla to buy into his plan?
Will Iginla even be here?
Is he cut out to mould young players? Or will he have many youngsters of significance to shape?
Too many questions need to be answered before anyone can accurately assess whether Hartley is the right man for the job, as nobody is quite sure what the job entails just yet.
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.