Tuesday, May 03, 2016

With His Shelf Life Run Out Once Again, Flames Announce the Firing of Bob Hartley

The shelf life for Bob Hartley has clearly been established.

Since entering the NHL as a head coach in 1998, he’s held three jobs. Each time, he coached four seasons, but did not make it through the fifth.
  • With the Colorado Avalanche, his first employer, he was fired 31 games into year five.
  • With the Atlanta Thrashers, his next gig, he was fired 6 games into year five.
  • With the Calgary Flames, he won’t get the chance to begin year five.

Brad Treliving announced on Tuesday morning at a hastily called press conference that Hartley, along with longtime partner in crime, assistant coach Jacques Cloutier, have both been relieved of their duties.

In his time with the club that began with the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, Hartley compiled a 134-135-25 record. He departs as Calgary's third winningest coach behind the late Bob Johnson (193 wins) and Terry Crisp (144 wins).

“Today is a tough day,” said the Flames general manager. “I want to thank Bob. Bob did very good things here. He built a foundation in this organization and apart from all else, he put his heart and soul into this team every day. He bled for this team.”

Treliving was frank in summarizing why Hartley, last year’s Jack Adams winner as coach of the year, was let go with one year still remaining on his two-year contract.

“I just felt that at this particular time for us to move forward, Bob has taken this team as far as I feel he can take it.”

Where he took it this season was to disappointing depths. Regardless of how improbable the Flames success was in 2014-15, a 20-point regression this year despite the high-profile additions of Dougie Hamilton, Michael Frolik and Sam Bennett was simply not good enough and ultimately resulted in his death sentence.

Delayed Yet Deliberate Decision

From when the season ended, that “process” of deciding whether or not to move forward with Hartley as coach took 24 days.

One thing we've learned the last couple seasons he's been at the helm, Treliving is a very methodical person. His reputation is that of someone that works hard and for long hours. He is known to be very detailed and thorough in everything he does. But still, player exit meetings were over three weeks ago. That sure seems like a long time to deliberate.

Comparably, it took new Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion only three days to announce that Dave Cameron had been fired. After being ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Nashville Predators, Anaheim GM Bob Murray waited only two days to announce the dismissal of Bruce Boudreau, despite the fact he led the Ducks to four consecutive first place finishes in the division.

However, Treliving was adamant in denying that Boudreau’s sudden arrival on the job market was a factor.

“Today's decision was not based upon anybody sitting in the on-deck circle,” said Treliving emphatically. “Today was about Bob. This isn't about is there a prettier girl at the dance.”

Intriguing Timing Nonetheless

That doesn’t change the fact that the timing is certainly curious.

To really stoke the fires of all the conspiracy theorists, add in the fact that late last week Treliving, also co-GM for Team Canada for the IIHF World Championships, delayed his planned trip to Russia.

Treliving expected to be overseas was the reason why VP of Hockey Operations Brian Burke packed his hair product and scowl and headed to Toronto last weekend to be Calgary’s representative at the draft lottery.

The explanation for the delay was something urgent came up. Might that something have been the news of Beaudreau's firing on Friday? The 61-year-old is not expected to be on the job market for long. The Wild and Senators -- both with a vacancy at the moment -- are reportedly interested in his services. As a history refresher from when Boudreau was fired by Washington, he was on the open market for only 48 hours before the Ducks snatched him up.

I view it like a Boxing Day door-crasher special. You can’t just show up at Best Buy at four o'clock in the afternoon and expect to get that spectacular 60-inch 3D television in which there was only a quantity of one.

Yet throughout his 20-minute press conference, Treliving reiterated that the timing of today’s announcement had nothing to do with Boudreau and was merely the culmination in a thorough evaluation of Hartley’s tenure in Calgary.

"It took some time because like I said at the year-end press conference, I wanted to take some time to step back and really evaluate. I think Bob and any person deserves that. A thorough, true evaluation with information. Not just emotion, but information."

To that point, Treliving declined to single out particular parts of the season such as the team's awful October.

“This is a decision based upon a body of work versus a short snapshot,” said Treliving. “You're going to go through a year with 82 snapshots of games. I don't think you make decisions in short periods of time. This isn't a six-game, eight-game situation. Last year, Bob was extended in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. To me, you take bodies of work. Each day that goes by is another page in the file.”

Areas of Concern

In particular, three needs were singled out by Treliving when asked what the changes are that he’d like to see:

1. Play a New Style That Caters to Better Puck Possession.

As one example, Calgary lived and died by the stretch pass. Post a winger beyond the centre ice red line and rifle a puck up ice and have him deflect it in deep, then go in and try to retrieve it. In simple terms, you go from having the puck to giving it away and then having to try and get it back.

“In today's game, you need to have the puck. You have to work like hell to get it and when you get it, you need to hold onto it, you need to play with it,” said Treliving, to the approval of legions of supporters from the advanced stats community.

2. Defend Better

Treliving accepted blame for the quality of the goaltenders.

“Our goaltending was not good this year. That falls on the general manager,” he said.

However, that’s only part of the story.

“How you defend in the league is an area that we look at,” he added. “The way we played in front of the goaltender needs to be fixed as well. That lends itself to style-of-play to a certain extent.”

3. Better Special Teams

“Our special teams for a good portion of the year were 30th in the league,” Treliving said to the assembled media, who really didn't need the reminder considering it was a non-stop discussion topic all year.

The penalty kill finished last. A late-season surge improved the man advantage to 22nd by season end, but much of that success came after Calgary had been eliminated from playoff contention and when the games no longer mattered.

“Those are critical areas to have any type of success. I don't want to point and say that Bob didn't feel any of those were important. He does. But you go through the process and ultimately you come up with your decision.”

Treliving’s Most Critical Decision

Treliving says no timeline has been set for what will be an important decision.

“The most critical decision you make as a manager is who is going to coach the hockey team," he said.

"I've got a profile in my mind of what I'm looking for. I feel I have a real good idea of what can give us success,” he added. “We'll start the process today. We'll be thorough. We'll be extensive. When we find the match, I know we'll find the right match.”

He’s not looking for a yes-man and prefers a coach that isn’t afraid to challenge him, but they do need to share the same philosophy.

“You have to have a close working relationship,” said Treliving. “You want debate, you want pushback, hey let's try it like this. I don't think you can have success any other way. But ultimately, there's got to be a belief and a togetherness in singing from the same songbook because you believe in it.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a decision made sooner than later, especially if they find the right guy.

For what it’s worth, Boudreau’s Ducks finished the season first in power play, first in penalty killing and first in goals against. It's the polar opposite to where the Flames finished in two of those three pivotal categories and as mentioned, they were last in the other category until the final month or two.

Final Word

A new coach for this club will be just the beginning, not the end. There are holes in the roster for the GM to address still and individual players need to perform better.

“Anytime you go through a situation where a coach is being relieved, there's blood on a lot of hands,” said Treliving, who called the decision the hardest he's had to make as a GM. “Make no mistake, there is responsibility to bear, outside of Bob.”

As for Hartley, I join Treliving in wishing him the best of luck. While one can choose to find fault in Hartley's methods, there was nobody more passionate about his job and in his desire for the team to succeed.

“Bob was all in, let's not forget that,” said Treliving. “He wears his heart on his sleeve. He cares. It was a tough day. He's a pro. He took it as I would expect. He enjoyed working here. We talked, we shook hands when it was over.”

All coaches have a shelf life. The challenge for the successor is can he turn the young Flames into a perennial Stanley Cup contender before reaching his? He certainly has plenty of nice pieces to work with in the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano.

“There's tremendous upside, there's a bright future for this team. Unfortunately in this business, you deal with difficult days. Today is a difficult day. We'll now move on.”

With Calgary's coach search officially underway, we're left to wonder if that browsing of the market didn't start last Friday. Only time will tell.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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