A couple of things happened this week in Flames land, with the biggest being yesterday's announcement that the team has signed Bob Hartley to three-year deal as head coach, and also plans to bring on Hartley's former assistant in Zurich, Jacques Cloutier.
The news was not much of a surprise for those of us who have been following the rumour mill in recent days but the announcement was met with some degree of dismay in some parts of the blogosphere and ambivalence in others. Fans of the Thrashers and Avalanche contributed some insight into Hartley's coaching style in the comments section of Mitch's post yesterday, and although both were helpful, it's hard to come to a definite conclusion about what to expect given that Hartley was dealing with two very different teams in a Stanley Cup contender in Colorado and a middle-of-the-road Thrashers team in a weak Southeast Division.
The one thing that did stick out for me was Hartley's reputation as being a "hard-ass" coach. I'm still unsure precisely what the definition of a hard-ass coach is, but I do know that the Flames have tried this approach before with the notorious Mike Keenan and to a slightly lesser degree, Darryl and Brent Sutter. I think this approach works with a very specific team make-up (think the '04 Flames) and can get tired quite quickly with others (i.e. the Brent Sutter era, where the Flames teams he coached were probably slightly older and more skilled).
While younger players like Lance Bouma, TJ Brodie, Paul Byron, Roman Horak, Leland Irving, and maybe Mikael Backlund still need guidance, discipline, and a chance to develop their skills by experiencing different situations on the ice against different opponents, older guys like Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Mike Cammalleri, and Miikka Kiprusoff who have already reached and perhaps surpassed their peak don't need the same kind of push. That's not to say they don't need any kind of guidance when going through a rough patch during the season or something like that and I'm sure Hartley is experienced in dealing with both veterans and younger players, but I don't know that the hard-ass approach necessarily works with older players and I wouldn't be surprised if they grew to almost resent it. This is all speculation of course and I'm sure Hartley has more than enough experience in when to push players and when to dial it back, but I just don't know that that kind of approach is going to do much of anything in the way of improving the team's performance...or which approach, if any, will for that matter.
Ryan Pike's piece on Flames Nation after yesterday's press conference was interesting for a variety of reasons, but mainly the part about Troy Ward. Feaster said that the decision came down to Hartley and Ward and that it was very close, and that Ward may be behind the bench for some Flames pre-season games this fall (assuming there is a 2012-13 NHL season, of course). Ryan also mentioned that Hartley agreed to a three-year deal while Ward is entering the last year of his two-year deal with the Heat with a club option for a third year.
The next interesting point was with regard to assistants. Cloutier is expected to join the team once the two sides come to an agreement on a contact, but the futures of Craig Hartsburg and Clint Malarchuk have yet to be decided. I think it would be pretty awful for the Flames to fire Hartsburg after he was rumoured to be a candidate for the head coaching job but it wouldn't surprise me if Hartley wanted to compose his own staff, especially with his old friend Feaster as his boss.
Another actually came courtesy of Kent Wilson in the comments. He mentioned that the style of game Hartley's teams played in Hershey was so boring that "other coaches, fans, and pundits complained bitterly about it," but that maybe that was the only way he could win with that roster. I'm wondering if that can also be applied to the Flames, and if the team just isn't skilled enough at either end the way it is currently set up to play a more wide-open, exciting style of game.
Earlier this week, Flames Assistant GM John Weisbrod announced that the team would not sign defensive prospect Joey Leach to an entry-level deal by today's deadline to sign players drafted out of junior in 2010. I am of the opinion that this isn't necessarily a big loss for the Flames if the powers that be evaluate him as not having a high enough ceiling (he was projected as a bottom-pairing defender with mobility issues), and that the team might be able to secure a player closer to his peak age through a trade or free agency, or that maybe they feel the need to prioritize some players that they perceive as having a higher upside over others due to the NHL's 50-contract limit, which is probably the most likely scenario.
Other Flames prospects from the 2010 draft include Max Reinhart (signed to an entry-level deal last summer), Michael Ferland (also signed), Patrick Holland (traded to Montreal in the Rene Bourque deal), John Ramage and Bill Arnold, who will remain Flames property unless the team decides not to sign them 30 days after they graduate college and/or relinquish their NCAA eligibility.
That's about all for today, seeing as it is now June and coming up to my favourite time of the off-season, M&G is about to go into full NHL Draft overload. You've all been warned.