It was inevitable. Yes, the Flames are currently mired in an unfortunate, sad, and somewhat expected six-game losing streak. That doesn't erase everything Head Coach Bob Hartley has done ever since being hired prior to the most recent lockout season. Over the course of... let's call it two seasons, what with 2012-13 being cut in half and this season approaching the halfway mark... Over the course of the past cumulative two seasons-ish, Hartley has helped the Flames exceed expectations.
It's because of that Flames General Manager Brad Treliving has extended Hartley to a multi-year contract. This was the final year of Hartley's present deal.
Initially brought in to oversee a final push for a playoff spot that quickly went off the rails once then-General Manager Jay Feaster realized it was Not Going to Happen, Hartley has been in charge throughout the Flames' rebuild. As such, expectations for victories probably weren't high. That said, the Flames have been a surprise story this season: a team many outside Calgary assumed would be in contention for Connor McDavid has been nowhere near that level, and it's in part thanks to the coach.
The Flames currently sit with a 17-14-2 record, and haven't won a game since a 4-3 overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche back on Dec. 4, a victory that just happened to be Hartley's 400th in his career. It's an interesting time to announce an extension, but it does make some sense. The team hasn't been winning lately, but they've had some good performances in this six-game stretch. With a two-day break now and the Christmas break around the corner, now's as good a time as any to announce a bit of good news.
Because it was going to happen, and we all knew it.
Advanced stats proponents everywhere (including this blog!) have been warning the Flames aren't as good as their initial record made them appear. And at the start of the season, it was true. The Flames had one of the highest PDOs - a summation of on-ice shooting and save percentages which should average out to about 100 - in the league. This was back when the team was scoring goals at a whim. That's dropped off lately, and consequently, so has the team's PDO to something more average (the Flames currently sit at 100.6, which is still a little lucky, but not extremely so), but the team's good start still hangs over their heads, and Hartley's as well.
Here's the thing, though: watch the game, nerds. I say that as someone who wholeheartedly believes in advanced stats and occasionally writes about them. What Hartley is doing with this team isn't special according to the numbers, but since the rebuild began, the Flames' actual play has shifted dramatically. They bust ass every shift. No matter how badly they're being outplayed, they tend to realistically be in most games. And most importantly: they're a fun team to watch.
Sports are about entertainment. The Flames are fun to watch. Bob Hartley has helped make it that way. Really, the only major criticism I have about him is how he's handled Sven Baertschi (very, very poorly) (like I wasn't going to bring that tidbit up), seemingly scapegoating him and holding him to unrealistic standards while giving just about every other player in the organization a better break.
But! I digress.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>"My number one goal is to make sure there is playoff hockey in Calgary in the very near future." - Hartley</p>— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) <a href="https://twitter.com/NHLFlames/status/545353224685748224">December 17, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Note he didn't say this year. Just soon. And the way the Flames are going, it's entirely possible they'll be back in the big dance within the next few years. Sean Monahan has made amazing strides from his rookie season. Guys like Sam Bennett and Emile Poirier, who look to be surefire NHLers, haven't actually made their debuts yet. Johnny Gaudreau in general. Mikael Backlund, assuming he can get healthy again. TJ Brodie. The Flames have some of the pieces, and those pieces are growing, developing under Hartley's watch.
Also, feel free to look up north if you to see a franchise that can't hold on to a coach and how well that's working out. I mean... that's relevant. What the Flames have right now is working within the realm of realistic expectations. Why not stick with it?