This season was considered a write-off even before it began. There were doubters, skeptics, and a share of believers all season long. Among the believers, the most prominent was Bob Hartley. He's a polarizing guy; just ask about any fan base's team he's coached... or even ask John Tortorella, a man who has a history with him.
Everywhere Hartley has coached, he has found some form of success. From the Hershey Bears of the AHL, winning the Calder Cup in 1997, to coaching a powerhouse Colorado Avalanche squad to the Stanley Cup in 2000-01, championships are a part of his repertoire. Even smaller, but memorable successes like the Atlanta Thrashers' first playoff birth in 06-07 are a part of his accomplishments. In recent memory, a brief tenure in the Swiss League saw him coach the ZSC Lions to a Swiss championship.
With all that success, the one thing that eluded Hartley: the Jack Adams Trophy.
Tonight, that changed as he was named the coach of the year for 2014-15. He beat out a pair of quality coaches in Alain Vigneault and Peter Laviolette, two men who did fantastic jobs with the Nashville Predators and the New York Rangers. Both were men with cases to be made for why they should be named coach of the year.
Tonight, it's Bob's time to shine, as he took this year's Calgary Flames back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
It wasn't even just a first-round playoff birth, but a first-round victory over rival Vancouver in six games. Despite falling in five games to a formidable Anaheim team, Hartley still beat odds. He built upon the resurgence of his team from last season's second-half, and made it carry over to this season. The much talked about culture change and work ethic instilled produced results, and although it was questioned for its sustainability, it kept fans captivated.
Along the way, Hartley managed to steer the team to tying a franchise record road wins set back in their legendary 88-89 season with 22. Through tumultuous injuries, most prominent of which was captain Mark Giordano's torn bicep, Bob found a way to keep the team going. A cornerstone of the success this season was Hartley's trust in using the youth movement to energize and propel the team forward.
The adrenaline-pumping, heart-stopping suspense of third period comebacks fuelled an ignited fan base into irrational belief. For many, it was the first time in such a long time that the romanticism with this Calgary team felt real again. Despite criticism and praise, Hartley has set the bar higher and higher each year, and now, he's been rewarded for his efforts.
Now let's see what he can do next year.