Why the Flames should hire Troy Ward

Ryan Pike
May 12 2012 10:40AM

 

 

When the Calgary Flames announced that they were parting ways with head coach Brent Sutter, the hockey world was abuzz with speculation regarding what highly-touted coach would take over the job. Shockingly, among the names brought up was one that I was oddly familiar with from my two years covering the team – Abbotsford Heat coach Troy Ward.

Call it a gut feeling, but I firmly expect Troy Ward to be named Flames head coach within the next month.

It's a probable move for many reasons. The Flames brass chose him for the Abbotsford head coach position and he exceeded expectations, producing a proverbial Goofus and Gallant comparison between the complete buy-in in Abbotsford and the comedy of errors in Calgary.

The contrast becomes a bit starker when one realizes that despite being “devastated” by injuries and call-ups (as characterized by Flames general manager Jay Feaster at the post-mortem press conference), the Abbotsford Heat made the playoffs and had home ice advantage in the first round. Calgary? They're golfing.

It's also probably worth noting that Ward is the only coaching candidate that the Flames have publicly acknowledged.

AN EXPERIENCED CANDIDATE

Troy Ward has been a hockey coach for two decades. In addition to being a head coach in three different leagues, he's been an assistant coach and assistant general manager. He runs a hockey school. He's got a masters degree in sports administration.

He's got experience that goes beyond just being a "hockey guy".

THE GREAT COMMUNICATOR

In the process of putting together a profile on Ward for The Hockey Writers earlier this season, I spoke with nearly every single Flames player who spent time under him on the farm. None of them had a bad thing to say about him, and most of the players ranted and raved about the importance of structure and details on his team. Even Roman Horak, who had spent a single weekend in Abbotsford when I spoke with him.

Not only was Ward praised by his players for his strategies, but also for his ability to talk straight to them. Several players noted their respect for Ward partially stemmed from his willingness to speak honestly and clearly about what players needed to do to improve. Not coincidentally, the Heat produced a lot of NHL-ready players under Ward.

THE PROJECT MANAGER

Moreso than possibly any other Flames coach in recent memory, including head coaches, Troy Ward was able to manage a whole lot of wacky projects. His major issue was balancing the competitive edge of the club - helping the Heat win games - with the need to allow Flames prospects to develop into NHL-ready players by putting them in a wide array of situations. But Ward also had a few side projects:

Krys Kolanos made the Heat on a try-out, despite missing a year of hockey due to a hip injury. He still had a few of his old “offense-first” habits, though, and Ward spent the year trying to break them.

The Heat juggled four goaltenders over the year, including balancing ice-time for Leland Irving and the surprisingly strong Danny Taylor. He also worked around finding ice-time for Henrik Karlsson (on a conditioning stint) and Joni Ortio when both were on the roster.

Akim Aliu, he of a checkered reputation and boisterous energy, represents perhaps Ward's biggest triumph. Told to cut his hair and completely change his mindset upon arriving in Abbotsford, Aliu embraced two-way hockey to the point where he was given a call-up to Calgary at the end of the season.

THE GUTS TO DO IT HIS WAY

Arguably the single biggest positive about Troy Ward is his “my way or the highway” stance. Ward has a very specific notion of how his team should play and behave and, when players fall short of that benchmark, they get punished.

Ryan Howse remained overweight after training camp and was sent home for a month to learn about nutrition and dropped the weight. He re-joined the club and after toiling in the Heat's bottom-six for awhile, he was rewarded with spot duty in more offensive situations.

After a particularly lousy game from his club, Ward sat five veteran players (including AHL All-Star Kolanos) and barred them from the building for the next game. The move helped the Heat snap their losing streak at that point. Ward sat key players throughout the season and playoffs for poor performance, including both Aliu and Kolanos.

THE LOGICAL CHOICE

It's often said that the first step towards solving a problem is admitting that you have one. The Calgary Flames have a problem. They have missed the playoffs for the past three years and haven't won a playoff round in eight years. Moreso, their veteran core has been accused of floating and inconsistency under a bunch of different coaches.

With all due respect to Roger Millions' latest column for Sportsnet, where he noted that Calgary may not be the most enticing option for free agent coaches, I think he's missing the point. Bringing in another established NHL coach is a band-aid solution. It glosses over the systemic flaws in Calgary.

Bringing in Troy Ward not only sends a message to the NHL that the Calgary Flames are aware that they have a problem and are taking steps to solve it, but also tells the players the same thing.

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Now in his fourth season covering the Calgary Flames and the NHL, Ryan Pike is a Calgary native and FlamesNation's managing editor. He's trying to keep his head up, his stick on the ice and is giving it 110% every shift. You can also find his work at The Hockey Writers and the Wrestling Observer.
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#1 Sincity1976
May 12 2012, 11:38AM
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Brent Sutter was a communicator. One of his top strengths. He also had the courage to do things his way. Iginla playing in a checking role. Stajan, Babchuk, Sarich, etc all benched or limited ice time. Sutter also dealt with projects. Jokinen's transformation coming top of mind. Glencross is another.

But is that what the Flames need? I don't think having a sit down with Iginla over dinner is going to get the response that is needed. I think Iginla and company eat Ward up.

If the Flames go young I can see Ward as a fit. If not I think they need a Hitchcock type coach that will beat them into submission.

They may not have a lot of options. Three of their last three head coaches have publicly indicated they were treated unfairly. But Ward wouldn't be my first choice.

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#2 Reidja
May 12 2012, 11:16AM
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It would be a death sentence. For Troy's sake, I hope there is one more coach sacrificed by this team prior to his taking of the reigns.

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#3 Colin
May 12 2012, 12:34PM
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I like ward, but unless you ship off Iggy out of town he's going to end up the same way the rest of them have. This is Iggy's team, everyone knows it and doesn't matter how great of a communicator Ward is, if Iggy doesn't want to listen it's going to get ugly.

Ward can probably do what he likes, bench Iggy, 3rd line him or whatever else, but Iggy has the owners ear as well as Kings, he is their golden boy, and you can sure as hell bet that I know who the owners are going to side with and it won't be the 'easily' replaceable coach that's for sure.

If your plan is to ship off Iggy and promote a couple of the farm guys, it's a great plan, but if you are still 'going for it', get a recycled old hire for a year deal, 'go for it' and then when it doesn't work, ship off the old vets, by then ward has firmly established himself in our system and he can take over.

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#4 Miki
May 12 2012, 12:35PM
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I don't know about that. He is good coach and I would like to see him succed however we have a lots veterans can he handll them. The bigest question is are they coachable?

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#5 Kent Wilson
May 12 2012, 12:59PM
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If the Flames don't make big changes to the roster this summer, it likely doesn't matter who they hire in the short term.

The guy they get should be a coach who they see perhaps making decisions post-Iginla/Kipper.

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#6 Justin Azevedo
May 12 2012, 01:48PM
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totally agree with sincity, and most here know my opinion on ward's value to the org.

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#7 Nolan Moore
May 12 2012, 01:59PM
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Dont think Troy Ward is the answer. Dont think he has enough experience as a head coach. One year doesnt make a coach. The Flames need a players coach not a task master. But i dont know who that would be. They are few and far between, especially those who are successful. I really liked Mike Keenan but we cant go down that road again.

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#8 Parallex
May 12 2012, 02:06PM
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Uh huh, Having read this I think I'll take a pass on Ward for Head Coach...

A: as far as I'm concerned “my way or the highway” is a terrible stance to take. Jebas, we just liberated ourselves of that stubborn mindset why would we inflict it on ourselves again?

B: If he's good at his current job why not let him keep doing the job that he's good at? Otherwise you're just sending yourself down the road that leads to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Peter_Principle

C: There are lot's and lot's of options out there. Millions article is silly. There are 30 of these jobs out there, less then that that are available. We will have no problem getting a new quality head coach so long as management is able to recognise quality when they see it.

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#9 First Name Unidentified
May 12 2012, 02:09PM
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I see most sounded off a similar opinion as mine.

For the sake of Troy's career I really hope that he is not hired as the Head coach. Although, I really like him and wish he was the Flames coach.

Iginla will eat him alive! EVen the younger players wil laugh at Ward in the locker room and ears will turn deaf faster than Boudreau can say "F@ck'.

Another coach will get fired and Calgary will become the burial ground for NHL coaches. If Brent Sutter and his hard-nosed ways didn't work out, do we really think a "kid" like Ward will be able to establish a system here that the "Core Players" will buy into?

Coaching was the least of our issues and continues to remain so. Maybe, just maybe someone like a Dale Hunter will be able to survive around here. He is the real no nonsense guy and could put up some sort of fight against Iginla.

But in the end whoever coached here will get fired in about 2 years or so anyway. Coaching is not the issue at all.

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#10 First Name Unidentified
May 12 2012, 02:17PM
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On a separate note, I'm really rooting for our Alberta boys in the Caps uniform: Beagle, Laich, Chimera, Green and Schultz.. Let's hope there is a 7th and 8th seed showdown in the finals.

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#11 gussey
May 12 2012, 05:16PM
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The one thing that looks good on Ward is that everyone seems to say good things about him. I liked brent sutter and was excited when he was hired but I never heard an interview when any of the players stated they liked playing for him. I just never had a good feeling. It would be interesting to hear from one of the players about whether brent was well thought of.

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#12 beloch
May 12 2012, 05:19PM
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I keep reading comments about how Iginla and some of the other veterans refuse to work with coaches and how they'll make the job of a new coach impossible. "This is Iginla's team", etc..

I have only seen this sort of thing in reader comments, never in a credible story written by someone with first hand experience.

Are these ugly rumors just a product of the disgruntled fan telephone-game, or does anyone actually have a link to something concrete?

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#13 please cancel acct
May 12 2012, 05:41PM
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Not sure that hiring Ward will send a message to the players and the rest of the league,that the Flames recognize their shortcomings and are trying to fix them. The mess this team is in is a result of years of poor management,that goes all the way back to Button.Ultimetely this falls on the owners shoulders.They have all tried to build this team around Iginla ,and as a result,have thrown away draft picks for role players,and the picks they did have,were wasted on character players instead of skilled ones. We,ve had good coaches including B Sutter,who almost certianly recognized that sweeping changes would be required in order to bring about a functional team instead of a dysfunctional one.Iginla having management,s ear should have never happened.The new coach will find out all too soon ,that he,s not in charge.

That,s what the rest of the league already knows as well as most of the Flames players

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#14 Kevin R
May 12 2012, 06:13PM
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@ Beloch: Listen to the interview with Brent after a loss in Columbus in November I believe it was. I think Brent had his belly full of Iginla after that one. Mike Keenan has inferred the difference of how Iginla is treated versus other players. Just need to connect the dots.

Owners have lots of $$$ so they cant be that stupid & if I owned a team that missed the playoffs & is getting totally bashed in the mainstream media & sport panels & then was told that any new coach will get eaten up by Iggy. I would say its time to deal the problem.

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#15 J
May 12 2012, 07:25PM
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Kevin R wrote:

@ Beloch: Listen to the interview with Brent after a loss in Columbus in November I believe it was. I think Brent had his belly full of Iginla after that one. Mike Keenan has inferred the difference of how Iginla is treated versus other players. Just need to connect the dots.

Owners have lots of $$$ so they cant be that stupid & if I owned a team that missed the playoffs & is getting totally bashed in the mainstream media & sport panels & then was told that any new coach will get eaten up by Iggy. I would say its time to deal the problem.

It's weird how some problems like phaneuf were quickly delt with and at any cost, and others like iggy have managed to go on forever...

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#16 Franko J
May 12 2012, 08:07PM
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Look at Darryl Sutter in LA, Hitchcock in St. Louis, Hunter in Washington, in the short term have given each team a new lease. Each one ( with exception to Sutter) was available throughout last season, however never hired by the Flames. Last season the Flames were coached by a coach who was hung out to dry and a lame duck. Too many times the management has failed miserably to actually rectify the deep lying issues and problem this team faces. Not only have the Flames wasted another season of inconsistent play and frustrating on-ice performance, off ice they get a big "F" for the inability to hire a coach who has the ability to make the product on the ice better and create an identity. Although Sutter tried, there was very few and far too many times a lack of leadership and character from the players. There weren't too many games where the players played for the coach. Not only should there be a change with player personnel in this lockeroom, but it is up to management to hire the right coach who will demand player accountability, create a winning culture, and give the players an identity.

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#17 Franko J
May 12 2012, 09:03PM
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Look at Darryl Sutter in LA, Hitchcock in St. Louis, Hunter in Washington, in the short term have given each team a new lease. Each one ( with exception to Sutter) was available throughout last season, however never hired by the Flames. Last season the Flames were coached by a coach who was hung out to dry and a lame duck. Too many times the management has failed miserably to actually rectify the deep lying issues and problem this team faces. Not only have the Flames wasted another season of inconsistent play and frustrating on-ice performance, off ice they get a big "F" for the inability to hire a coach who has the ability to make the product on the ice better and create an identity. Although Sutter tried, there was very few and far too many times a lack of leadership and character from the players. There weren't too many games where the players played for the coach. Not only should there be a change with player personnel in this lockeroom, but it is up to management to hire the right coach who will demand player accountability, create a winning culture, and give the players an identity.

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#18 Baalzamon
May 12 2012, 11:43PM
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Nolan Moore wrote:

Dont think Troy Ward is the answer. Dont think he has enough experience as a head coach. One year doesnt make a coach. The Flames need a players coach not a task master. But i dont know who that would be. They are few and far between, especially those who are successful. I really liked Mike Keenan but we cant go down that road again.

one year? The guy's been coaching since the mid 80's. He was an assistant with Pittsburgh for three years in the 90's (well after their cups, unfortunately). In the 25 years in which he's coached, he's been the head honcho 10 times.

I agree that Ward isn't the answer but please, leave the nonsense out of it. Fact checking is your friend.

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#19 RKD
May 12 2012, 11:49PM
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This has Jim Playfair written all over it. The best coach the Flames have had in the past ten years was Darryl Sutter. Even though Darryl was hired as a GM/coach, I believed he was forced to remove himself as coach. If it was his decision, then it was a bad move.

Playfair lasted one season, even though in his one season the Flames had amassed 30 home wins the team was abysmal on the road. They made the playoffs and were eliminated in the first round by Detroit.

I'm not saying Ward is Playfair, however if the players go to Feaster after one season then Jay will have no choice to remove Ward. I would be interested in what Ward brings, his 'my way or the highway' mentality won't cut it with Iggy. Just because Dale Hunter is using it with Ovechkin doesn't mean it would work here.

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#20 beloch
May 13 2012, 12:34AM
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@Kevin R

Link?

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#21 Reidja
May 13 2012, 01:40AM
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beloch wrote:

I keep reading comments about how Iginla and some of the other veterans refuse to work with coaches and how they'll make the job of a new coach impossible. "This is Iginla's team", etc..

I have only seen this sort of thing in reader comments, never in a credible story written by someone with first hand experience.

Are these ugly rumors just a product of the disgruntled fan telephone-game, or does anyone actually have a link to something concrete?

To help catch you up, please view this 2009 Darryl Sutter press conference after the firing of Mike Keenan:

http://video.flames.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=42643

The entire thing is fascinating to review but the specific moment you are looking for is right at the end (8:00) when Sutter says:

"This is a difficult group to coach obviously, there are star players here that need a special type of coach."

Regarding Kent's point, I think we need to start the make-over before we bring in the man that has the new direction.

Kent said "the guy they get should be a coach who they see perhaps making decisions post-Iginla/Kipper". I think we need to be in a post Iginla/Kipper era before we hire him.

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#22 Mitch2
May 13 2012, 08:36AM
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When is the Kipper / Iggy trade article going up ? I've been waiting for this for weeks…

: )

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#23 Kevin R
May 13 2012, 11:40AM
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@ Beloch: It was an interview on the after hours show on the Fan 960 after the Columbus game, cant remember which one, I think it was the 1st loss, will try to find it for you, not sure how to link in to those post game shows, remember listening to it on the Fan 960 when I was driving.

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#24 Frank
May 14 2012, 08:58AM
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The first response was right on. The worst thing that could happen to Ward would be to get the position. The Flames are, by far, the worst team in the NHL when it comes to (mis)managing talent. Daryl was the best coach we'd had in years, and Flames management couldnt seem to get him off the bench, and in the pressbox fast enough. I hope parades the hell out of that Stanley Cup win this year...right down the middle of the Red Mile.

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#25 RonR
May 15 2012, 12:43AM
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Well, having read all the entries so far, the trend seems to be two fold; a) either it will be a bad move by Ward because he will be eaten alive by uncoachable veteran players, most notably Iginla or b) he has not had enough experience

Of course I am a big Ward supporter, and I do disagree on both fronts. As a previous contributor just said, Ward has tremendous experience dating back over 20 years as a coach in some capacity.

This issue of uncoachable current players does not register with me. Keep in mind, there are anywhere from 6-12 players on last years roster who will not be here next year. There may well be 2-3 tough situations to get through, but these will be the minority for sure.

Furthermore, as the enthusiasm that Ward obviously brings gets more infectious, the problem situations get unnhumbred. Furthermore,

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