Handicapping the Flames coaching candidates




Possibly the biggest question mark in this off-season regards the eventual hiring of a new head coach. For fans wringing their hands over the prospect of the Flames finally entering a post-Sutter era and hoping for a definitive split from the past coaching and management philosophies, which coach is brought in is crucial to instilling a new direction.

Ultimately, one handicapping the race has to look at three things:

First and most obvious, is the candidate a good enough coach at some level that he would be worthy of being an NHL bench boss?

Second would Flames general manager Jay Feaster trust the new guy enough to give him the reigns of the team’s new direction? This doesn’t necessarily mean that Feaster is going to delve into his past and pull out whichever former Tampa Bay associate that would be willing to move up north. But considering that Feaster himself has said that this is his chance to put his stamp on the Calgary Flames, whoever is chosen will have to have the GM’s blessing to do what is necessary to move the club in the right direction. 

Finally, even if the prospective coach is capable and Jay Feaster loves them to death, would he be willing to leave whatever current position he has to leap into the proverbial fire here in Calgary?

The Candidates


Currently: Head coach of the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires

Credentials: Boughner spent 630 games in the NHL, playing for the Sabres, Flames, Predators, Penguins, Hurricanes and Avalanche. When he was with the Flames, he served as co-captain (with Flames assistant-to-the-general-manager Craig Conroy). After retiring, he joined the Windsor Spitfires as coach – a position he’s served in all-but-one of the intervening years. (The year he wasn’t with Windsor, he was an assistant coach for Columbus). He’s coached the Spitfires to two Memorial Cups.

Feaster Factor: No direct link between Boughner and Feaster, but he does have a history with Craig Conroy and the Flames franchise.

Willingness To Move: Boughner’s still rather new at coaching and has only the one year (with Columbus) as a pro coach. That year didn’t turn out very well, and may sour him to jumping back into the bigs if it’s not the ideal situation for him. He’s going to be in demand throughout the NHL due to his coaching record, so he’ll probably have plenty of opportunities.


Currently: Head coach of the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings

Credentials: Clouston has been a head coach continuously since 2002. He’s got experience with the Kootenay Ice (WHL), Binghamton Senators (AHL) and the Ottawa Senators. He had one good year, one bad year and one half-year with the Senators before returning back to the WHL, this time with Brandon.

Feaster Factor: Clouston has no direct connection with Feaster, although the Flames have seen a lot of his work while watching prospect Michael Ferland develop.

Willingness To Move: Clouston is a really good junior coach, but has uneven results in the pro ranks. That said, the Flames are definitely familiar with his work by now and if he’s asked to make the jump, he’d probably at least listen to their offer.


Currently: Head coach of the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, the Lightning’s top affiliate

Credentials: Cooper has been head coach in three different pro leagues. He coached the NAHL’s St. Louis Bandits, the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers and the AHL’s Admirals. His teams have never finished worse than 13 games over .500 and he won a championship with Green Bay in 2010. Moreover, he lead the Norfolk club to an unheard-of 29 game winning steak. Copper was also named AHL coach of the year in April.

Feaster Factor: Besides the fact that he’s currently coaching Tampa’s farm team, there is no direct connection between Feaster and Cooper.

Willingness To Move: His resume certainly merits consideration, but he’s in his second season with the Admirals and may wish to hang onto his current job for a bit longer. Plus, Tampa Bay may see him as the logical successor to head coach Guy Boucher and may not allow another organization to snatch him away.


Currently: head coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs’ top affiliate

Credentials: Eakins was a late, late, late (10th) round draft pick that somehow managed to stay a professional hockey player for the better part of 16 years. Since retiring, he’s joined the Leafs organization as a coach. He was an assistant for the Marlies and Leafs, and has been the bench boss of the Marlies for three seasons.

Feaster Factor: Eakins has no connection to Feaster.

Willingness To Move: The farm is usually the first place to look for a replacement when you fire your NHL coach, so it may have miffed Eakins when Randy Carlyle was hired from the outside to replace Ron Wilson. Consequently, the Flames may not have a huge desire to snatch Eakins away. In three years behind the AHL bench, he’s made the playoffs just once.

BONUS – Jason Gregor recently interviewed Eakins in depth for OilersNation.


Currently: Assistant coach with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins

Credentials: the brother of Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Cammi Granato, Tony spent over 700 games in the NHL with the Rangers, Kings and Sharks. He has nine years behind the bench in the NHL, including two and a half as a head coach with Colorado.

Feaster Factor: no connection

Willingness To Move: Unclear. On one hand, Granato has NHL experience and is behind Dan Bylsma in the Penguins pecking order. On the other hand, he was probably not overly thrilled with the clown show that was the Colorado coach situation when he was there and is likely waiting for a good situation. At present, he’s well-positioned to take over if Bylsma is suddenly found without work.


Currently: Head coach for ZSC Lions in Switzerland’s National League A

Credentials: Hartley has a great deal of experience. He’s been a head coach in the QMJHL, the AHL and the NHL. Consequently, he’s also won championships in those three leagues, including a Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Avalanche.

Feaster Factor: Hartley was head coach of the Hershey Bears back when Feaster was running that team. He’s also the god-father of Feaster’s son.

Willingness To Move: Hartley is an NHL veteran who has Stanley Cup pedigree and is likely pretty set on re-establishing himself in the NHL. That said, he’s also got a nice gig going on in Switzerland – the league is so small that teams usually sleep at home – and reportedly there’s no "out clause" in his contract.


Currently: Assistant coach with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues

Credentials: Shaw spent over 300 games in the NHL (with the Whalers, Senators, Capitals and Blues). Near the end of his pro career, he spent time as a player-coach with the Detroit Vipers. After retirement, he was head coach with the IHL’s Vipers, the AHL’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and briefly with the NHL’s New York Islanders. He also has experience as an assistant with the Isles, Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues, where he’s been for five seasons.

Feaster Factor: served as an assistant with Tampa Bay for the 1999-2000 season, where he was hired (in part) by Jay Feaster.

Willingness To Move: Extremely experienced and well-respected in hockey circles, Shaw has frequently been discussed in recent years as one of the most deserving assistant coaches in terms of a promotion. He’s also been extremely patient. However, the recent hiring of Ken Hitchcock over an internal candidate like Shaw in St. Louis may cause the latter to look elsewhere for employment. Either way, Shaw’s going to have a few offers on the table should the Blues allow other teams to approach him.


Currently: Assistant coach with the NHL’s New York Rangers

Credentials: drafted by the Rangers in 1987, Sullivan carved out a 700+ game NHL career with the Sharks, Flames, Bruins and Coyotes. After retiring, the defensive specialist became a coach. He has been an assistant with the Bruins, Lightning and Rangers, as well as a head coach with the AHL’s Providence Bruins and the big-league Bruins.

Feaster Factor: Sullivan worked as an assistant with the Lightning in 2007-08, where he was hired by Jay Feaster.

Willingness To Move: John Tortorella is now firmly entrenched in Manhattan and if Sullivan harbours head coaching ambitions, he may need to leave the Rangers. Sullivan played three and a half seasons in Calgary and knows the area and organization, and he has recent head coaching experience. He had a good year and a bad year with Boston, and the post-lockout Bruins club he coached simply wasn’t good. That could work for or against him.


Currently: Head coach of the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, the Flames’ top affiliate

Credentials: Ward has coached continuously since he finished college. He’s been behind a bench for 20+ seasons, which includes being an assistant with the University of Denver (NCAA), Indianapolis Ice (IHL), Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL), University of Wisconsin (NCAA), Houston Aeros (AHL) and Abbotsford. He’s also been a head coach with the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL), Trenton Titans (ECHL) and Victoria Salmon Kings (ECHL).

Feaster Factor: Ward and Feaster joined the Flames organization at roughly the same time (Feaster was named Assistant GM on July 8, Ward as assistant coach on the farm on July 16). However, Ward was hired as Abbotsford head coach by Feaster directly and the Flames GM has been rather vocal about the success of the farm team and its coach.

Willingness To Move: After years of coaching at various levels, Ward has been very honest with media about his desire to coach in the NHL. However, the Calgary Flames may not want to upset the apple cart on the farm – with the top affiliate finally successful for the first time since the Saint John Flames days, do they want to pluck the coach for the NHL club?


There are obviously lots of potential bodies to fill the Flames vacant position. It’s no wonder the team hasn’t been to quick to replace the departed Brent Sutter given the wide range of options (some of whom are still active in their current positions). As the post-season winds down across the NHL and AHL, we may see this long list begin to get narrowed down.

  • icedawg_42

    1.) Shaw
    2.) Granato
    3.) Hartley

    I’d put Ward as high as 1, 1b, however I REALLY want him to stay with abbotsford. The guy is working miracles (Howse is actually being described as useful) and is using his big lineup in creative and very well executed ways. Maybe tell Ward if the new guy doesn’t cut it the job is his in 2 years. That way Ward can develop a lot of the guys that could make up the Roster in two years and make a nice transition to Head Coach, have some familiarity with the lineup.

  • I agree that the Flames bench boss may not be immediately relevant given the state of the roster.

    That said, a great coach can have a profound effect on a team’s performance. Dan Byslma is one of the primary reasons the Penguins are so good right now, even outside of their wealth of great players for instance.

    So I don’t think it’s naive to be interested in the coaching search or to hope the Flames land a good one.

  • Mitch2

    No Bill Barber ?

    Won the Jack Adams and the Feaster Factor is high as they worked together in TB. Currently in scouting with the Flyers I believe, he is getting old though…

  • everton fc

    Ward will get scooped soon if the organization doesn’t move soon. So will Cooper.

    Cooper is another great young coach… Wins everywhere. Seems a decent guy.

    I’d like to see Ward get a shot. I really would.

  • everton fc

    Ward will get scooped soon if the organization doesn’t move soon. So will Cooper.

    Cooper is another great young coach… Wins everywhere. Seems a decent guy.

    I’d like to see Ward get a shot. I really would.

  • RonR

    Some good candidates have been identified, Cooper in particular has done a very good job with Norfolk.

    However, I just don’t see how you can place Ward anything less than the favourite at this point.

    Great resume, familiarity with the younger Flames players, seems to have an ability to get production out of “projects”, players will go thru the wall for him. He seems to be able to get the most out of his men. No other candidate has this degree of familiarity with the younger players.

    Look at the current run he has the Heat on – 11 straight wins, a win tomorrow, and they are probably in the final 8.

    I read a few people say they believe a year or two before he should be given the top job with the Flames. I have also read, and agree with the point that if he is not the top job at the Flames within 12 months, he will be our opponent.

    There is no doubt what I would do.

  • everton fc

    I’m wondering what you guys think of Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal? He one the Kelly cup with the ECHL Idaho Stealheads. Also, he has been successful in Edmonton. I’m just wondering if he’s one of those coaches who is ready to make the jump.

  • loudogYYC

    I’m gonna look like an as**ole for saying this, but why is everyone so hyped about Ward? He’s a rookie pro coach that uses the trap and had the luxury of AHL depth this season. NHL depth is what the Flames are lacking and the trap is beat with skill and speed. Feaster has already stated he wants a team built on speed, hockey IQ and skill so I just don’t see how Ward’s current run of success would be replicated at the highest level.

    I actually like the guy as the farm coach, way more than I liked Playfair. He seems to understand the players well and by the way Nemisz, Howse and Aliu are playing it looks like they get him too.

    If Feaster and co. are looking at taking a few more risks next season, my guess is they’ll probably want a little more experience behind the bench. I say Sullivan, Shaw or even better McLellan if he gets canned in the next week or so.