Flames Coaching Contender: Craig Hartsburg



On Monday afternoon, Ottawa Sun columnist Bruce Garrioch’s Twitter lit up with a seemingly befuddling post.

The implication being that it’s a bit crazy that one of two survivors of the Calgary Flames coaching purge (along with goaltending guru Clint Malarchuk) would be considered for the vacant head coaching position. After all, as associate coach, Hartsburg was the de facto second-in-command to Brent Sutter, running practices on days Sutter was unavailable (or on days that practices were optional).


Moreso than perhaps any other contender for the job, Craig Hartsburg brings three things to the table: professional hockey experience, coaching experience and familiarity with the Calgary Flames.

Hartsburg played professional hockey for over a decade in the World Hockey Association and the National Hockey League, spending the bulk of his career with the Minnesota North Stars before retiring following the 1988-89 season. He spent seven years as team captain and immediately joined the North Stars as an assistant coach once he hung up his skates.

Since then, Hartsy has been a bit of a traveller. He’s been an assistant coach in Minnesota, Philadelphia and Calgary. He’s also been a head coach with the OHL’s Guelph Storm and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the WHL’s Everett Silvertips and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators, as well as won a pair of gold medals coaching Team Canada at the World Juniors. Nobody in the race has a coaching resume with as much experience on it as Craig Hartsburg. He was also the OHL’s coach of the year in 1995.

Finally, Hartsburg has a lot of familiarity with the Flames due to his experience this year. The Flames boasted a revolving door line-up during the season and, ostensibly in charge of the defenders, Hartsburg instilled a decent amount of consistency in a group that included such notables as Joe Piskula and Clay Wilson at times. Usually missing one or two consistent NHL bodies, he made due and ensured that the Flames weren’t a horribly porous group.


Sadly, almost every “positive” point that Craig Hartsburg has can also be turned into a negative.

He had a tonne of NHL experience, true, but I’m not totally sold that NHL experience is a pre-requisite for being a good coach. Being a good coach is a pre-requisite for being a good coach. Here’s where I get a bit antsy with putting him in charge – he’s never shown that he’s a great as the main guy at the NHL level. He’s had some strong results as a junior coach, but his only coaching award came almost 20 years ago. In a sports world that’s very “what have you done for me lately?” it’s hard to trade on accomplishments that were so long past.

Finally, while Hartsburg admirably coached a defensive core that featured a lot of “not quite ready for NHL” players, he never really seemed to get a handle on the group once it got healthy. Even before the injuries became a concern, the back-end never really contributed offensive support the way many hoped it would, which seemingly put more pressure on the Flames’ forwards to get the job done.

Calgary’s blueliners scored 25 goals, 9 of them on the power-play. Only two defenders scored more than 2 goals (Bouwmeester and Giordano), and shockingly both of them were fixtures on the man advantage. Five-on-five, Calgary’s back-end players generally didn’t contribute a heck of a lot of offense, and the ones that did (Derek Smith and T.J. Brodie) were very sheltered in terms of their minutes and opposition.


Hiring Craig Hartsburg is not a risky move, but it’s not a particularly bold one, either. It’s a status quo hiring. The Flames players are familiar with Hartsburg, and he with them, but he’s also one of the voices that they seemingly tuned out at various points last year. The defensive players are unlikely to be all that different next season, but does retaining Hartsburg send the message that team management doesn’t think that how they performed was disappointing?

In a lot of ways, putting Hartsburg in the big chair would be like hiring Brent Sutter again. Both were very good junior coaches that had some disappointing results at the NHL level. That said, Sutter had a better coaching resume than Hartsburg did before arriving in Calgary, and the Flames core has already had a year to adjust to Hartsburg’s methods. If the point of getting a new coach is to take the team out of its comfort zone in an effort to get more out of the group, it’s unclear what the point of promoting the associate coach would be.

But if Flames management thinks that Sutter’s message and style was generally correct and that the main problem was Sutter himself, Craig Hartsburg is probably the right man for the job.

  • Colin.S

    I’d be VERY VERY against a Hartsburg hiring, might as well just pencil us in for the 8-10 spot in the draft right away. He’s nothing special and his record with teams pretty well says it all. Not even a .500 coach through his career. Maybe he is a great Associate coach, but as a head coach, no thanks.

    I think there are better options in Ward, Sullivan or Hartley.

  • Colin.S

    What a dull, witless move that would be. They should learn their lesson from th ePlafair experience. Promoting the assistant almost never works. Sure hope this is not true. Thankfully, the source of the rumor means it’s almost certainly NOT true.

  • Ditto with all of the above. This would be like eating a hamburger plain. He’s probably a real good guy & be a safe bet to keep that dressing room the status quo. This happens & there will be screams for blood at a higher level.

  • Colin.S

    If the Flames wanted to see what Craig Hartsburg had to offer they should have fired Brent during the season and named Hartsburg interim coach, with the knowledge that he could be back or he could be replaced.

  • T&A4Flames

    Here is where it makes sense to me; if I’m correct, I think both Hartsburg and Ward are under contract for the next 2 years. Promote Hartsburg and let Ward continue to develop the kids. In 2 years, Hartsy’s gone and Ward is promoted to keep with the new core. In fact, firing Hartsburg after 1 season to give an early promotion to Ward wouldn’t hurt the Flames pocket book too much either.

    • Derzie

      Hiring a coach with the intent of firing him ranks somewhere between incredibly daft and incredibly stupid. Especially if you have the Flames reputation with coaches.

      • T&A4Flames

        So… it should be a perfect fit for the Flames.

        Seriously though, it doesn’t have to be with the intention of firing him. It just opens up possibilities. They hired him in the first place. They must have seen something in him.

        • RexLibris

          what they saw in Hartsburg I’m sure is that he could help with Jay Bouwmeester. Sure, Harty put up somewhat (read: substantially) better numbers than Bouwmeester over his career, but maybe they thought he could resurrect JBo’s offensive game. That’s what I thought the moment he was hired last summer, anyway.

          • Derzie

            What happened was that for the 1st since Darryl Sutter gave up the coaching reins was that a Flames head coach was allowed to hire his own staff instead of being told who his staff was going to be. Brent had a long history with Hartsburg and knew he could trust and work with him. Feaster took Brent for his word and let Brent make the hire.

  • RexLibris

    “It’s a status quo hiring.”

    Not that I’m going to start jumping to conclusions about what else Feaster has in store for the Flames this summer, but this quote alone must have the skins of some Flames fans here crawling.

    I’m at a loss as to what kind of coach the Flames should hire. They need someone who can do well with veterans but also can inject some youth into a lineup. Someone who understands that certain players need to be sheltered in zone starts. Someone, according to Darren Dreger, who can “bend” to management’s perspective.

    I’m reminded of the show “Community” where the faculty are trying to come up with a perfectly inoffensive, innocuous, politically correct, ethnically and gender neutral mascot.

    They decide upon the Greendale Human Being.

    Maybe that does sound like Hartsburg?

  • Derzie

    @ Mark S

    • I agree, if the Flames were interested in Hartsburg, they would have fired Sutter as head coach sometime during last season and made him the ” interim” coach and then remove the “interim ” tag once the season was completed.

    • I believe that Feaster and Weisbrod have another candidate in mind other than Hartsburg.

  • RexLibris

    Please no!! All I remember about Hartsburg coaching in the NHL was the disaster in Ottawa. So no thank you.

    Although, don’t put anything past the Flames, Knowing the history of the Flames, this is a sad butpossible hiring. Status quo.

  • RexLibris

    Yes, Hartsburg is a seasoned coach at various levels, but the big con for me is that he never sticks with an organization. I know coaches are hired to be fired (allegedly), but there must be a variety of reasons why teams haven’t kept him around longer than a season or two. It’s like a regular business looking to hire staff. Are you really going to hire the “experienced” person who has worked at 12 different places in the past 3 years?

    I am aware of the “popular” candidates for Flames coach as promoted by the media…but I’ll throw out a name just because I think he’s being underestimated and overlooked…just like when he played the game. ADAM OATES.

  • Graham

    Just as Feaster was prehired to replace Sutter, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hartsburg ws prehired to replace Coach Sutter.
    After all, status quo moves are what the Flames do best….

    I think the Flames should pass on Hartsburg, and find someone from outside the organization.

  • Graham

    any coach who has jeff carter, your star junior player on the bench to start overtime in game seven at home after blowing a 3 zip series lead only to lose isnt a good coach. that my friends was hartsies brilllant coaching move while with the hounds. to lose four straight is one thing, to have your star player sitting to start ot in game seven, moronic. needless to say windsor scored, series over.

  • Graham

    I must say, the more I thought about it the more I am in Franko & Mark’s camp. There definitely were times that Brent lost this team last year, where there was an alleged shouting match between Feaster & Sutter. If the agenda of hiring Hartsy to replace Brent was anywhere semi accurate, Brent would have been replaced & Hartsy promoted to interim for a trial run. I do recall where the hiring of the assistants were Brents hirings. I wonder if the delay in hiring a coach can be linked to perhaps bringing in a new President of Hockey operations first. just a thought.

  • No, Just No.

    Awful, I hated hearing that he was hired as “Associate” Coach (What the hell is an associate coach anyways? does it differ at all from assistent coach or is it just a meaningless title?). I’d get visible ill if he was made head coach.