Sometimes, differentiating between good coaching and bad
coaching can be difficult. How much of a teams success can be directly credited
to its bench boss and how much of it comes as a result of the talent and
ability of the players actually playing the game?
I’d reckon the latter weighs far more in the grand scheme of
things than the former. However, in some cases, a coach can single-handedly be
responsible for his players playing to the full of their abilities and thus be
a major factor in their teams success.
That’s why coaches of surprise teams often win the Jack
Adams trophy, and that’s why it’s simply ludicrous to even suggest Bob Hartley
shouldn’t be a finalist for the this year’s award.
Sometimes, having a beast lineup can cover up the
insignificance of a coach to that team.
Sure, Mike Johnston is “officially” the head coach of the
Pittsburgh Penguins, but what do you really think the “C” on Sidney Crosby’s
sweater stands for? Point is, that team would play more or less the same way and
overwhelm teams with their offensive prowess regardless of Mike Johnston being
behind the bench or a Beanie Baby taking his place.
Would the Calgary Flames come back from 4 goals down in the
3rd period of Sunday’s game against Ottawa if it were anyone besides Bob
Hartley in that locker room motivating them? Probably not, because Hartley has
made a connection with this group of players that exceeds that of any
professional relationship – he’s one of them. He’s not simply a figurehead;
he’s their leader.
While I’m not calling Joel Quenneville a bad coach by any
stretch of the imagination, the Chicago Blackhawks have been a completely
different team without Patrick Kane in the lineup, scoring under 2 goals a game
– a number unheard of in the Windy City since the Kane/Toews era began. It’s
Quenneville’s job as head coach to get the most out of his lineup – which is
still ridiculously stacked even without Kane – but to this point has been
unable to do it.
The defendants will come in droves with arguments like “what
kind of team wouldn’t fall off when their best players is injured, it’s not the
coaches the fault!”
What team? Hmm. The Calgary Flames perhaps? Mark Giordano’s significance
to the Calgary Flames exceeds even that of Kane’s to Hawks, yet the Flaming C
has yet to fall off. Sure, they’re stretched to the max on the blueline and
still playing #UnsustainableHockey, but Bob Hartley – like he’s done all year –
has managed to get the absolute max out of the lineup he’s been given to work
Yeah, But Possession
While not an expert in the advanced stats field, I do
consider myself to be a proponent of them and value their relevance to the
game, but at this point they mean absolutely nothing in regards to the play of
the Calgary Flames, in my opinion at least.
The Flames don’t get buried possession wise because they’re
bad defensively per se, I’d suggest they’re one of the best defending teams in
the league, systematically. Instead, it’s because they force opponents to shoot
a lot from the perimeter, racking up a lot of Corsi and Fenwick events against
without allowing terribly large scoring threats against to generate. I’m sure
lots of people disagree with that because negative Corsi is negative Corsi, but
shot and scoring chance quality is just as, if not more, important.
Since both Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller are extremely
competent goaltenders and can deal with shots from 20 feet out, allowing a
bunch of low quality, low percentage shots against isn’t all that big of a deal.
Heck, I could probably deal with shots from that far out. Okay, maybe not, but you
get my point.
So while the Flames get “buried” possession wise every
night, they’re not getting completely dominated and are not escaping every game
by the skin of their teeth (although those types of Houdini acts still happen
from time to time).
The system Bob Hartley and Jacques Cloutier have designed for
this team has worked exceedingly well, and is crafted perfectly for the group of the
guys on this roster. There are no big names in this lineup outside of Mark
Giordano, yet they play their positions and roles perfectly and mesh together
to form a rather formidable unit. Point Hartley.
Not A Flash In The
Bob Hartley isn’t suddenly a good coach. He didn’t just
visit howtohockey.com and learn how to turn the fourth worst team in the
National Hockey League last season into a playoff contender with little roster
turn over (albeit the changes that did occur were pretty significant).
If you recall, Bob Hartley is responsible for taking the
Atlanta Thrashers to the playoffs. Yeah, the Atlanta freaking Thrashers – otherwise
known as the SS Clusterfuck. That in itself deserves a lifetime achievement
Before that, Hartley won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado
Avalanche but naturally that’s dismissed because the team was stacked and
winning one of the most prestigious trophies in sport means nothing unless your
team sucks and you pull a Cinderella Story out of your butt. But that Avs team had
to go through the Detroit Red Wings and the New Jersey Devils that year, who
accounted for 3 of the 4 Cups won between 2000 and 2003. The 4th
Cup in that time frame was in fact won by Hartley and the Avalanche. So yes,
the team was stacked, but it was no cakewalk to the championship.
Fast-forward to post-Atlanta, Hartley took up an offer to
coach the Zurich Lions in the Swiss League and won a Championship in his first
season, this time with an underdog team so it actually counts.
Point is, Hartley has had not only tangible success at every
single professional level he’s coached at, but actually has championship rings
at all three levels of pro hockey – also collecting a Calder Cup ring with Jay
It’s not an accident he’s doing what he’s doing with the
Calgary Flames. The man deserves all the credit he’s gotten. He managed to put
out a house on fire and turn it into a desirable little bungalow in near record
time. It’s now up to management to build into a two-story house and eventually
a tower, but Hartley has done his part to lay the foundation.
But There Are Better
Sure, there are other candidates, but I’m not sure you’ll find many better candidates than Bob Hartley, this
What Jon Cooper has done in Tampa Bay is impressive, but he
also has one of the best scorers in the NHL in Steven Stamkos, a Top 10 scorer
in Tyler Johnson and a Vezina caliber goaltender in Ben Bishop. It could very well
be a case of “great team masking average coach.” The award that should be going
to Tampa Bay is Executive of the Year, because Steve Yzerman is a wizard and a
Gerard Gallant has done well in Florida in his inaugural
season there, but that team hasn’t done much outside of stay within striking
distance of the Wild Card spot. If they actually find a way in, then we can
discuss this matter in more detail, because that roster is also pretty
unimpressive. Dave Cameron in Ottawa is in the same boat.
Jack Capuono in New York has been impressive, and along with
Peter Laviolette, would form my duo to fill out the nomination card with Hartley.
While both Capuono and Laviolette have superstars on their roster (Tavares and
Weber + Rinne, respectively), the rest of their roster is much like the
Flames’: young and unheralded.
In the end, as far as I can see, the only tangible way to judge
coaches is by what they do with the quality of roster they have, and so making
the playoffs with a less-than-sexy looking squad should earn you that
nomination. Especially when that squad was prognosticated to eat more dust than
even the noted dust eaters up north, in Edmonton, by nearly everybody.
I asked my followers on Twitter for some issues they still
had with Bob Hartley to see if I could try and debunk the remaining beef some
still had with him and his coaching.
Popular anti-Hartley arguments included “his player usage is
bad” and “mishandling young guns”.
Well, first off, who are we to judge his player usage? Yeah,
Brandon Bollig is hot garbage but when you play the Boston Bruins, who
individually share the average weight of a small airplane, you need some beef
in your lineup to either deter, or defend your munchkins from getting bullied.
That’s my philosophy, at least, and from a logic standpoint, most people won’t
be taking reckless exceptions on guys like Gaudreau if they know they’ll have
to answer to it with fist tossing. It’s not a Brian McGrattan level deterrent,
but it’s something.
As for the usage of the young guys, we’re not privy to what
happens at practice and behind closed doors. If we found out Player X had a few
lousy efforts at practice and then that player got scratched, everyone would
concur “this is a performance issue, makes sense” and move on. But we don’t any
of that, so of course Twitter explodes at the idea of Favourite Youngster X
getting scratched! Johnny Hockey, Josh Jooris and others have responded in a
big way from taking a seat. The results are there, people.
The Tyler Wotherspoon situation confuses me too, though.
Another point on how he handles his young players: many a
time last season we complained about how Sean Monahan was/wasn’t being used.
He’s turned into a pretty darn dominant player at age 20, so circling back to
results, that’s the only argument needed.
Sven Baertschi not responding to the treatment like everyone
else makes him the outlier, not the rule.
In summary, what Bob Hartley’s Calgary Flames have done this
season is tied quite directly with the systems and culture Hartley has
implemented in the organization.
He’s taken a fairly unremarkable group of players and
crafted a system for them to succeed in. Call it luck, call it magic, what Bob
Hartley has done with the 2014-15 Calgary Flames is deserving of the Jack Adams
And if he were to win it… he’d, you know, be like, umm, uh, like
deserving of it.