Hartley was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t

On Tuesday night, Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley ignited a proverbial firestorm when he scratched Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma for disciplinary reasons. The reigning Jack Adams winner has drawn both praise and criticism for the move, which we all first learned about mid-afternoon on Tuesday and which became official shortly before the team took the ice for the pre-game warm-up.

Praise Hartley for his gumption or criticize him for a potentially rash move, but keep one thing in mind: once it was reported that those players had been late for practice on Monday morning, he was basically painted into a corner.

He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.


Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Flames were eight points out of the playoffs with 31 games left to play. While it’s probably unrealistic to say that they have a good shot at making the post-season, it’s also probably unrealistic for a team with that much runway left in the season to throw in the towel with two months left in their schedule. For a team that’s still building itself a winning culture on and off the ice, throwing away games by benching the team’s best offensive players is rather counter-intuitive.

Heck, the Flames have healthy scratched Jakub Nakladal umpteen times this season under the auspices that they’re still trying to make the playoffs and cannot afford to try guys out. Yet they park Gaudreau, Monahan and Bouma to prove a point.

Oh, and the team is in the midst of negotiations to re-up Gaudreau and Monahan long-term, and there’s a chance that scratching them from a game down the stretch that the team needed to win could make negotiations a tad awkward. Granted, neither Gaudreau nor Monahan have arbitration rights (and the Flames would likely match any offer sheet), but if the idea is these guys are the foundation of a dynasty – stop laughing – then this isn’t the easiest way to cement that relationship.

And the argument I’m most sympathetic with is the economic one. The Flames are in the entertainment business. In a city that’s been battered by the low oil prices – and on a day where Husky gassed 400 jobs – the Flames benched two of their players with the most marquee value. A lot of folks were bound to be mad about that.

With all that said, I still think Hartley had to do it.


Last season, Hartley crowed about how easy the team was to coach. Nobody ever missed a meeting, I vaguely recall him saying on garbage bag day last season. The Flames were a beautiful thing. Birds in flight! 23+ guys working in unison.

This season? On most nights, to borrow a phrase from Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson, they look like 19 guys waiting for Johnny Gaudreau to do something. The cohesion has been spotty, at best, and the team has been really inconsistent and guilty of freelancing on several occasions. If you’re Hartley, regardless of any team rule violations, what better way is there to knock some sense into the group than benching their safety net and forcing them to rely on each other for wins rather than leaning on Gaudreau?

Furthermore, once the story broke that players were late for practice – an obvious violation of team rules – Hartley basically had his hand forced. If the hockey world knew that the team’s best players strolled in late and there wasn’t an obvious punishment, you might as well have cleaned out Hartley’s desk and driven him to the airport. He would’ve lost credibility with the fans, the media and, most importantly, the locker room. He would’ve looked complete ineffectual as a leader if there weren’t consequences.

And for a team that’s really lacked cohesion on the ice this season, you absolutely cannot have one set of rules for the team’s stars and one set of rules for everybody else. If the team is going to somehow pull themselves out of the basement and get into a playoff spot, they need to have everybody on the same page. And what better way of doing that than making an example of two guys that the team relies upon to win games (and Bouma), and doing it in a manner in which the entire hockey world knows what was going on.

At today’s practice, Hartley protested (regarding the media) “You guys are creating a tsunami in a fishbowl.”

You’re honestly telling me that one of the NHL’s most media savvy individuals, the coach that probably has a gigantic white-board full of zingers and one-liners to trot out during media availabilities (and a guy that’s worked with TSN in the past) wouldn’t know that the media would get his message across to his players for him?


Time will tell if Hartley scratching the trio was the right move or the smart move. But given the circumstances, particularly how public the rule violations became, it was a move that Hartley absolutely had to make.

  • Ari Yanover

    Yeah, with the dust all settled now, this is pretty much 100% right. Bad situation for all parties involved, but hopefully just a blip in everyone’s careers moving forward.

    I wonder what next year’s Superbowl party will be like…

    • hulkingloooooob

      Does that mean you take back your article then? Take back that “Hartley vs. Johnny” BS? I know FN is trying to create timely content but maybe next time wait for the dust to settle a little more before you jump to conclusions.

      As i see it Hartely was dammed by Flames Nation if he did, dammed by his clubs future if he didn’t. The choice is easy and I for one support Bob for his decisions.


  • everton fc

    Hartley dd the right thing. Don’t think this will happen here again. With any players…

    The team’s collective response was encouraging. Not a perfect game last evening, by any means. But a win. We have games in hand – if these three guys want to truly say they’re sorry, turn up their games another notch and get us on a winning streak that will pushy us into a wildcard spot. Perhaps hartley’s move here will be the one move of our season we all look back on as “pivotal”, if we actually, somehow, make the playoffs.

  • beloch

    It’s arguable that it would have made more sense to stagger the suspensions so that it was one player per game over three games. This would have been less likely to ensure a loss.

    However, last night they played a team that is the hilarious combination of being awful, banged up, and short key players due to a perfectly timed trade. Even if the Flames had lost last night, at least the suspensions are done with so the entire team can concentrate on the next two games, which promise to be challenging.

    Finally, the most compelling argument in favor of the suspensions is that it forced the rest of the team to find some finish. While Backlund, Bennett, and Hudler have provided some offense in addition to the suspended duo, no other forwards on the team have 20 points or more. Quite frankly, more should be expected from players like Ferland (9 pts) and Granlund (7 pts), so it was good to see them step up last night.

    Are Sean and Johnny likely to instruct their agents to hold out for an extra $1M because they were disciplined for being late? I think not.

    • Can you imagine their agents making that argument? You should pay my player more, Mr. T., because he flaunts his responsibilities to the team from time to time and you guys don’t tolerate stuff like that!

      I’ll bet I could hear Treliving and Burke laughing from the West Coast!

  • CutterMcAwesome

    i was initially pissed because i wanted to watch johhny light up the leafs… and i dont get to watch all the games anymore… It was the right thing to do… doesnt mean i wasnt upset about it.

    • FeyWest

      Not against your comment or anything, you just reminded me of something. The only thing I’ve ever been pissed about is being forced to listen to a game on the Fan960 when I have a TV to watch the game but because I have to go to a job just barely in BC it’s blacked out on Sportsnet West… Uproar over Regional Blackouts!

      Was happy to see us beat the Leaf’s but not overly excited about how they won.

  • BurningSensation

    It was perfect timing. The game was winnable without our best guys, the discipline fit the crime, and we get better disciplined players as a result for our (ultimately futile) playoff push.

    @Ryan Pike

    “but if the idea is these guys are the foundation of a dynasty – stop laughing…”

    Why would anybody be laughing? Gaudreau is a legit PPG+ scoring star, and Monahan a toolsy 30 goal scoring C with size – by anybody’s definition they would be foundational players.

  • I can’t believe I’m still reading articles and posts that are defending the players and criticizing the coach. This is the world of pro hockey. It’s a world we are privileged to observe and be entertained by, but not privy to have any participation in the organization and operation of. As armchair critics, let’s not loose sight of the fact these men earn salaries 7 to 100 times greater than Joe Average and Sally Housewife. The responsibility and accountability that is placed upon them is much greater as well. Let’s also not loose sight of the fact that they are not gods, but mere humans.

  • Craik

    If the Flames would have lost to Toronto then missed the payoffs by 2 points it would be because Bob did the right thing by sitting them. I would argue the only reason they were that close was because of the discipline instilled.

    Regardless of where they finish in the standings this year it would be worse if he hadn’t sat them.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Well, kids, buddy tells me that Hockey dropped the F-bomb while talking to his agent today. The F-bomb is arguably the worst thing a fan of a Canadian NHL team wants his or her favourite superstar to say, especially in a contract year. The F-bomb buddy reported Hockey as saying was “f” as in “fishbowl” in the context of “Calgary is a fishbowl.” Anytime a superstar decries the city he is playing in a “fishbowl,” that is the clearest indicator he wants out and out fast. Is there any other city in Canada that would plaster on the front page of one of its two main fish wrappers a photo and story about a trio of drinkies being sat down for a game because they came late to practice? Hockey has shown that he can play very well at the NHL level. He doesn’t need all the sundry crap that comes with living in a “fishbowl.” Do not be surprised if Hockey’s people in the weeks ahead make it known that their client would prefer to pursue his career in a city that has a little more going for it than trying to cook up headline news over three drunken millionaires.

    • I think you’re trolling, but I’ll agree so far as saying IF anything negative lingers for the three players further into the season, it’ll be how the media handled the situation. I’d argue that almost every other city in Canada would have had just as much coverage and just as many pushy interviewers though. Hockey players are rock stars up here and that means taking some bad with the good.

    • RKD

      Unless your buddy is Johnny’s mom…. I am not buying it. The minute this was leaked to the media it became big news and would have in most hockey cities.
      This will smooth itself out especially since both players have been treated very well by the city, organization, and it’s fans. If this is all it takes for Johnny to jump ship then he likely was not the player or person that we thought he was. Cooler heads will prevail but I don’t think Hartley survives. I can’t think of a similar incidence in the history of the organization. If it happened we never heard about it.

    • Read this article about Johnny, Mony, and Booms. There are no hints of an f-bomb. Please stop stirring the pot.


      “You have to pay the consequences,” Gaudreau said. “I think all three of us are really upset with ourselves. We want to apologize to the organization, the coaches, our team especially, and the city of Calgary and the fans. They come to watch us play every single night. For us not to show up like that and miss a game like that, it’s not professional on our part.”

      “Obviously, the other day we made a mistake,” said Monahan, an alternate captain. “It’s the first and last time that’s going to happen. We’d like to apologize to the fans especially, but also to teammates, the organization, and we’re going to get back on track and be professionals and do everything the right way from now on.

      “We’re not happy with it,” Bouma said. “We made a mistake and we’re all human. It’s disappointing that it had to happen and that everyone has to know about it, but it’s something that we’re not happy about. We’re embarrassed about it and we want to move on from it. It’s tough, for sure. We made the mistake and we have to live with the consequences of it, for sure.

      ‘Nuff said!

  • RKD

    It was a no brainer, too many organizations let players get away with things too long. They need to be strict with these guys to know that’s not acceptable. No player is above the team plus the leadership group in the dressing room also thought it was the right call. If you want to be taken seriously on the ice then you have to be taken seriously off the ice.