I’ll always remember the day the Calgary Flames hired Bob Hartley as their head coach.
Rumours were running rampant that Hartley was going to join the Montreal Canadiens as head coach, in part fuelled by a report at The Hockey Writers – where I also write about the Flames – that he had actually signed there. So it was a bit surprising, let’s say, to attend a press conference where he was unveiled as Calgary’s head coach instead.
Over the past four seasons I’ve had the chance to cover Hartley’s tenure at the helm of the Flames. After the smoke has cleared, I have a few key memories I’ll take away from the whole experience.
Bob Hartley really valued hard work. As frustrated as he seemed when his team gave less than a complete 60-minute effort – and that seemed like a common frustration this past season – Hartley also frequently emphasized the value of consistency and hard work to the development of his younger players. He also frequently, often for comedic effect, referred to his previous job working in a windshield factory and frequently referring to “playing the game the right way.”
Bob Hartley wanted things to be entertaining. Maybe it’s because he worked for RDS for a while and seemed to get how bland and cliche-filled sports journalism can be, but Hartley seemed hell-bent on getting one really great quote out of each media availability. Heck, the media throng speculated that there was likely a white-board in the coaches’ office filled with one-liners Hartley was working on. He also frequently mentioned how important the fans were to the entire enterprise, and perhaps his insistence on maintaining a wacky media presence was to spare the fans from having to read generic quotes all the time. (It’s a bit ironic that this approach coincided with Boring Sean Monahan, but I disgress.)
Finally, Bob Hartley was really passionate about hockey. His tenure saw that passion spill out at times in memorable ways. A handful of occasions come to mind:
- January 18, 2014: Facing off against John Tortorella’s Vancouver Canucks, Hartley infamously iced an opening line-up of Chris Butler, Ladislav Smid, Brian McGrattan, Kevin Westgarth and Blair Jones, inducing Tortorella to ice his own goon squad to kick off the game. The result?
- February 11, 2016: During the wild 6-5 shootout win in San Jose, which saw Karri Ramo knocked out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Hartley so angrily contested a slashing call to Mikael Backlund – with the Flames already short-handed – that he was tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
- Finally, a bit more of a personal memory: Deryk Engelland scored two goals last season in a game against Dallas that the Flames lost via shootout. Following the game, I inquired whether he had been tempted to use Engelland in the shootout. Hartley’s response was a bewildered chuckle and four words: “Let’s not push it.” (Though I missed the next couple practices due to other commitments, Hartley was reportedly heard to joke about the suggestion afterwards.)
Hartley usually could be relied upon for a good quote. He was occasionally enlightening, particularly about the growth of his younger players. He was often, particularly with his deployments and tactics, frustrating. He was an old school coach in an increasing new school world, occasionally defending actions or decisions under the nebulous umbrella of “coaches’ intuition” and relying on a punch/counter-punch system in a league that increasingly relies upon puck possession to win games.
He was a steward for the organization’s younger players during a really crucial four-year period that saw the team transform from a veteran-laden underachiever to a team full of young stars just waiting to take the next step (with a year as a bounces-driven overachiever in-between). Based on the last 12-or-so months of his coaching, it became readily apparent (both to the analytics community and Flames management) that they’d need a new face behind the bench to take that next step.
You were the coach the Flames deserved as they slogged through a rebuild that was arguably 3-4 years too late. But now that the youngsters have matured, you’re not the coach they need anymore. So we bid you adieu, Bob.