Adieu, Bob Hartley

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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.

Whoops.

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.

      • KACaribou

        http://www.sportsnet.ca/960/

        He doesn’t sound like he’s lying to me. Every time Hartley hasn’t wanted to talk about something he has always just said so.

        BTW: Pinder called him just an “awful human being” this morning. Bet he didn’t say that to his face. Coward. Also ironic because Hartley went out, complimenting the media on its fairness.

        • T&A4Flames

          I don’t think he called him a terrible human being, I believe he queried if perhaps some of the players thought he was. Let’s not exaggerate things and kick a guy when he’s down.

          • KACaribou

            Hard as it is to believe, that is EXACTLY what he said. I was cycling and had the ear plugs in and heard every word.

            I was stunned by the irresponsibility.

            Pinder spent the morning piling on now that the man was fired. It stems from him being a know-it-all and in his self-centred mind it proved that he was right all along about Coach Bob.

            You’re right though, nothing worse than kicking a guy when he’s down.

            Hartley’s presser was all class.

    • freethe flames

      I heard on the radio that the Flames have asked the Leafs permission to interview Carlyle, if he gets the job might need to change teams to cheer for.

      • mk

        You and me both. That game was one of my favourites, in recent memory. That game and the final game of last year’s playoff series.

        Moving on from Hartley is the right move, but gosh am I going to miss the guy…

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      Hartley said the struggles of both the power play and penalty killing were partially to do with how many young players were on both units.

      “I look at our power play. Looking at the Sean Monahans, the Johnny Gaudreaus, the Sam Bennetts, the Dougie Hamiltons. They’re part of our younger players,” he said. “Between the Edmonton Oilers and ourselves, we probably have the two youngest power plays and with power plays and special teams, it’s all about experience.”

      “The above paragraphs taken from Hartley’s conference call today says it all for me.
      His perception of reality is skewed. He actually thinks that for the first 2 months of the year when the PP was ranked 30th that it was Bennett and Dougie’s fault, even though he had them stapled to the bench. After he started playing them the PP unit actually improved.

      This is his problem. Senility must come early in his family.

      • Ari Yanover

        Also two of those young players were the top two scorers on the entire team… So even though they were young, they had no problems scoring at even strength? But the power play was difficult for some reason?

        … Okay??

    • Reg Dunlop

      As someone who views the flames as the enemy, the thought of Calgary replacing a good coach with an upgrade like, maybe, Bruce Boudreau was freightening. Then Brian Burke came forward to calm my fears. He spouts the same old truculence garbage that Toronto endured, which has about as much relevance to today’s game as John Brophy or Bill Laforge would. Thank goodness for Burke and be sure to enjoy the next few years of high draft picks. Now, if only Dallas Eakins can be convinced to return to Alberta…

      • OtOil

        Sadly for Oil counry, no Dallas wasn’t that bad, yes the BS hype in the media around the team was. Flaming Cs would be fine with him as thier HC. Seeing Dallas win and make playoff would be a real sting to the Oil… but lets be real. Is Calgary, they get ribbons just for showing up anyways..

        • RickT

          Hey, I’m sure if the Oilers had even a sniff of the playoffs you would be fixing up that City of Champions sign of yours.

          You can have our ribbon if you want…

          • OtOil

            The City of Champions never has, and never will stand for any sports team. Its us Edmontonians who are the champions, of cancer fun runs, of red cross donations, and all that stuff that really matters.

            Of course we are not at all alone as champions. We are just tougher than the rest. You have to have that kind of fortitude when it seems like every other “canadain” has some sort of gripe, or hate on for the place that your are from, the way you choose to live your life.

            The reality is there are more people in Edmonton who don’t care about hockey at any level at all, than there are Oilersfans.

            If we didnt have to pay for Katz’s B.S. arena we could just cancel the Oilers, and spend a fracton of the money spend on a yearly month long patio/Pub/BBQ with entertainment and almost every Edmontonian would be just as happy.

            Also I don’t want your ribbons; I just want to see Nurse pound the crap out of some flame on Oilers center ice, and forget just how crazy things have become.

    • Skuehler

      Thw final chapter is not written yet. Once we see who the ne coach is, how the fares over the next few years with high expectations, and compare it to Hartley’s level of success in his next stop, then we can fully assess the wisdom of this move.

      I could see him coaching the Wild.

    • Joe Flames

      Ryan’s last paragraph sums it up perfectly. At this point in the rebuild we need a different coach. Hartley did a good job of instilling work ethic, now we need someone else to improve possession and take the next step.