Twenty-two days ago, the Calgary Flames removed Bob Hartley from his position as head coach. That vacancy has not yet been filled – although the team is still working on it, narrowing candidates down.
According to Ben Kuzma of The Province, the Flames have requested permission to speak with Vancouver Canucks Assistant Coach (and former Dallas Stars Head Coach) Glen Gulutzan, but have not inquired as to the Utica Comets’ Head Coach, Travis Green.
But on a more interesting front, Kuzma also notes the Flames seem to be at 10 or so candidates, with New Jersey Devils Assistant Coach Geoff Ward and former Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Ralph Krueger as the frontrunners.
So that’s interesting, isn’t it?
@FlamesNation think they’re tempering expectations? Today at season ticket holder lunch, Burke emphasized looking for a style & not a name.
— Tim Hamilton (@TimHamiltonYYC) May 25, 2016
Neither Ward nor Krueger are particularly sexy names, but if the Flames feel they can get the job done, then they must have good reason to.
Let’s take a look at the two guys who might just be the frontrunners for Calgary’s job opening.
Ward, 54, has been coaching since about 1992 or so. A couple of seasons are missing here and there, but that’s a solid two decades and change, so he clearly has experience in the field. He’s been a head coach in the OHL, ECHL, AHL, and DEL (where he won the league title and coach of the year award in 2014-15). Recently, he’s been an assistant coach in the NHL: from 2007-2014 with the Boston Bruins (including the year they won the Stanley Cup), and just this past season with the New Jersey Devils. (Is this where I mention the Bruins haven’t made the playoffs since he left? Hmmmmmmm.)
As Kuzma notes, Ward ran the Devils’ powerplay. With a success rate of 19.9%, it was the ninth best powerplay in the NHL, and that was coming from a team that had the worst offence in the league with just 184 goals. (Only four teams failed to hit 200.) The Devils had two 50-point scorers, and just five guys who hit the 20-point mark; David Schlemko (remember him?), with 19 points, was their sixth best scorer.
Compare that to a team that was 11th in goals for, had the sixth best scorer in the NHL, and topped out at a 17.0% powerplay (22nd in the NHL, but they were hovering awfully close to single digits for much of the first half of the season). Ward’s appeal makes sense. If he can turn Schlemko into a powerplay producer, imagine what he can do with Dougie Hamilton – who he worked with for Hamilton’s first two seasons back in Boston.
Is Ward a fit for the Flames? Of course, a lot of quotes tend to be lip service, but what he told NJ.com when the Devils first hired him just under a year ago sounds exactly like what the Flames need:
“I’m a teacher by trade and I really enjoy the challenge of building something.”
The Flames are a team itching to get out of the rebuilding phrase with a core made up of mostly young players. If Ward still holds that philosophy to heart, then he could do a whole lot worse than taking on the Flames for his first NHL head coaching gig.
And do the Flames need him? Hs long-time partner Claude Julien summed Ward up as such:
“Tactically, he’s very good. In New Jersey, he’ll help them quite a bit with the tactical point of it, because he spends a lot of time on it and he enjoys that, whether it’s five on five, power play he worked on, stuff like that.”
The Flames desperately need more structure to their game, and if Ward can bring that, then they may have a perfect match.
Plus it helps that he comes across as a very personable guy.
One other tidbit: Ward’s most recent gig was assistant coaching for Team Germany in the 2016 IIHF Championships. You know, that very same tournament where Team Canada co-General Manager Brad Treliving was supposedly “wasting his time”. The Germans finished third in Group A, above the Americans, but lost 4-1 to the Russians in the quarterfinals.
Krueger, 56, does not boast nearly the coaching resume Ward does. He did a bit of coaching in Germany/Austria back in the early 90s, was with Switzerland from the late 90s to 2010 (including coaching the Swiss in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics), and he was with the Edmonton Oilers from 2010-13: the first two seasons as an associate coach, and the final season as a head coach.
The lockout-shortened 2013 season was probably the Oilers’ best since they ladt made the Stanley Cup Final (although the whole lockout-shortening thing may have had something to do with that). It was the first time since the 2002-03 season the Oilers finished above the Flames in the standings. They weren’t even really in the running for the first overall pick! And then the Oilers fired Krueger over Skype. Some things just aren’t forgivable.
The Oilers did have reason for dismissing Krueger – but it should also be taken into account that Krueger worked under abnormal circumstances (as did, frankly, Hartley at the time; the lockout-shortened year was messy and terrible as a whole). Also that in the three seasons following Krueger’s dismissal they had three different coaches. Um, yikes? The problem may not have been Krueger after all.
Krueger had this to say when the Oilers promoted him to head coach:
“We want to be known as a hard-working team on and off the ice, a very disciplined team, and then naturally the winning will come as a by-product of that. We are not going to be focussed on winning, winning, winning to the point that it suffocates us and we squeeze our sticks. We have skill in our room that’s so exciting, and I need to find ways that their instincts can play freely in this organization, that we don’t block them with the coaching processes, and that the natural ability leads us to winning.
“The style will be a very disciplined one. We will want to attack on a very aggressive basis and we have the tools to do that, on the same time always building on a strong defensive core.”
That actually sounds a lot like Hartley, whose Flames teams were consistently near the bottom of the league in regards to penalties taken. If rumours are to believed, he might be a more personable guy, too. The major differing thing here is that unlike the Oilers, the Flames actually have a strong defensive core.
Krueger was also a consultant for Team Canada during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and will be Team Europe’s head coach at the World Cup of Hockey in September.
What’s he doing with his time now, though? He’s actually currently the chairman of Southampton F.C. of the English Premier League, and has been since 2014. Krueger is a multi-sport man – though he clearly hasn’t left hockey behind.
Why would Krueger leave behind what must be a pretty cushy job in one of the richest sports leagues in the world? I can think of two possible reasons:
- He still wants to keep hockey a strong presence in his life.
- He wants the chance to tell the Oilers to suck it multiple times a year in person.
Both sound like a pretty good reason.