Kuzma: Geoff Ward, Ralph Krueger frontrunners for Flames head coach

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?


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.

Geoff Ward

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.

Ralph Krueger

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:

  1. He still wants to keep hockey a strong presence in his life.
  2. He wants the chance to tell the Oilers to suck it multiple times a year in person.

Both sound like a pretty good reason.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Great stuff, Ari.

    based on the above info and speculation, I like Ward for the job and not Kreuger, but there may be some residual Oiler stink on him that is turning me off.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    I doubt either of these guys are in the running as head coach. Just a smoke screen by the BT camp…..

    Top 5 areas BT needs to address this summer:

    Head coach.
    Draft.
    Resign Johnny and Money.
    Starting goalie.
    Top line RW.

    In no particular order…

    WW

  • RickT

    Honestly, Krueger sounds like a Tre-type guy.

    Multidisciplinary (and having great success with Southampton), hard working (as reported from Southampton), and plays a style that is very offense-oriented (but more about cycle, than counter-punch). Hall et al. had great offensive seasons under him as a coach.

    Also, seems to be relatively forward-thinking.

    Curious to see what the interviews are like – what are some of the questions that are asked. It’s pretty easy to blow smoke in a coaching position, I think.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Gotta admit, it would be pretty sweet to win a Stanley cup with the coach that Edmonton unceremoniously kicked to the curb.

    But it’s not like they feel any shame, or have any insight. They would probably just respond by braggin bout how great their team is about to become, especially with a new 1st overall pick and a new head coach coming on board for the 2019-2020 season.

  • beloch

    It’s speculation to say Ward’s departure from Boston is why they missed the playoffs this year. It might also have been Sweeney’s bizarre head-scratching moves last summer. However, Germany typically does not do well in the IIHF WC’s, so their performance this year really checks off the “built something special” box for Ward.

    Krueger, on the other hand, talked the talk and then fell flat on his face with the Oilers. Several other guys did the same, but the fact remains that this does not check off the “built something special” box.

    • Greatsave

      Ward left the Bruins in 2014 so that’s two seasons that they have missed the playoffs since his departure. Speculative? Maybe. Only one of many potential reasons? Probably. But it’s also called “connecting the dots”. Sweeney didn’t take over from Chiarelli until 2015, so 2014-15 wasn’t strictly on him and his “head-scratching moves” (which have continued, by the way, with Kevan Miller’s new deal).

    • jakethesnail

      MacTavish was interviewing for an Assistant Coaching position with Krueger remaining as Head Coach when MacT was baffled by the BS that Dallas EAKINS (remember that name?) spewed and hired Eakins as the Headman and fired Krueger.

      Krueger was beginning to turn the Oilers around when he got the axe.

      However, I do agree that he did not build something special – hard to do when your head is rolling down the Autobahn!

      Regardless,my vote goes to Geoff Ward as the next Flames coach! Maybe, Krueger as an Asst.

    • Kevin R

      If they hire 2 people it would probably look like Ward & then Carlyle in a newly created position of Coaching/Mentor to act as support but let Ward run his show the way Burke has been with Treliving. I would just be happy with a guy like Ward & forget the mentor aspect, but it seems to be the way the Flames want their Management structure.

  • Craig

    I think it’s great evidence what Ward did with the Devil’s powerplay, I think special teams are something that are very indicative of system and coaching.

    I haven’t heard of Ward before, but I like what I read in this article!

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I wonder why Geoff Ward has spent so long as an assistant coach in the NHL. has he ever been interviewed for head coaching jobs in the NHL? 54 is pretty old to be getting your first head coaching gig in the NHL.

    I’ve said since he was canned by the Oilers, Krueger never got a fair shake with that team because of the lockout-shortened season. If the Flames haven’t interviewed him for the HC job, I would wonder why. He’s an awfully bright guy.

    To the list of reasons he would coach the Flames if offered the job I would add that Ralph is a local guy who once was a pretty big hockey star in Calgary during his days as a Wrangler. Kisio and Krueger were the biggest names in Dougie Sauter’s stable. Krueger enjoyed thumping success in Calgary as a teen, why not as a middle-ager?

  • KACaribou

    Taking into account the incredible failure of Oilers management where they did just about everything wrong for nearly a decade, and considering that one of those moves was to fire head coach Ralph Krueger, it would therefore make sense for the Flames to hire the man because he must be an absolutely tremendous coach if the Oilers thought he wasn’t worthy of the drip.

  • Flamethrower

    Tre is waiting to see what happens with Hitch, but so is Anaheim.

    I would actually like to see Geoff Ward as the new coach. If Tre cleans house adds some new faces, signs (i hope Andersson) a top goalie and Johnny & Mony with new found money this club should make a big splash.

    Not to mention what the draft could bring.

    Lets see what happens withe the buy outs to make some more room for contracts.

    GO FLAMES GO.

  • Flamethrower

    Geoff Ward the flames deserve a players coach for change not a task master. A coach with offensive schemes insted of dump and chase.
    Bye outs, trades, the draft, a new coach this should be a lot of fun seeing how the club shapes up going forward.