Photo credit: Lindsay A. Mogle, Utica Comets
From Glen Gulutzan to Dave Cameron, Brian Elliott, Troy Brouwer, and more, the Calgary Flames have been busy adding new faces this summer. But the offseason’s most intriguing addition might be the one flying most under the radar: new assistant coach Paul Jerrard. While not the most recognizable name in the coaching world, I’m very curious about Calgary’s new hire for a couple reasons.
Jerrard has flown under the radar for virtually his entire coaching career, in fact. Calgary will be his third NHL stop after stops in Colorado and Dallas. He worked for one year under, ironically, Bob Hartley in 2002-03 with the Avalanche and then spent two years on Gulutzan’s staff in Dallas between 2011 and 2013. Along the way he’s honed his craft extensively in the AHL with four different stops.
Upon announcing his hiring along with Dave Cameron earlier this month, Gulutzan spoke glowingly about Jerrard from the time they’ve worked together. The pair have been associated for the last seven straight seasons, working side by side in the Stars organization before joining the Canucks organization for the last three; Gulutzan assisted at the NHL level with the Canucks while Jerrard was assigned to Utica of the AHL.
On top of their strong working relationship, Gulutzan pinpointed two specific areas as chief strengths of Jerrard’s: working with defencemen and the penalty kill. It’s safe to say Calgary’s new head coach has made a good first impression on most, so hearing him put Jerrard over in those two areas certainly made me take notice.
The Flames have a nice thing going for them right now on the back end. With T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton both coming in at the age of 26 or under, the future is bright at the top of Calgary’s defensive depth chart. Additionally, Jyrki Jokipakka is just 24 while Tyler Wotherspoon, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Brandon Hickey are all intriguing prospects for the organization. To have a coach with a nice track record of working with young defencemen seems like a good fit.
“It goes way back to Zdeno Chara in Lowell
for a stint,” Gulutzan told me earlier this month. “[He’s worked with] Matt Niskanen and Sheldon Souray and Stephane
Robidas. Developing young guys like Jordie Benn, who came out of the Central
Hockey League as a 23-year-old and developing him for two years and getting him
to the National Hockey League. He’s got a laundry list of defencemen he’s
While Brodie probably doesn’t need a whole lot more coaching, having the right guy work with Hamilton could pay huge dividends. While not all share my opinion, I believe Hamilton is on the verge of breaking through to the upper echelon of NHL defenders. If Jerrard’s track record is as successful as Gulutzan would lead us to believe, this could be a really good thing for Hamilton in year two with the Flames.
It goes beyond that, though. Along with the aforementioned Chara, Niskanen, and Benn, Jerrard has seen AHL defenders under his tutelage like Brett Clark, Mark Fistric, Johnny Boychuk, and Nicklas Grossman advance to somewhat lengthy NHL careers. How much of that credit goes to Jerrard is tough to quantify, though. After all, a coach with that much AHL tenure is bound to see numerous players move on to the next level regardless.
If he is able to help develop one or two of Calgary’s younger blueliners to make the jump, though, this ends up being a nice hire. Can he help Wotherspoon break through the glass ceiling if he starts the season in the NHL? Can he help refine and round out Kylington’s game if the promising prospect spends some time with the Flames this year? We don’t know the answers to these questions but they’re crucial ones to ask.
The penalty kill
Dreadful, awful, horrible, horriawful…all of these words applied to Calgary’s 30th ranked penalty kill last season. The Flames killed off just 75.5% of the penalties they took last year, equating to the opposition scoring once every four powerplay opportunities. In fact, with their last coaching staff, the best Calgary ever managed was 14th place on the PK during the lockout shortened 2013 season. Plain and simple, the Flames need to be better when down a man.
With Jerrard and Gulutzan now in the fold, I’m optimistic we see some noticeable improvement. Jerrard’s reputation is one of a penalty kill specialist. It’s been one of the main areas he’s been in charge of over the last decade or so and he’s had decent results, specifically in the American League. His last five years in the AHL are plotted below.
Now, killing penalties doesn’t rely solely on coaching and systems. That said, Jerrard has had some pretty good minor league PK units in recent years. He explained his philosophy to me a few weeks ago.
“To characterize the style we play is just
smart, aggressive pressure,” Jerrard said. “Aggressive is probably the number one thing we want
to go after but not every single time you can be aggressive. We want to make
sure that we are making the reads at the appropriate times to do the things we
Aggressive is a word we’ve heard a lot over the last four years with the Flames. Under Hartley and Jacques Cloutier, Calgary’s PK stressed a ton of pressure and led to a good number of shorthanded scoring chances. It sounds like Jerrard’s version of aggressive is a little more measured.
“Right from the faceoff, we want to make
sure we have an exit strategy how we’re going to get the puck out once we win
and if we lose the puck what we’re going to do to start our pressure. Once we
get it down we certainly want to kill as much as we can in the offensive zone
and we want to pressure through the neutral zone. We’re not just sitting back,
we’re trying to be proactive and try to force the powerplay into mistakes.”
Jerrard’s work in his last NHL stop wasn’t spectacular, though. The Stars were just okay in his two years there, ranking 13th and 17th. As such, there’s no guarantee Jerrard’s strong work the last two years in Utica is going to carry over because this isn’t an exact science. That said, I’m still interested to see how much improvement we this season. After all, there really isn’t anywhere else to go but up.
The reaction to Gulutzan’s hiring was mostly positive while Cameron’s addition was met with a largely opposite response. But because Jerrard joins the team without much name recognition, there wasn’t much reaction at all to his hiring.
As has been opined on many times, the impact of a coaching staff is debatable in a lot of cases. But after some of the things we witnessed under Hartley’s tenure, I think there’s a good chance this new staff has the opportunity to affect some positive change.
Jerrard isn’t going to be the difference between a playoff berth and a last place finish. But, if he’s able to help progress a few of Calgary’s young defencemen and if he’s able to turn around their horrid penalty kill, he could be a really nice fit.