Professional hockey is very much a “what have you done for me lately?” world, and it’s very rare that a hockey operations regime can burn through coaches before they, too, are cast aside. So it’s completely logical to expect that barring a parade of some sort over the next three years, Bill Peters will probably be Brad Treliving’s last coaching hire as general manager of the Calgary Flames.
To some it may be perplexing that Treliving is betting big on Peters – who coached the Carolina Hurricanes to zero playoff games – rather than somebody like Darryl Sutter or Alain Vigneault, given that his job is on the line. But when you consider Treliving’s last coaching search the move makes a lot of sense.
When Treliving was named co-GM of Canada’s entry at the 2016 World Championship, the Flames were 10 games below .500 and swirling the drain. Given his NHL team’s performance, it’s likely that he was already pondering what to do behind the bench. His coaching search for Team Canada lasted three weeks and resulted in the announcement that Peters would be at the helm for Team Canada’s trip to Russia. A month later, Treliving gave Bob Hartley the axe and began searching for a new Flames bench boss.
Three days after Hartley’s firing, Treliving was in Russia for the World Championship. Canada’s grouping was in St. Petersburg. What tends to happen when a group of hockey people are stuck in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language is they hang out a lot together at the hotel and talk hockey. Having just watched his team fall flat down the stretch and having just fired his coach, it’s inevitable that Treliving talked extensively with Peters about coaching philosophies and their personal similarities. The success Team Canada had likely cemented some positive feelings between the two men.
Both guys are from Western Canada. Both guys are hockey lifers who have worked their way up from the lower levels. Heck, both guys have put in their time working in NHL organizations with precious few resources: Treliving was assistant GM in Arizona throughout their perpetual (and ongoing) ownership crisis, while Peters had to make due coaching an NHL team that spent $16 million below the salary cap with regularity due to its owner’s financial troubles. There’s likely a bit of a kindred spirits thing at work here.
If you’ve ever spoken with Treliving or watched one of his press conferences, it’s apparent that he has a clear philosophy about the game and how it should be played. Given those philosophies, and his termination of Hartley having watched two seasons of his style of play, it says a lot that Treliving hired (a) Peters for the World Championship team and (b) Glen Gulutzan for the Flames job over the course of a few months – especially given the similar styles of hockey the Flames and Hurricanes played in recent years.
Gulutzan got the Flames playing the style of game that Treliving desired, with an emphasis on puck possession, speed and generally going after the puck (rather than playing counter-punch hockey) – a style of play that the Hurricanes played in all four years under Peters. But there were obviously some things that didn’t quite click with Gulutzan and the team this past season given the on-ice results. Given Treliving’s familiarity with Peters from the 2016 World Championship and his critical examination of the unraveling of the Flames’ past season, two things can probably be gleaned from this coaching hire:
- Treliving feels like he has a good handle on what didn’t work with Gulutzan behind the bench.
- Treliving feels like the things Peters does behind the bench can fix what didn’t work with Gulutzan without fundamentally altering their playing style.
The Flames aren’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater with the Peters hiring. If anything, they’re trying to alter the temperature of the bathwater slightly. The type of hockey that Peters likes his teams to play is the exact type of hockey that Treliving wants the Flames to play. Heck, I’d be willing to bet that if Peters had been available in 2016, he probably would’ve gotten the job instead of Gulutzan.
Is the hiring a gamble? Yes. Somebody who has never coached an NHL club to a playoff berth is going to be expected to get them deep into the playoffs. Repeatedly. Failure to do so probably results in a scorched-earth culling of both the coaching and management staffs. But Treliving knows Peters and his coaching style as well as he knows anybody’s, and when you gamble it’s usually best to bet on what you know.
We’ll see if it works out this time.