Handicapping the Flames assistant coaching contenders

The Calgary Flames have a new head coach, as Bill Peters will step behind the bench to begin the 2018-19 season. But the Flames still have a couple job openings to fill, as they still need to hire a pair of assistant coaches to work with Peters. We’ve dug into the nooks and crannies of the hockey internet, talked to our sources, and trimmed down our lists to settle on some contenders.

Here are our best bets for who should be the lead candidates for the Flames’ two assistant coaching positions (presented in alphabetical order).

Power play and forwards

Drew Bannister [44; head coach, Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds]
A longtime pro blueliner that hung them up in 2012, he won two OHL titles, a Memorial Cup, a Calder Cup and a German league title before retiring. Since moving behind the bench he’s cemented a great reputation as an up-and-comer. He spent three years as an assistant coach for the Owen Sound Attack before moving to Sault Ste Marie as head coach, leading the Greyhounds’ impressive resurgence as one of the powers in the OHL. While he played on the blueline, his Greyhounds have had a great power play and so he might be a fit there.

Joel Bouchard [44; president/head coach/general manager, Blainville-Broisbriand Armada]
You may remember Bouchard from his time with the Flames, but this former NHL/AHL tweener defenseman has become one of the hotter commodities in the hockey operations world. He became an assistant coach in the QMJHL after his 2008 retirement and he’s served as the GM of the Armada since 2013 and their head coach for the last four seasons – since he’s been coach, they’ve been one of the consistently strong special teams clubs in the Q. He may have aspirations of joining a front office, but if he can be nabbed for an assistant coaching spot he definitely has value.

Tim Hunter [57; head coach, Moose Jaw Warriors]
Best known for his distinctive nose and his decorated NHL career – he won a Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989 – Hunter’s gruff, blue-collar personality as a player has bled over into his coaching style. Demanding and emphasizing structure, he’d be a nice complement to Peters’ similar style. Hunter has experience behind the bench as an NHL assistant and has molded the Warriors’ special teams into a formidable attack.

Louis Robitaille [36; head coach, Victoriaville Tigres]
Robitaille’s pro career ended in 2011, but he dove into the deep end of the coaching world and gained a ton of experience in the Q. He was an assistant in Drummondville and Val-d’Or before landing as the bench boss in Victoriaville two seasons ago. The Tigres have been one of the top special teams clubs in the QMJHL and Robitaille’s youth and energy may be a good fit in Cowtown.

Manny Viveiros [52; head coach, Swift Current Broncos]
Viveiros has come by his experience honestly. His playing career spanned the NHL, AHL, Italy, Austria and Germany over two decades. His coaching career has been similarly far flung, as he spent a decade coaching in Germany and Austria – including coaching Austria in the 2014 Winter Olympics – before joining the Broncos in 2016. The Broncos have managed to leverage their star-studded roster into a potent power play, something that likely makes Viveiros an attractive candidate.

Penalty kill and defensemen

Marc Habscheid [55; head coach, Prince Albert Raiders]
Habscheid has played and coached a ton of hockey. He had a lengthy NHL career, including a brief stint with the Flames, and he played in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Since his retirement he’s spent a ton of time behind the bench in the WHL – he’s coached in Kamloops, Kelowna, Victoria/Chilliwack and Prince Albert – and also coached in the 2006 Olympics. The Raiders have a dynamite penalty kill and Habscheid’s a big part of their success.

Derian Hatcher [45; head coach, Sarnia Sting]
A Stanley Cup champion and captain in two NHL markets, Hatcher was a defenseman’s defenseman – playing a mean, physical style with an offensive bent. He’s relatively inexperienced as a coach, boasting just three years as a head or assistant coach, but Sarnia’s been excellent since he’s been at the helm.

Ryan Huska [42; head coach, Stockton Heat]
Huska would be the continuity choice. He’s got a very long resume behind the bench, first in Kelowna and now in Stockton. He’s also been around long enough that the Flames know what they have in him. He’s lauded as a teacher and if they’re looking for somebody who’s a much different personality than Peters – a good cop to his bad cop – Huska might fit the bill.

Sheldon Keefe [37; head coach, Toronto Marlies]
Keefe has gotten a lot of attention for the work he’s done with the Marlies, but he was also really strong when he coached Sault Ste Marie. He’s worked his way up and put together a sterling resume. The only question is whether he’d “settle” for an assistant coaching role or if he’s destined for a head coaching gig in the NHL.

Steve Smith [55; assistant coach, Carolina Hurricanes]
The Jacques Cloutier to Peters’ Bob Hartley, Smith was a big part of Carolina’s strong penalty kill. He’s also a local legend in Calgary, having spent ample time on both sides of the Battle of Alberta and serving as a Flames assistant coach and later as captain. If he’s available – he might still be under contract to the ‘Canes – he’s definitely worth looking at to help shore up the defensive side of the Flames’ game.