47Bill Peters
Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

Early returns positive for new head coach Bill Peters

This offseason, the coaching consternation was taking place on the south end of the QE2 Highway. Forgoing what most Calgary fans considered due diligence and honing in on a single target, the Flames hired a handpicked Bill Peters immediately after he opted out of his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Considering the fact Peters had missed the playoffs in all four seasons in Carolina, it was a potentially fate-connecting decision by Flames GM Brad Treliving to bring his chosen bench boss to town after firing Glen Gulutzan two seasons after turfing Bob Hartley.

But it was another Alberta coach canned this week when the Oilers dumped Todd McLellan after a rocky start to the season and one playoff appearance in three years in Edmonton.

Meanwhile, in Calgary, Peters woke up on the highly discussed American Thanksgiving milestone morning with his team leading the Pacific Division.

Not that he was paying attention.

“I don’t see that. I wake up in the morning and I come to work and I don’t read the paper and I don’t really do much on the Internet,” Peters said after Wednesday night’s big win over the Winnipeg Jets — a true test of the Flames’ mettle — adding that he’ll instead be “grinding away” on game film before getting on the plane to Vegas for the next contest. “We’ll get on and Kelso (their communications director) will give us media notes. If you’re still awake by then, you’ll look at them.”

Regardless of whether or not Peters is giving the standings much consideration, the fact he has the team in such an impressive state a quarter of the way through the season is enough reason for a Canadian like Treliving to give thanks this weekend.

Standings aside, there are a number of reasons to look positively on his tenure so far.

With a new system in place (the third in four seasons for those who have tenure) the team struggled early on with giving up a high number of quality scoring chances. Combined with some really bad goaltending from Mike Smith, they were surrendering goals at inopportune times and off to an inconsistent start that culminated in a 9-1 embarrassment at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins to end their first 10 games at 5-5.

Since then, they’ve gone 8-3-1 to jump the Sharks. They’re a top four possession team (using the NHL’s SAT%) and are averaging 3.41 goals per game — good for sixth in the league behind the Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning.

They’re the only team with five 20-point players and have three players in the top 20 in the scoring race.

Maybe you can chalk that up to the talent on the roster, with Elias Lindholm perfectly complementing Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on the top line and Matthew Tkachuk entering a new stratosphere in the final season of his entry-level contract.

But give the coach some credit for keeping the room together through some early struggles that could easily have torn it apart. When your biggest criticism at the moment is why you’re starting Garnet Hathaway on the fourth line over Austin Czarnik, you’re doing a lot of other things right.

He delicately and patiently handled the goaltending controversy without embarrassing a goalie who could still be needed for big contributions over the next three quarters of the season, giving Smith a long leash and waiting for the right moment to hand the starting job to David Rittich.

Make no mistake, the players in the room are affected by the way you treat them and their teammates.

He stuck with TJ Brodie on the top pairing and has been rewarded with a big turnaround, with Mark Giordano’s partner now leading the team with a plus-12 rating after some awful early struggles had people wondering if a demotion would become permanent.

Peters has not been a slave to salary, sticking to the notion that James Neal should be driving play on a line of his own and/or the powerplay rather than weakening a top line that is as effective as any in the league right now with Lindholm on the right side.

And if Neal may be griping about it behind the scenes in an Uber, he’s not doing it publicly and seems to be buying into what Peters is selling while playing on a line with a couple of kids.

The coach has scratched sub-par performers and had great responses from Michael Frolik and Mark Jankowski. He has given others more important roles as rewards for hustle and determined play even when the results weren’t showing up on the scoresheet.

The best example of that is Sam Bennett, who is finally starting to live up to his potential as a high first round draft pick.

“I’m just having fun playing right now,” Bennett said after his first multi-point night Wednesday, sporting a Lanny-esque ginger moustache for Movember.

It’s easy to have fun when you’re playing with the underrated Mikael Backlund and arguably the league’s best player so far this season in Tkachuk — Bennett’s reward for a physical start to his season.

“Benny’s been good for a long time,” Peters said, pointing out his patience on a high-blocker goal, and his determination in going to the net later in the game. “He’s a real good player. He’s a competitive player. He plays the game hard; another guy who plays with emotion. And we need that, we like that. We like to be a competitive team and be hard to play against. Benny’s one of those guys.

“He’s a young guy still and he’s getting comfortable with what he brings to the table. I think he’s got a real bright future. His competitiveness has led to the opportunity to play more and he’s capitalized on that.”

There will be more difficult times ahead, but Peters’ ability to keep the team riding a massive high right now striving to be better says a lot about his ability to manage the room and keep the team’s outlook positive but not satisfied.

“I think our group’s got a lot of confidence,” Peters said. “A lot of trust in themselves and each other. I think they’re playing hard and they’re playing hard for the right reasons.

“We’re not a good enough team to afford to come off it. We’ve got to be realistic about how we evaluate ourselves and what we do moving forward. We like our start but we’re getting better. That’s the most important thing.”

They’re certainly pointed in the right direction.

  • freethe flames

    I like the fact that when things are not working he juggles his lines and pairings during the game. I don’t always like that some players have his trust and are over used while others never seem to get an opportunity.

    • piscera.infada

      I don’t always like that some players have his trust and are over used while others never seem to get an opportunity.

      I’ve made this point a number of times throughout the years, but find me a coach that doesn’t do this. They pretty much all do. Without weighing in on the actual merits of doing so, it’s kind of the nature of the beast with coaching (or management) at pretty much any level (sports or professionally).

      The only teams that don’t seem to have that issue are those with perfect rosters–which again, might be a presumptively unattainable ideal. I get it, it’s easy to look at a roster and say “player ‘x’ probably shouldn’t be doing ‘y’ as much as they are”. I’d argue that’s pretty much a uniform criticism from Babcock or Quenneville, to Bill Belichick, to Phil Jackson.

      • piscera.infada

        Also, none of the foregoing is to say you can’t criticize or question it when it happens. That’s absolutely fair game. I’m just pointing out it’s not necessarily a distinguishing characteristic per se.

      • freethe flames

        Your absolutely right and as you say in your next comment as a fan we have the right to point it out. We as fans also have our favorites but also don’t have access to the daily goings on. My preference is I would rather see Janko on the 2nd PP unit than Ryan; probably my biggest complaint on player usage.

  • FlamesFan27

    They sure are fun to watch. Winning changes everything, but the smiles are infectious. I am absolutely loving Rittich not only with his play, but with his interactions with teammates, the cross bar kiss and the arms in the air before JG even scores.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      @Walt

      You were the first one to say no to Gully. Others were willing to give him a shot, but you were firm. Then others came on board, and others still, as the mediocrity and player “usage” became evident. Me? I stuck up for Gully. Why? Because no one else was. I don’t think I defended him directly per se, but I pointed out that the power play was bad, there were roster problems, that it wasn’t all on Gully, that it couldn’t be. Then the insults went beyond hockey and everyone was ragging on him all the time no matter what the team was doing. Things were said that couldn’t be based on actual hockey. For example:

      “Gully plays for the tie.” I’m like, this is professional sports! No coach is going to ACTUALLY play for a tie!! But then, a few games ago in the post-game interview with Gio (I forget which one) he said; “Yeah and what I really liked is that we weren’t satisfied with just the tie! We kept pressing!”

      Huh.

      Then there’s Gully’s “I DO NOT ENTER THE ROOM AFTER GAMES.” It was a hard rule, but I understood it. Trying to make the locker room sacred, for the players to bond and talk and be family. Then Peters said in an interview this year when asked a question involving the locker room;

      “I try to stay out of there as much as possible.”

      Huh. So it’s not a hard and fast rule? Peters will make his decision based on the situation? Like, 9-1 loss to Pittsburgh maybe go into the room and say hey it’s all cool(or stay away and let them breath) or enter the room to shake hands after an exceptional win streak comes to an end? Decisions based on the situation is new, apparently.

      Then there’s HOW we play. Last year, when we had our 7 game win-fest, we were playing well. But we’ve also played well this year, as you know, Walt. And man our; “playing well” this year looks WAY different from our; “playing well” last year. When we’re humming in the third period these days (or the first f@ck yeah!) I don’t even know what the f@ck is HAPPENING. They’re everywhere! I mean it’s like the First Nations in the war of 1812 there’s GOT to be more than five red jersey’s on that ice. And THAT is the mark of an elite team.

      Then we all remember: “Oh, these guys need time to adapt to these complicated Gully systems! They’re imported from space by Xenu and those cretin player’s need time to adapt their tiny brains to Gully’s new wave, hug-it-out offence.” Peters? Half the roster overturned and all new coaches and less practice time and a trip to China.

      “They told me to give ’em a good start, right? I said okay and did it.”

      I could go on, Walt, but the point is that Gully cost me my spot here on FN. When I decided to stick up for him people stopped liking me and it just spun out into everything and it cost me “regular” status on FN. And with good cause!!! 😀

      But I can only judge things from a distance, by comparison. So to you and all the other FN regulate that suffered through my inexorable defense of Gully, my bad.

      (Sorry for the long post but it’s been on my mind for a while.)

  • withachance

    BP has just felt like a real hockey coach compared to GG. Knows what he is doing, confident in his decisions, just a solid, NHL level coach. Potentially solving the crease situation and revamping Benny’s offence has been his biggest accomplishments and can’t wait to see how he handles playoff hockey (knock on wood)

  • The GREAT WW

    Matt Murray has been horrible for the Pens this year (after being a superstar a couple of years ago).
    Any interest in trying to pick him up?
    Rittich/ Murray next season?

    WW

  • Justeen Trudope

    Like when Bob took the flames to the playoffs he seems to have the whole team buying into his systems and style of play. The difference is this is very sustainable. Love in his press conferences when he just will spit random stats and it just shows how dialed in he is. Also Brad deserves a ton of credit putting together a roster that Neal can’t crack the top 6. Crazy to think Lindholm might be the best player involved in that trade.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I’m going to urinate on the Billy Peters’ love circle by making two obvious points. First, the Flames under Gully last season after 22 games had almost the same win-loss record as Peters has. (A regulation loss in Vegas today and the records will be identical.) Second, the Pacific Division has been the Patsy Division this season, so that the Flames are so far the world’s tallest midget means little except in the CFL where a sub .500 club can not only get to the Grey Cup but win the thing. Hello 2017 Argos! In the Hotlantic Division the wst-leading Flames would be 4th and in the ring of death known as the Central, the Flames would be holding down 3rd place with one foot on a banana peel and the other on a roller skate.

    To be fair, the Flames under Peters are doing better than I forecasted but it is way too early to make a call on Peters one way or the other. Heck, the tremendous outpouring of love and amazement for the Flames since last Saturday’s triumph over the Oilers will be sucked down the drain if the manage to go pointless in Vegas and Arizona this weekend.

    Am I sour? No, just realistic. NHL regular season is just so long, so I can’t get too up or down when clubs are just past the quarter pole.

    • Steve Macfarlane

      Completely fair. That’s why this is dubbed early returns. We’ll see if this continues through times of great strain and losing skids.

      I do want to point out that despite being in the weak division, the Flames are fifth in the Western Conference in winning percentage, and are 10th in the league in that category as of today. And that’s the one stat BP admits to paying attention to.

    • Justeen Trudope

      Though the record may be close the style of play is far from that. Although you can’t live on what could have been but Calgary should have won all 3 games in Cali and the first game of the home stand if not for some questionable goal tending. It is a long season so it’s best to harness expectations but if you watch this team and don’t see a huge improvement over last year I guess maybe it’s me with the rose coloured glasses on.

      • Albertabeef

        You can’t entirely blame goaltending on the Cali trip. We scored 5 goals in 3 games, we were lucky just to win one. But you can’t expect yo win every game. There are going to be some games where you can’t score, ot can’t keep the puck out of your own net. The way the Flames are playing the should win more than they loose which should get the team into the playoffs. They are also one of the best shot suppression teams in the league and until last game they had not allowed more than 30 shots against in a game since the OT loss to Washington. That’s the most impressive stat to me.

    • The GREAT WW

      Last year Smith stole us 5 of the first 20 games….

      This year he has cost us 5 of the first 20 games….

      The team itself is playing way better (just ask Corsi…).

      WW

    • Jourflamesfan

      Good post and I agree but the difference I see so far is their passion and willingness to fight their way back into games and win them.
      That buffalo game. We won 2-1 O.T but last year we would gave lost.
      Both Colorado games we were down but clawed back and won.
      There is a difference this season imo!

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      I mentioned it in the post above, but it’s HOW we’re playing well that’s the difference. Bill Peters has brought better hockey to this franchise. It’s a totally different start to last year-especially given the circumstances (new coach, rosters, etc.)

      I mean for me, I’ve gone from asking; “But can they sustain it?” To saying; “And imagine when it all gets rolling!” There is a clear and tangible difference to this year’s start as compared to the last two seasons.

      It. Is. Better.

    • KKisTHEproblem

      One other point: last year was GG’s 2nd year and the team knew the systems. BP has them here in year 1 where they are learning his systems. Hopefully that means they continue to improve instead of crashing like last year.

    • oddclod

      It’s not realistic. It’s reading a stat line and making an assessment. Smith was a God last year and stole games we shoulda lost. The Coach has this team humming. If not for poor goaltending you’d see at least 5pts better than last year. Yawn.

  • RKD

    I like that he rolls lines out he’s not afraid to mix up the lines. Even after the 9-1 beatdown he doesn’t throw his players under the bus publicly or throw a fit he’s always the same even keel whether we score 5 or give up 5 and he has a system in place. He holds everyone accountable.

    • Avalain

      Wasn’t it Peters that threw his goalie under the bus in Carolina? Then later on he admitted that was a mistake? He’s learned that lesson the hard way, which is nothing but good news for us.

      • Cfan in Van

        And that goalie, I believe, was Eddie Lack? Then we got Lack, thinking he’d rebound in a better setting. It wasn’t the setting that was “Lack-ing”… And now we have Peters, Hanifin, Lindholm, and Ryan. The Calgerina Flamicanes.

  • Heeeeere’s Johnny

    Just read The Athletic article on playoff odds. Flames currently sit at 87%, 2% behind San Jose in the Pacific. The next closest team to the Flames are the Ducks(hit) at 54%. That’s starting to look like a nice cushion!

  • Off the wall

    A few weeks ago on a lovely evening, I decided to barbecue our dinner.

    I removed the cover of my barbecue, lifted the lid, only to discover a mammoth RAT staring back at me. I jumped back- sheer surprise catching me off guard. This was no ordinary rat, it was the Godfather of rats. It was so BIG I could have put a damn saddle on it!

    Fear gripped me. Somehow I pictured this dirty rat waiting at home for his spaghetti and meatballs. If he didn’t make it home, I was going to be wearing cement boots and this was going to be my last barbecue rites.
    He had an army waiting for him back home.

    By this time I was on a chair, as if he was going to launch at me and take me out. Hey, didn’t I say he was HUGE?

    I had to claim my space back, I didn’t want him thinking it was his vacation property, and I was the uninvited guest.

    So I did what any ordinary person would do. I grabbed my stiff barbecue brush and it was on. I wielded that brush like a musketeer, jousting and showing him that Otw is the big boss around these parts. ( I was truly scared shirtless) but I couldn’t let him see that. No fear, right?

    It worked. He ran off like a little scared mouse and Otw was the man again.

    My wife watched the whole thing, ( from inside the house ) it’s not exactly how it happened according to her. But that’s how I remember it.

    The Pittsburgh game was our “dirty rat”. We had to take control, we couldn’t let teams think our Saddledome was their vacation getaway.

    So Peter’s did what a good coach is supposed to do.
    He got the boys playing hockey again, wielding their sticks and bodies like Musketeers, scoring and defending as a group and claiming our home territory back again.
    After-all.. They don’t call him Rebar for nothing. He’s our Godfather of Flames hockey right now. He’s pushing buttons, making his way known. You’re going to be accountable, otherwise you’re wearing cement’ skates on da bench.

    “ I’ll give ya enough rope, but yah better use it like a cowboy, not a noose “ I imagine him saying to the troops.

    Rebars a beauty. Somehow I picture him at home, eating spaghetti and meatballs, grinning ear- to-ear!

      • Off the wall

        Lol. I know, you associate RATS with slum conditions. Unfortunately, on Vancouver Island they are everywhere. They don’t distinguish between nice middle class homes and poor living conditions.

        I never saw a rat in my tenure living in Calgary. It must be the mild climate here.

        It’s weird seeing how BIG these rodents are here. I don’t know if I could live on a farmland, they must be prevalent there.

          • Albertabeef

            Alberta has Rat Patrol. You call them if you see one, and they are very diligent on the provinces boarders. It is also illegal to own live rats in Alberta as pets or snake food. Vancouver has lots of rats but I’ve seen way more mice than rats here in Vic. I spent a month in this one shelter(housing sucks out here) and that’s were I saw more rats than anywhere else in Vic, but I have seen them elsewhere here too.

        • Off the wall

          One thing: I keep an immaculate yard. I’m a Horticulturist. It’s kinda important to me that the landscape is nice, clean and rodent free.

          However, my lovely landlord decided it was a good idea to create his own garden space this summer.
          As per usual, there was no garden, just a 2/3 built plot, with expensive lumber- still waiting to be finished.

          He decided to put compost on top of it, you know- rotten pumpkins, food refuse and such on top of the ill timed plot.
          I warned him about it. Said it was an invitation to pests and guess what? A few weeks later- we’ve got… RATS.

          He never listens. He’s a tool, without the tool belt, if ya get my drift..

          I’d love to lasso his ass somewhere else, but unfortunately he owns it.. ugh

          • Albertabeef

            Get a cat lol. I was walking late one night in south Van and noticed a chubby kitty. I paused for a moment in awe as I saw the rather large rat hanging from it’s mouth. I gotta say that was one fat happy cat and had this arrogant prancing strut as he went by me. If you know cats you know that way the go “hey, check out what I did” with that kind of cat-snob attitude they get. All I could do was say “Good kitty!” with a smile as we parted ways. I was impressed to say the least.

  • Squishin

    Speaking as a teacher, you have to be positive but firm if you want to get anywhere with students. Peters is that right mix of encouraging and tough, and will not accept anything less than a high standard of play. There was a great line in the article – “his ability to manage the room and keep the team’s outlook positive but not satisfied.” This is a crucial aspect, and one that I believe makes him a good coach – boosting the players’ confidence but determined to work for the success.
    No one has been a beneficiary of this philosophy more than one Sam Bennett. At last, his development is on the right track.

    • Albertabeef

      Bennett not having Brouwer dragging him down helps lots. Some players need to play with other good players to succeed. He hasn’y yaken a lot of faceoffs compared to other players but has one of the highest percentages this season so far. I think he should get a chance to center a Tkachuk-Bennett-Neal/Czarnik/Ryan line. However I think Backlund is the perfect play driver and defensive mentor for those two. I’m okay with it for now.

  • KKisTHEproblem

    One of the things I like about BP vs GG: I am sure you all remember during GG’s tenure when he did interviews, he used words like “the players” and “they” all the time. He clearly separated himself from the players and that issues were “theirs”. See BPs quotes in the article: In the 2nd paragraph of his quotes, when discussing need for improvement, its we, we and more we so players know he’s part of that. But when he talks about good things or when he’s complimenting them (1st paragraph of his quotes), he then separates himself so he doesn’t take any credit for it and gives it all to the player or players. That’s great coaching and something GG never did