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Photo Credit: Candice Ward/USA Today Sports

The devil they know: why retaining Geoff Ward makes some sense

On Monday, Geoff Ward was officially anointed as the 20th head coach in Calgary Flames history. He’s actually the third coach hired from a rigorous interview process conducted by Brad Treliving in the 2016 off-season, and arguably the hire that he knows the most about.

Following the dismissal of Bob Hartley following the 2015-16 season, Treliving searched high and low for a new bench boss. During that process, Treliving served as co-GM of Canada’s World Championship entry and spent much of that May in St. Petersburg, Russia for the tournament. That’s where he became enamored with the coaching style and philosophy of Bill Peters, who wasn’t available in 2016 due to his job with Carolina (but who Treliving hired in 2018).

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At the same tournament, though, Treliving got to observe Ward as an assistant coach with Germany. While Treliving returned home from the Worlds and hired Glen Gulutzan as head coach in mid-June, he ultimately recruited Ward as associate coach under Peters in 2018.

All-told, Treliving probably feels that he has a decent book on Ward as a head coach. Aside from their interactions at the 2016 Worlds and the interview process in that hiring cycle, he’s worked closely with Ward since he’s been on the coaching staff since 2018. He’s had a lot more exposure to how Ward conducts him on a day-to-day basis and how he meshes with the staff and players than he did with Gulutzan or Peters.

Treliving noted in his chat with the media on Monday afternoon that the time he spent with the coaching staff in the bubble cemented his opinion of Ward as a head coach.

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“For me, being able to watch it, there’s great synergy, there’s great debate in the coaches room,” said Treliving. “They push each other. One of the things we talk about here is there’s not one person that has all the answers here. We have to push each other ultimately from the coaching room, [but] Geoff has the final say.”

After Peters’ removal in late November, Ward led the Flames to a 25-15-3 record as interim coach. After the COVID-19 pause, he guided the Flames to a qualifying round victory over Winnipeg and a razor-thin six game loss to the eventually Western Conference champion Dallas Stars in the first round.

Treliving bristled against the notion that Ward wasn’t the right man for the job when speaking to the media.

“Geoff is not the coach here because he was the path of least resistance,” said Treliving. “He knows the group. Some of the steps we’ve taken are because of Geoff. I wanted to be thorough. People will talk about bigger names out there but I think he’s the best coach for our team.”

Sure, the Flames could’ve gone out and swung for the fences with a hiring like Peter Laviolette or Gerard Gallant. But let’s be completely honest, friends: GMs generally don’t get to hire a lot of coaches. They get, at most, a handful, and so GMs have to bet on coaches that they feel comfortable staking their reputation (and job) on. For better or worse, after all the stuff Ward helped the Flames navigate in the wacky 2019-20 season, Treliving felt comfortable betting on him rather than gambling on a big name that might not click mesh the Flames locker room.

Banking on Ward is a gamble given his lack of NHL head coaching experience, but given the information he has, it seems like a gamble Treliving is willing to make.

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