As of yesterday, Bob Hartley is back in the NHL following a five-year absence. After contributing his inside knowledge as a commentator on RDS broadcasts for a time, the lure of the bench drew him to Switzerland, where he led his underdog ZSC Lions to the league championship. Calgary Flames G.M. Jay Feaster took that European success, Hartley's Cup win with Colorado in 2001 and his personal relationship with the coach as signs that the time was right to offer Hartley a job in Alberta. Both men appear happy with the partnership and the Flames will go to the draft with one major decision out of the way.
It's a little bit worrisome that critics and pundits are already questioning whether Habs G.M. Marc Bergevin has made his first mistake in his new position by "missing out" on Hartley. The headline in the Winnipeg Free Press today reads "Bob Hartley Chooses to Coach Calgary Flames Over Montreal Canadiens." The Sporting News says, "Bob Hartley to Coach Calgary Flames, Not Canadiens." And on Sportsnet, it's "Short List for Coach Shrinks." Even CJAD's guru of all things Habs, Abe Hefter, questioned whether Bergevin was asleep at the switch when Feaster pounced on the chance to sign Hartley. All of this implies two things: first, that the Canadiens really wanted Hartley and Bergevin failed to sign him, and second, that the Canadiens and Bergevin are limited to the tiny handful of Francophone retread coaches available.
Both of those assumptions are rooted in the way the team was run under the last two general managers. In regard to whether Bergevin missed the boat on Hartley, one must consider that the two had already spoken about the position in Montreal. If Hartley had blown Bergevin away with his approach or ideas, or his absolute perfection for the job, it's reasonable to believe the G.M. would either have offered Hartley the job already, or indicated to Hartley that the job was his, pending the installation of the entire new management team for consultation purposes. If Hartley felt he should take the job in Calgary instead, either things weren't going as smoothly as he hoped in negotiations with Bergevin and he had reason to believe he would not be the successful candidate, or he just liked Calgary better. (Strange from a hockey standpoint, considering the aging Jarome Iginla is sticking around as the franchise player and there probably won't be a significant rebuild there.) In either case, there's no reason for Habs fans or media to think Bergevin wasn't on the ball in this situation. If Hartley chose Calgary, he chose it for personal reasons Bergevin couldn't control. If negotiations weren't going well, then perhaps Bergevin wasn't convinced Hartley was the right guy for the Habs. In that case, kudos to the new general manager for choosing carefully.
Which brings us to the second assumption of most who are predicting the name of the next Habs coach: that the list without Hartley is now down to Michel Therrien and Marc Crawford, with darkhorse mentions of Jacques Lemaire, Guy Carbonneau or Patrick Roy. People seem to be thinking very narrowly, and focusing only on two criteria, bilingualism and experience, in that order.
Marc Bergevin was hired by Geoff Molson and Serge Savard, both experienced businessmen with deep ties to Quebec society. The latter quality would, of course, lead them to hire a bilingual candidate if there's one out there who fits with the type of personality and approach to the game they're looking for. Their business roots, however, must require them to broaden the parameters while searching for the person who'll fill such an important position. The coach they hire will play a big part in determining whether the Habs win or lose. These guys want to win...a lot. With that in mind, and considering the thorough search for the right G.M. we just witnessed, it's hard to believe the front-office team in place now would limit itself to a handful of men.
Bergevin has already hinted that NHL experience is not necessarily a must in the selection of the new coach. We don't know how flexible he's willing to be on the bilingual requirement, but must assume that it's less negotiable. One thing we do know is Bergevin has been around and he knows many, many good hockey people. He's new blood himself, and it feels right that he should surprise us with his choice. When we look at the energy and enthusiasm he's bringing to the front office, it doesn't really fit that he'd bring in a retread to be coach.
That said, while we're expecting Bergevin to take his time and pick the right person, he may be really impressed by Therrien or Crawford and determine that one of those guys is The One. If he chooses one of them because they come into the interview and blow his socks off, that's great. We can have confidence the team is going in the right direction. If, however, he hires one of them because he "missed the boat" on Bob Hartley or feels the need to look for bilingual experience first, we'll have cause to worry.
Until the choice is announced, however, we might as well stow the assumptions away. Even after we know who'll be coaching, we can't judge until we hear Bergevin explain his choice, which, unlike the previous regime, he'll certainly do with candour. For now, the G.M. gets the benefit of the doubt and we need to dig deep and find the patience to wait for his decision. All we know, after all, is that Bob Hartley will be having fun trying to get the Calgary Flames into the playoffs.