CALGARY — A regressive Calgary Flames season cost Bob Hartley his job. The NHL team fired their head coach Tuesday to increase the number of clubs seeking different men behind their benches next season.
The Flames were the surprise of the league a year ago upon reaching the second round of playoffs. Hartley had navigated the Flames to a 45-30-7 record — a 20-point improvement on 2013-14 — and third place in the Pacific Division.
Calgary played an exciting brand of hockey earning a quarter of their points when trailing after two periods.
But that lightning-in-a-bottle Flames team did not resurface this season despite the talents of forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and defencemen Marc Giordano and T.J. Brodie.
A 35-40-7 record for a 20-point backslide contributed to the sacking of the 55-year-old Hartley less than a year after he was handed the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s coach of the year.
“Bob has taken this team as far as I feel he can take it,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said during a news conference at Scotiabank Saddledome.”
Hartley, a native of Hawksbury, Ont., had signed a contract extension in December 2014, reported to be two years in duration, and would have had one year remaining on his deal.
“Bob is able to get a lot out of players,” Treliving said. “I felt for us to move forward as an organization, it was time, it was important, it was critical we made this decision.
“This is isn’t just a necessary move because we didn’t make the playoffs, so we’re going to throw a body on the tarmac. I felt this decision had to be made for what Bob, in my opinion, can get from this group moving forward.”
Associate coach Jacques Cloutier was also fired, but assistant Martin Gelinas, goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet and video coach Jamie Pringle will return next season.
Hartley joins Dave Cameron (Ottawa Senators) and Bruce Boudreau (Anaheim Ducks) among the ranks of recently unemployed. Mike Yeo, shown the door by the Minnesota Wild in February, is also on the off-season coaching carousel.
Treliving dashed cold water on speculation that the timing of Hartley’s firing was linked to Treliving’s desire to name a new coach immediately.
“This decision was not made with somebody on the on-deck circle,” Treliving insisted. “This isn’t about, is there a prettier girl at the dance?
“There’s no set timetable. The process will start today. I’ve got a profile in my mind of what I’m looking for. I’ve got a real good idea of what can give us success, what can drag success out of our group.”
Expectations were high for the Flames this season because of major off-season signings. The Flames acquired defenceman Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins, signed Michael Frolik as a free agent and rookie Sam Bennett had a breakout season.
But Calgary staggered out of the gate with a 2-8-1 start. They rarely rallied for third-period wins and finished 26th in the league.
Treliving took responsibility for his team’s muddled goaltending situation.
Calgary opened the season with three goalies on one-way contracts. Karri Ramo and Joni Ortio both were waived at different times and sent to the minors. Jonas Hiller struggled with a .879 save percentage.
“Our goaltending was not good this year,” Treliving said. “That falls on the general manager. I need to fix that. The way we played in front of the goaltender needs to be fixed as well.
“Our special teams for a good portion of the year were 30th in the league. How I think you need to play to have success was a factor. Style of play amongst other things led us to this day.”
Hiller signed with a Swiss club and will not be back. Ramo, who will be an unrestricted free agent, suffered a season-ending knee injury in February. Ortio will be a restricted free agent.
Hartley won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
He was not Treliving’s hire, but that of former general manager Jay Feaster who was fired Dec. 12, 2012. Calgary’s president of hockey operations Brian Burke served as interim GM until appointing Treliving his replacement in April 2014.
Hartley benched Goudreau, Monahan and winger Lance Bouma for a February game against the Toronto Maple Leafs because they had been late to a practice. Treliving said Tuesday that he backed Hartley’s decision to sit them.