Given the extended time it took Brad Treliving to decide the fate of his coach, the Calgary Flames GM felt the need to clarify that Geoff Ward wasn’t handed a two-year extension by default.
On Monday the 58-year-old rightfully had the interim tag lifted following extensive meetings with management and ownership to confirm Treliving’s long-held belief the longtime Bruins assistant coach is the best man for the job.
“I want to be real clear – Geoff is not the coach here because it’s the path of least resistance or just because he was here,” said Treliving. “You want to make sure you’ve got the very best person for the position. That’s why I wanted to step back and have those conversations with him about where we’re at and where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.
“Having been here, he knows the group. Some of the steps we’ve taken are largely because of Geoff. I wanted to be thorough.”
Treliving refused to get into whether that thoroughness included chats with Peter Laviolette, Mike Babcock, Bruce Boudreau or Gerard Gallant.
“I’m not going to get into the ‘other people’ part,” said Treliving, whose organization has never had a penchant for spending large dollars on big name coaches. “There was a process I wanted to go through with Geoff. You’re aware of what’s out there in the coaching landscape, but after spending time with Geoff and management (and ownership) I thought Geoff was the absolute best person to carry us forward.
“It took us a little bit of time to get through that process and here we are. People will talk about people with bigger names out there, but I’m looking for the best coach for this team. He has the ability to be a top coach in this league and that’s what makes it exciting.”
Simply put, Ward was chiefly responsible for saving the Flames’ season following the Bill Peters affair and deserved to be rewarded for it.
Promoted to interim coach as Peters’ past transgressions were investigated, Ward’s ability to connect with players through empowerment turned around a team that was five games below .500 and had “lost its way,” according to Treliving.
With the Peters controversy dominating the NHL’s spotlight, Ward insulated the group as it won seven in a row, en route to a 24-15-3 record that would have translated into 101 points over a full season.
Implementing a gritty, defence-first system for the playoffs that the team executed shockingly well, he helped the Flames get over a playoff hump with a play-in triumph over Winnipeg before falling to an impressive Stars team on the verge of a Stanley Cup final appearance.
Not too shabby for a first-time head coach in the NHL who looked anything but.
He was tabbed as the best man in the organization to give the team stability through its most tumultuous time, and it’s with that in mind he’s being kept on.
As Mark Giordano said Monday, at a time when a fragile team could have become more fractured, he made the group tighter.
“When Wardo came in he really brought us close together as a group and we had that buy-in more so than I ever remember since being here,” said the captain.
Continuity has long been one of Treliving’s goals in Calgary – something he admits played a role in the move.
“When I first came here the object wasn’t to change coaches on a regular basis,” said Treliving, who has had four coaches here in six years.
“I take responsibility. You could say I haven’t walked the walk and talked the talk. I think you need continuity and stability. That’s a big force. You can’t just churn through coaches on a regular basis.”
Heaping praise on the job Ward and his staff did to turn the team’s season around in “difficult circumstances,” the GM stopped short of announcing if the rest of Ward’s staff would return.
That too will take more introspection – something he and Ward have spent the last few weeks doing together.
Treliving pointed out the importance of connectivity between him and his head coach, as well as throughout the organization.
He has it with Ward, and it wouldn’t be surprising if assistants Marty Gelinas and Ryan Huska were brought back to continue building a team inching closer to becoming a contender in the West. It remains to be seen whether Ray Edwards, who was named an assistant shortly after Peters’ departure, will return to his post as director of player development.
“We see the game very similarly,” said Treliving of Ward, who he hired as associate coach two years ago. “That time we spent together in the bubble confirmed a lot of things for me. It solidified my decision.”
Treliving said his laundry list of attributes he looks for in a coach is topped by the ability to teach, inspire and make players accountable.
Ward certainly fits that bill, as a man who has the respect of a group that did well to step up for him.
At the tail end of quarantine in Boston, where Ward is looking forward to hunting, fishing and being a dad, the former school teacher said it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that he’s realized a dream of being an NHL bench boss.
In the meantime, he’s been busy watching the final four coaches left, who he figures all have the attributes necessary to be successful in his craft.
“They are all great communicators with their players; they have relationships with them; they can inspire and motivate players and discipline them,” said Ward, who may as well have been describing himself.
“You don’t need to necessarily be liked, but trusted.”
He is both.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to come back – I’m very honoured to be here,” said Ward. “You want to see things you start come to a finish. It was a no-brainer for me to want to stay in Calgary.”
It was a no-brainer for Treliving to make that happen.