Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 6/4/12
Almost nine years ago after a Thrashers practice at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia, Bob Hartley pointed to the spot on the floor where he was standing when he received an offer to become head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. At the time of the offer, he was coaching the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League and he eventually would lead the organization to a Calder Cup, the AHL championship. While Hartley, a native French speaker, grew up about an hour from Montreal and the chance to become the head coach of the Habs would appear to be his dream job, he turned it down. As the coach in Atlanta, he would often talk about things like loyalty and accountability this was not some Nick Saban-like platitude that he himself did not believe he had to live up to -- and at that moment, he stood on that principle. He was committed to the Bears and he was not about to give up on them at a critical juncture and he felt loyal to those who gave him his job. (A few years later, he was promoted as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche and won the NHL's top prize, the Stanley Cup.) This was the same reason why, when he went to coach in Switzerland in 2011 that he agreed to a contract that would not let him out until his team, the ZSC Lions, had finished its season. Again, while he might have made an enticing choice for some NHL teams that had fired their coaches in midseason during the 2011-12 campaign notably Montreal again he instead finished out the season and again won himself a league title. So early last week when reports began filtering out that Hartley would become coach of the Canadiens, it made sense on a number of levels. After the Canadiens' debacle in naming former Thrashers assistant Randy Cunneyworth as interim coach someone who did not speak French and the backlash that ensued, the Canadiens essentially committed to hiring a French-speaker for the position on a permanent basis. Their choices were limited. Once there was a delay in confirmation of those rumors, the Calgary Flames, perhaps surprising those who believed the situation in Montreal was a done deal, named Hartley as coach on Thursday. In retrospect, for those who know Hartley best, it shouldn't be a surprise at all. The Flames general manager is Jay Feaster, the same man who was general manager with the Hershey Bears when Hartley turned down the Canadiens for the first time back in the 90s. Feaster and Hartley are about as close as a general manager and a coach can get -- Hartley is godfather is to Feaster's son. So, circle back to those things that are most important to Hartley like loyalty. He will be loyal to Feaster as coach and he knows that Feaster will be loyal to him. In the pressure-cooker of the Montreal market, Hartley would not have that dynamic at work to the same extent. However, what he would have had in Montreal might have given him a better chance to win. For one, he would have had a better roster. The Canadiens were the only team in the NHL last season to boast three 30-goal scorers. They have an All-Star goalie in Carey Price coming into his prime and they are one of the wealthiest teams in the NHL and will be willing to spend up to the league's salary cap limit to win. In Calgary, his best players will be his oldest, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff will be 36 shortly after the season starts; left wing Alex Tanguay, who will be 33 in November, Hartley last coached 10 years ago in Colorado. Right wing Jarome Iginla ranks amont the league's most respected players, but, with 516 goals under his belt, he will turn 35 over the summer and enter his 16th season in the fall. In addition, Hartley's his best defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, doesn't play the hard-nosed style that Hartley prefers. Furthermore, a reporter who covers the team tweeted on Monday that the Flames no longer will spend to the cap limit expected to be a hefty 70 million next season unless changes are made under the league's expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement and that they will likely spend closer to the floor. But that's the thing with Hartley. He believes in his will to win and in his own abilities more than any of those other factors might deter him. He has a keen eye for talent and will probably be able to identify some productive players on the cheap. He also has an incredible self-belief that he can coach up the players he has. It's the reason he's been able to win a Quebec Major Junior League title, a Memorial Cup, a Calder Cup a Stanley Cup and now a Swiss League championship. The Flames finished ninth in the Western Conference, just five points behind Los Angeles, which is two wins away from capturing the Stanley Cup. Hartley might make the difference in getting the Flames into postseason, but the question is how far will he be able to take them?
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