CALGARY, Alberta — Bob Hartley is back in the NHL. What’s surprising is it’s with the Calgary Flames.
The Montreal Canadiens seemed a likely destination for the Stanley Cup winner because of Hartley’s roots in Ontario and his French-speaking background. Hartley was in discussions with the Canadiens and some already had his arrival in Montreal a foregone conclusion.
But the 51-year-old coach signed a three-year contract Thursday with the Flames, a stalled franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in three years. He replaces Brent Sutter after Sutter and the club parted company in April. Hartley is Calgary’s fifth coach since the 2004-05 lockout.
The Flames narrowly missed the playoffs under Sutter for three years in a row, finishing ninth in the Western Conference this season at 37-29-16.
“One of the teams in the Stanley Cup finals, the L.A. Kings, just finished five points ahead of the Calgary Flames,” Hartley said. “It’s just to show you the difference between being a Stanley Cup winner and a non-playoff team is very, very slim.
“There’s special expectations that come with a Canadian market. Growing up in Ontario, I’ve won many Stanley Cups playing pond hockey or in the street. I was very fortunate to win a Stanley Cup with Colorado and that’s the kind of attitude I want to bring to this dressing room.
“I can promise you and I can promise the fans that we will not only give you entertaining hockey, but we will make sure that the Calgary Flames are a top team in the National Hockey League.”
Hartley and Flames general manager Jay Feaster have a close relationship from their days together with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. The two won a Calder Cup together in 1997 before embarking on their respective NHL careers.
Hartley is the godfather of Feaster’s son Ryan.
“We’ve always stayed in touch,” Hartley said.
He certainly has experience and a track record of success. Hartley coached for a decade in the NHL with both the Colorado Avalanche and Atlanta Thrashers and won a Stanley Cup in 2001 win the Avs.
“He’s coached Patrick Roy, he’s coached Joe Sakic, he’s coached Peter Forsberg, he’s coached (Ilya) Kovalchuk in Atlanta,” Feaster said. “He’s coached a lot of high-profile players. I think that is a plus for us.
“I think he’s very good at understanding people, what motivates people, what drives people, what drives athletes, what players want to accomplish and how you go about getting that. Bob is a guy who gets people to believe in him. I think that’s why he’s had success.”
The Flames pried Hartley away from the Swiss league’s Zurich Lions, who were reluctant to give up a coach who led them to a league championship this season. Hartley had a year remaining on a two-year contract.
Calgary secured Hartley’s release from the Lions late Wednesday. Hartley said he informed new Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin of his decision Thursday morning.
“It was a quick decision, but I have no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision,” Hartley said.
Hartley had already spoken to Flames captain Jarome Iginla and teammates Alex Tanguay and Mike Cammalleri before meeting the media. Tanguay, who played for Hartley in Colorado, gave him a ringing endorsement,
Hartley started coaching the Avs in 1998 and was fired partway through his fifth season in Denver. He was quickly hired by the Thrashers, who made their first playoff appearance under Hartley in 2006-07. He was fired just six games into the following season, however, when the team hadn’t earned a point.