Hot Talk: Calgary Flames head coach choices
If it’s not Job No. 1 for new Calgary Flames general manager Craig Conroy, it’s right up there: hire a new head coach to replace the fired Darryl Sutter.
Conroy definitely has a few choices when it comes to experienced NHL bench bosses who are available, but we’ve narrowed that list down for him.
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Craig Ellingson: OK, I’ve done some of the hard work for Conroy already. I’ve narrowed his search for the new Flames head coach down to two names, each from a different ‘pile,’ plus one as a fallback in case they don’t come to fruition.
Steve Macfarlane: That’s a short list. Let’s hear it. Also, I’m sure Conroy can use all the help he can get right now.
Craig: Like I said, I did the hard work. I started with a list of like 25 people. It’s down to 3!
Do you think CC needs lots of help? He’s got a pretty sizeable, experienced cast of execs surrounding him.
Steve: I just meant there aren’t enough hours in a day right now with the draft and figuring out if he needs to make guys like Elias Lindholm available for trade by then, on top of the coach and other positions. I do think he has some solid colleagues to take some of the work on … and now he has you.
Craig: Me and anyone else with a blog or social-media account that uses the hashtag #Flames. 😂
OK, I’ll start with the ‘used’ market, as in experienced coaches who are available to start right away. The top of my list is Gerard Gallant. He’s led talented NHL rosters of three different team over the last decade, teams not unlike the Flames. One of those teams was the Florida Panthers, which at the time included a young Jonathan Huberdeau.
Just as important as that connection are the facts that Gallant is a three-time coach of the year candidate and that he led the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup final in their first year.
There, how’s that for linking the two likely Cup finalists this season to this? 😁
Steve: Heavy favourite if it’s an external, experienced hire for sure. I think Gallant is definitely going to get a long look. I think my biggest concern about him is does he fit the fresh and new theme the Flames are going for? Are they looking to distance themselves from the ‘old’?
Craig: That’s why my 1B under experienced NHL coaches would be Andrew Brunette. He’s younger and has a year under his belt as an NHL head coach. And what a year that was: last season’s Panthers, who not only finished first in the overall league standings but also featured a high-scoring Huberdeau. That’s got to be a bright, shining light that would attract Conroy to Brunette like a moth.
Steve: AB as 1B makes some sense too. Small sample size but the Flames have invested more than $80M for the next eight years of Huberdeau so they’ll no doubt get some opinions from their million-dollar man as part of the process. But the Panthers failed to translate regular season run and gun into playoff success so is there a balance to be found there with Brunette?
He definitely intrigues me more than Gallant as someone who could be more culture compliant with Conroy’s vision, if you know what I mean.
Craig: What about Gallant’s approach wouldn’t align with Conroy, compared to Brunette’s?
Steve: For me, I just wonder about his longevity. He’s more of a ‘player’s coach’ than Darryl Sutter was, and his connection with Huberdeau goes way back to junior, but why does his shelf life seem so short? He hasn’t made it past three years anywhere so far. I’m just curious about that. And I like that Brunette is younger, I suppose.
Interestingly, reports out of Nee York suggested at least a couple of players spoke out against Gallant in exit interviews with the GM — sound familiar?
Craig: I got the impression the chorus singing sour about Sutter was a lot louder than the one for Gallant. Maybe that’s because the Flames missed the playoffs and NYR was a contending team.
Or maybe it’s because I live in the West and in Canada, and my social feeds are/were crammed with Sutter observations.
Steve: I think you’re right. It definitely didn’t get the same play as Sutter. But I think he definitely is in the interview category with the Calgary Flames.
Who else is on the list?
Craig: On the inexperienced side, I’ve got Mitch Love, of course. I think he would be the only minor-league coach Conroy would even consider at this point. Love has made the most of the Flames’ affiliate roster these past two seasons. Now that being said, I would wonder if someone in-house would be looked at, like Ryan Huska. He was once bench boss for the Flames’ AHL team. He also coached some powerful Kelowna teams in the WHL and won the Mem Cup one year.
Steve: Those could easily be the final four names. I think Huska is a solid coach and if the Flames don’t promote him, someone else will probably snatch him up sooner than later. It can be tough to go from assistant to head coach — from buffer to big guy — just ask Jim Playfair, who took over the last time Sutter left the Flames bench. But if there is a perfect situation for that transition, it might be with this team since it’s likely the players who had problems with Sutter were probably venting to the assistants.
Love is such an intriguing proposition. Young. Clearly talented. Players love him and he has a deep knowledge of the prospects. You have to think he’ll get some real attention elsewhere sooner than later after two AHL coach of the year awards.
Craig: I would have to think one reason why Huska could be ahead of Love is because of how much experience he has and because of the variety of it, too. Love has coached successfully in major junior, too, in Saskatoon but he’s been coaching half as long.
Huska’s been a coach, whether assistant or a head man, the last 20 years, Love 10. That’s their difference in age, too: about a decade, Huska is 47 and Love 38.
#Flames set to announce new GM and other management pieces at noon today in Calgary. Conroy and Dave Nonis are believed to be the top draws but Iginla as some sort of advisor or consultant for this season could also be part of the fanfare today.
— Steve Macfarlane (@MacfarlaneHKY) May 23, 2023
Steve: So Huska is future Love …
It will be really interesting to see how this all played out. Are the Flames looking for a temporary placeholder before Jarome Iginla is ready? Do they go with youth for long-term stability now?
I guess we’ll find out fairly soon.
Craig: Do you think Iginla is being looked at as their future head coach, not a front-office position?
Steve: That’s something that I think is the great unknown. He’s coaching now but is that what he wants down the road? Yet another variable to speculate on after the hire.