Jay Feaster had to act fast to keep his old friend Bob Hartley out of the clutches of the rival Montreal Canadiens or the ZSC Lions in Switzerland.
So the Calgary Flames general manager offered him the job of head coach and said he had to head west right away. On Thursday morning, Hartley called new Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and told him he wouldn’t be showing up for that second interview while Feaster arranged the release of Hartley and assistant coach Jacques Cloutier from the Lions, their former employers in Zurich. Then he and Hartley went to a press conference to announce he is the next head coach of the Flames.
Hartley, 51, implied Feaster didn’t need to feel so pressured. He had already made his decision earlier in the week after a dinner meeting. He and Feaster had remained close since their days together in the mid-1990s as the head coach and GM, respectively, for the Hershey Bears, then the farm team of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
“When I got up from that dinner my mind was made up,” Hartley said.
Feaster’s mind was made up a lot earlier than that, although he did interview Troy Ward, the head coach of the Flames’ American Hockey League farm team.
“The opportunity to speak with Bob did have a deadline on it,” Feaster said, although he did not give out any further details. “We tried analyzing the candidates available and kept coming back to [Hartley]was the guy we wanted.
“That’s why I phoned Bob and said you have to get out here right away. We were up against the time-frame and knew we weren’t the only ones chasing him.”
It was no surprise Feaster turned to Hartley after the Flames parted company with Brent Sutter. He and Feaster won a Calder Cup together in Hershey in 1997 and Hartley won a Stanley Cup during his five seasons as head coach of the Avalanche, which ended in 2002. Hartley also took ZSC to the Swiss league championship. His last stint as an NHL head coach ended in October of 2007 when he was fired by the Atlanta Thrashers.
“As important as it was to get a coach who is experienced in the National Hockey League, we wanted a communicator, a coach who played that high-tempo style, a coach who’s a good bench boss,” Feaster said. “[Flames majority owner]Murray Edwards said, ‘I look at this list and you’re trying to hire Superman.’ As we looked at it, [Hartley]filled those criteria.
“I’m not going to say Superman, I’m not putting that tag on him, but he’s coached Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta. He’s coached a lot of high-profile players, that is a plus for us.”
Despite the swing to a defensive, shot-blocking style in the NHL through the playoffs, Hartley promised the Flames fans his teams will be fun to watch.
“We want to play a very high-tempo hockey game,” he said. “This game is about entertainment.”
He also promised the players to be a good communicator.
“I work very honestly,” Hartley said. “I’m known for not sending e-mails. When I have something to say, I’m a straight shooter.”
The only thing that remained cloudy was how Feaster got Hartley out of his contract with ZSC. Hartley finished one year of a two-year deal that he said had an out-clause for three NHL teams – the Flames, Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques, should a team return to that city. He was also allowed to bring Cloutier with him as an assistant coach but there is a strong suspicion the Swiss team squeezed some compensation out of the Flames.
Feaster, though, did not care to go into detail about the matter.