CALGARY – It might be coming later than he wanted, but Bob Hartley is a lot closer to finally getting behind the Calgary Flames’ bench.
Hartley was hired on May 31, but has yet to get the chance to work with his new team due to the lengthy labour strife between the NHL and its players. The two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract Sunday, and once the collective bargaining agreement is approved, it will be back to work.
“We’re just excited,” Hartley said. “This is a great day for us today.”
Whenever training camp starts, Hartley said that he and his coaching staff will be ready to run their players through the paces to get ready for their first game.
“We were not told when will be the first day on the ice or when camp will open or when will be our first game,” he said. “Obviously on our part there’s lots of excitement.”
Hartley will be joined by new assistant coaches Jacques Cloutier and Martin Gelinas, as well as returning goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk. The group will have their work cut out for it to help the Flames improve on their ninth-place showing in the Western Conference last season.
“We’re not going to look for negatives or excuses,” Hartley said. “It’s going to be a short camp for everyone. It’s up to us to have a plan and we have one. We will be ready.”
Flames’ general manager Jay Feaster has confidence that Hartley and his staff can lead the Flames in the right direction.
“They have gone through plans for any length of training camp, whatever number of days it is,” Feaster said. “They’ve studied film. They’re more than ready to go.”
Feaster is also eager to see how the players will adapt to Hartley’s coaching style.
“The guys have been skating and yet it doesn’t replicate the feel of game action and game pace,” Feaster said. “With a whole new coaching staff, that certainly is one of the challenges that we have. It’ll be a different system. It’ll be a different style of play.
“From our perspective, we want to get right at it and get on the ice and get the guys familiar with what it is that Bob wants them doing this year.”
Once again the Flames will have rely on the play of captain Jarome Iginla and workhorse goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff if they hope to lock down a playoff berth during the shortened season.
“There’s one guy we’re never concerned about in terms of coming in in shape and that’s Jarome,” Feaster said. “He’s fanatical about it. He always has been. He’s a consummate pro. He takes that responsibility seriously, so we know he’s going to be ready.”
Feaster also has no doubt that Kiprusoff will be ready to go once the puck drops.
“Our No. 1 goaltender, we know who that is and where our bread and butter is and that’s Kipper,” said Feaster, while noting that Henrik Karlsson and Leland Irving will compete for the backup job.
Feaster said he also has high hopes for off-season acquisitions Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman.
“Jiri’s been playing over in Europe and so we expect him to be ready to go,” Feaster said. “It’s my understanding that Wideman had been in town and was working out with the guys.”
One player who won’t be ready for camp is Roman Cervenka, who the Flames signed to a one-year contract worth $3.775 million in May. While playing with Lev Prague of the KHL, Cervenka developed blood clots.
“At this point in time if camp starts this coming week we wouldn’t expect him to be cleared to be ready to go,” Feaster said.
Regardless of who’s ready to play when the season starts, Hartley said that he’s confident that he’ll be able to ice a competitive squad.
“I want to make a promise as soon as we’re going to get on the ice we’re going to be a hard-working team and we want to make our fans very proud of their team,” he said.
That’s good news for Flames’ president Ken King, who apologized to fans for the work stoppage on behalf of the entire franchise.
“It’s a pure and simple and humble apology to our fans,” King said. “My experience with fans is that the reason they’re fans is because they love hockey. When Bob Harley and that new coaching staff and our team step out on that ice, the best thing that we can do to show gratitude is to give them a very high-end performance.”