Flames have to be quick learners
CALGARY — Every NHL team wants to get out of the gates quickly in the mad dash for playoff berths this lockout-shortened season, but the Calgary Flames will have to try to win early and often with coaches they don’t know.
Only Flames forward Alex Tanguay, who played for Bob Hartley in Colorado a decade ago, has more to go on than initial training-camp impressions of Calgary’s new head coach.
What’s more, assistants Jacques Cloutier and Martin Gelinas are also new this year. Goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk is the only member of the on-ice coaching staff back from last season.
“I know there’s going to be some adjustments,” captain Jarome Iginla said. “It’s a different style as far as where we want to be, where we want our sticks to be, what we’re forcing and what we’re not. Once you get on the ice, you don’t want to be thinking about it. You want to be going.
“I think we spend more time in the video room. We are cramming more. There is definitely a preparing-for-a-test type of thing. We’re all trying to adjust to the new way and be good at it. We expect to be good when the puck drops.”
Calgary opens the season Sunday at home against San Jose Sharks, who will be followed into town by the Anaheim Ducks on Monday.
The Flames must familiarize themselves with their new coaches on the fly.
“This is the time where you try to give them as much information as possible,” Hartley said. “We’re going to get better. Whether in the video room or on the ice, those guys will grab what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Hartley’s hiring May 31 was Calgary’s fifth coaching change in seven years.
The Flames pried Hartley out of a contract with the Swiss league’s Zurich Lions in hopes the 52-year-old from Hawkesbury, Ont., can ignite a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in three years.
The Flames aren’t alone in starting the season’s sprint with someone new behind the bench, although Ralph Krueger of the Edmonton Oilers served as an assistant with the team for two seasons before his promotion.
Michel Therrien returns to coach the Montreal Canadiens after holding that job for parts of three seasons a decade ago. Former Capitals captain Adam Oates is the new coach in Washington.
Randy Carlyle of the Maple Leafs is somewhat new as Toronto played 18 games for him last season after Ron Wilson was fired March 2.
Hartley said he and his assistants spent copious amounts of time with the digital versions of the Flames when they couldn’t work with the real thing.
“For the entire length of the lockout, we were here all day every day looking at game tapes,” Hartley said. “We looked at every player. We could watch full games, but we could also program into the computer that I would want to see the last 80 shifts of last season of Jarome and then the last 80 shifts of Mikael Backlund.
“We have a big base of information. Obviously now we have to learn to know them, learn to work with them, to communicate with them, but that’s going to take time. Unfortunately time is against us right now, but you can’t postpone the schedule. With hard work and passion, lots of times that can cause some great things to happen.”
Hartley has to work with a similar team to that of his predecessors on the risk-averse Flames. The club opens the season again hoping to find a centre for Iginla on the right wing.
The Flames will ride 36-year-old goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff as far and as much as they can, although the 48-game schedule means the Finn will play less than 70 regular-season games for the first time in seven seasons.
Again, the Flames need secondary scoring to take the heat off Iginla’s line and for 2007 first-round draft pick Mikael Backlund to assert himself more.
Defenceman Jay Bouwmeester is the NHL’s current “Ironman” at 588 consecutive games played. He’s a major minute-muncher, but the Flames want more offence out of a player that counts US$6.6 million against the salary cap.
While these have been ongoing themes with the Flames in recent years, off-season acquisitions Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka and defenceman Dennis Wideman pump some new and expensive blood into the lineup.
Hudler, a Stanley Cup winner with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, signed as a free agent for four years and $16 million.
General manager Jay Feaster acquired the rights to 29-year-old Wideman from the Capitals before the defenceman entered free agency last summer.
The Flames signed the Kitchener, Ont., native to a five-year contract with an average annual value of US$5.25 million, believing Wideman’s puck skills can help produce offence from the back end.
Cervenka, 27, was pegged by Feaster as a top-six forward for the club when he announced the signing of the Czech forward to a one-year contract worth US$3,775,000 including bonuses.
The question hanging over the club is the future of Iginla, the team’s captain, franchise leader in most offensive categories and a Flame for all of his 15 years in the NHL.
The 35-year-old is in the fifth and final year of a contract that pays him US$7 million annually.
Iginla made it clear prior to the start of training camp he will not talk about his contract status or a possible trade every day of this truncated season, but he may not be able to avoid it if the Flames stagger at the start.
“Whoever becomes the best team the quickest is going to do well,” said winger Mike Cammalleri. “Your odds are a lot better to be where you want to be should you have a strong start.
“However, there’s always outliers and we’ll take it as it comes. But right now we want to win Game 1.”