To say it has been an interesting season for the Calgary Flames would be a massive understatement. Despite sitting third in the Pacific Division at the time of the NHL stoppage, the 2019-20 season was anything but smooth sailing for them. They struggled to find any type of consistency from the get-go, as their usual top performers such as Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and even captain Mark Giordano were not their usual selves.
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The lowest point of the season came on Nov. 25 when Akim Aliu made a statement claiming that then-Flames head coach Bill Peters had made racist remarks to him years prior. On Nov. 29, Peters announced his resignation and the team named Geoff Ward the interim head coach shortly after.
Since he is just the interim head coach at this point, it is unclear whether or not the Flames will stick with him or search elsewhere for a coach in the offseason. However, they should remove his interim tag and keep him as their permanent head coach.
Team Improved Under Ward
Even though the Flames’ season felt rocky and inconsistent all year long, they had actually improved in a big way once Ward took over. Prior to Peters being fired, the team had a record of 12-12-4 and were outside of a playoff spot. With Ward in charge, they went 24-15-3, which allowed them to climb up the standings and back into a playoff position.
Despite the uncertainty Ward was faced with on whether or not he would remain the team’s head coach, he was able to focus on the task at hand and save what was on the verge of becoming a lost season. It speaks greatly towards his mental approach that he was able to be all-in despite not knowing what the future has in store for him.
Flames Coaching Carousel
Over the last 10 years, the Flames have had a revolving door when it comes to coaches. The list includes Brent Sutter, Bob Hartley, Glen Gulutzan, Bill Peters, and currently Geoff Ward. Though many of the players on Flames roster have not been there for all of this, a lot of their players have still had to play for many different coaches during their careers. Take Johnny Gaudreau for an example, as the 26-year-old has already played for four coaches despite being in the league for just seven seasons.
Having different coaches can be very tough on players, as they all bring in different systems which can take players a long while to get adjusted to. If a new voice keeps coming in, it can cause confusion amongst players which frustrates them and causes them to underperform. When Ward came in, it was somewhat different, as he had been with the team as an assistant coach since the start of the 2018-19 season. This is beneficial for the players as they already have a relationship and know where they stand.
Geoff Ward has what only one current roster player (Milan Lucic) on the Flames has. A Stanley Cup ring. For multiple seasons now, many have considered this team a contender in the West only to have disappointing playoff runs again and again. Keeping a coach around who has a Stanley Cup championship to his name will certainly have the Flames core look at him with a high level of respect, as it is something the majority of them have not yet accomplished to this point.
Ward is the first Flames head coach to have won a Stanley Cup since Bob Hartley, who was fired by the team after the 2015-16 season. Though Ward was not a head coach with the Stanley Cup-winning 2011 Boston Bruins, he was still behind the bench and was able to see and learn exactly what it takes for a team to win it all. Having this knowledge would be a big help for the team.
Wise to Stick With Ward
Flames general manager Brad Treliving has been on record saying that the team is unsure of whether or not they will keep Ward as their permanent head coach. It isn’t a bad idea for Treliving to keep his options open, however the man he currently has is the best bet to go with.
Some will say that the decision should be made depending how the team does in playoffs. In a normal season, that sentiment would make sense. However, because this season was ended prematurely and the players will have months off before taking the ice for playoffs, it does not make sense to put the team’s success on the shoulders of the coach, whether positive or negative. Ward has helped get the team to this point, and deserves a chance at a full season behind the bench in 2020-21.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.