Priorities Lead Hurricanes to Snag Mike Bales

Ron Francis, general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, has been busy this offseason restructuring pieces of his coaching staff. Most recently, Francis snagged Mike Bales from the Pittsburgh Penguins to be his team’s new goalie coach. In the team’s announcement regarding Bales, Francis is quoted as saying,

Mike has a proven history of success as a goaltending coach with the Penguins, winning back-to-back Stanley Cups,” said Francis. “Based on our research, we are confident that he is someone our goalies and coaching staff will enjoy working with, and we’re thrilled to have him in our organization.

Getting Bales was quite the move for Francis, and speaks to his having set priorities and going after them as the ‘Canes general manager.

Francis Had a Plan

In an article written on April 23, I wrote about Francis’ comments at the end of season press conference regarding his priorities for the offseason. At the top of the list was shoring up the Hurricanes’ goaltending situation. Francis left no room for doubt when he said, “I think if we look at the team, it’s not a secret. Our goals-against was 18th and our save percentage was tied for 27th in the league. So, that’s certainly an area we’ve got to look at real closely and fix for next season.” Francis had set his priority and then set his plan in motion.

Francis also said, “I think we’re in a position where we have some options to look at doing some things. And certainly, with the expansion draft, there may be goaltenders that teams are going to lose that they’re willing to trade, so we can look at that. I think (there are) free agent goaltenders that will hit the free agent market, we can look at that. And also, we’ll dive deeper into our situation and try to figure out what’s going on there, as well.” In the end, the “diving deeper” was a quick splash.

First, Francis signed Scott Darling, grabbing him from the Chicago Blackhawks. They sent a third-round draft pick to the Blackhawks, one they had received from the Ottawa Senators in the trade that sent forward Stalberg to the Senators this season on February 28. The scenario unfolded as Francis predicted, as Darling was coming up on free-agency this July, and the Blackhawks did not want to lose him and get nothing in return.

Next step for Francis

One of the other things that Francis did quickly after the season was to part company with several members of the Hurricanes’ coaching staff. One of the coaches who was informed his services would no longer be needed was goaltending coach, David Marcoux. Between bringing in Darling and letting go of Marcoux, Francis confirmed what he said previously about making changes with the goal of improving the team’s goaltending performance. This weekend, he filled the void in the coaching staff roster by snagging Bales from the Penguins.

Marcoux has a good resume, particularly with the Calgary Flames as their goaltending coach. Last season’s Hurricanes media guide noted, “Marcoux spent six years as the goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames between 2003 and 2009, helping Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff become a Vezina Trophy and Williams Jennings Trophy winner, as well as a Hart Trophy finalist in 2005-06.”

But, Francis made up his mind to make changes and so he did. On June 9, an announcement came from the team that they had agreed to terms with assistant coaches Rod Brind’Amour and Steve Smith, as well as Video Coach Chris Huffine. Francis also announced that the team has added L.J. Scarpace as video coach. The remaining puzzle piece to find and fit into the coaching staff was a goaltending coach.

Bagging Bales

The Penguins had only just won their second Stanley Cup Finals in a row, had their victory parade, and were setting in to enjoy another offseason of victory, when Bales was called in and told he was no longer the team’s goalie coach. In a report in the Charlotte Observer on June 17, Bales is reported to have said, “It’s kind of a tough situation. The day after the Cup parade I was called in the office and told they planned to move past me.” He also said, “News travels fast. Carolina called me and said they were interested.”

So, Bales is now going to be coaching Scott Darling and possibly either Cam Ward or Eddie Lack, depending on how the expansion draft works out. His close ties to Marc-André Fleury, who may not be with the Penguins much longer, made Bales expendable to them. Matt Murray is obviously the future of the Pens, and he is more closely related to Mike Buckley, who is now the team’s goalie coach.But, all of this made Bales a great grab for Francis. Of course, Darling and whoever else will have to perform, but for the moment, Francis’ moves have been impressive.