The Calgary Flames announced on Monday that Geoff Ward would be losing his interim label, and the team would be replacing his title with something a little more fitting – “head coach of the Calgary Flames.”
Now of course, for Ward and the Flames, the new label probably isn’t going to feel a whole lot different, as Ward has been with the Flames since May 2018 as an assistant and served as interim coach since November 2019. Flames general manager Brad Treliving certainly took his time to find the next head coach for his team, and he wanted everyone to know that the job was earned, and not given to Ward.
“I want to be clear – Geoff is not the coach here because it’s the path of least resistance or just because he was here,” said Treliving. It took three weeks to find the next bench boss for this team, but with no start date set on the 2020-21 season, did the Flames rush this decision, or is Ward ready to go?
I’ll be completely honest, there was not a lot of coaching options that I could have seen working out in Calgary. The last thing Treliving and his team needed was another undetected issue with their coach – that was far too distracting last November. So for Treliving, he has probably already seen a big enough sample size on who Geoff is as a person, on and off the bench. There were two potential fits in my mind that I would have at least liked to see interviewed by the Flames at the very least. One was Peter Laviolette, and the other, Gerard Gallant.
Laviolette’s resume has always stood out to me. He is the fourth coach in NHL history to lead three teams to the Stanley Cup Final and has 637 NHL regular-season wins in 1,210 games, but he wasn’t jobless for long, signing a three-year contract as head coach of the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
Gallant, however, is still on the hunt for a coaching job. He took the expansion Vegas Golden Knights all the way to Game 5 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season and has 270 regular-season wins under his belt as head coach in 541 games.
To be clear, Ward faced a lot of challenges in the 2019-20 season. My goodness, who could forget Ward’s intro to the interim coaching position. When the Flames head coach at the time, Peters, got himself into hot water over previous racial comments made against a former player of his 10 years prior, the Flames had to act fast.
Peters was fired within four days of Akim Aliu, the target of Peters’ racial comments, going public. Ward was very quickly thrown on scene as Flames interim coach. Despite early criticism, Ward and the Flames won the first seven games of his tenure before going 25-15-3 by the seasons end.
No, it wasn’t the “run” that Flames players and fans had hoped for this year, but despite not passing the opening round yet again, this team showed a lot of positives against the Dallas Stars, as well as against the Winnipeg Jets in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The blame for the Flames’ awful Game 6 collapse against the Stars should not go against Ward, although some fans were not happy with some of his goaltending decisions.
It just seemed as if neither Cam Talbot nor David Rittich had the needed extra gear to drive their team to a Game 7, and Ward ultimately took heat for it from fans. Let’s not forget, the Flames were less than 12 seconds away from a 3-1, series lead against the Stars, but hockey is a game of inches.
Ward is no stranger to the NHL. This will be his first taste of a head coaching job, but he has served as an assistant coach for the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, and Flames. Ward also won a championship in 2011 with the Bruins alongside current Flames forward, Milan Lucic, which does give him that coveted Stanley Cup coaching experience that so many teams dream of.
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With potential big changes coming to Calgary’s top-six forwards, as well as their D-core, it will be interesting to see how Ward can manage this team for the duration of an 82-game schedule, but for Ward and this team, the mindset has to be to advance past the first round of the playoffs. Anything less would be a missed opportunity as the Flames’ core gets another year older.