In 1993, Bob Hartley steered Laval to a Junior Hockey league title in Quebec. He led his Hershey Bears team to a Calder Cup in 1997. Under his tutelage, he governed the Zurich Lions to a Swiss National League A title. Hartley went on to win not one . . . not two, but four Northwest Division Titles with the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League from 1999 through 2002. Moving on yet again, Hartley went on to lead the Atlanta Thrashers to their only playoff nod and Southwest Division Title in 2007.
Bob Hartley has been known as an authoritarian defensive minded coach even from his early days. To be sure, being known as an authoritarian defensive minded coach tends to spark up the ire of many loyal goal happy fans. In Colorado, nothing was acceptable but another Stanley Cup victory for the immensely talented squad. In Atlanta, he was in a rebuild mode that netted their first Division title all the while getting a hard tongue lashing from fans for decisions like benching or locking out star child and goal scoring machine IIya Kovalchuk.
If one really studies the career of Bob Hartley, you begin to see less of an authoritarian and more of a taskmaster. You begin to see not an outspoken, brash individual, but a detailed oriented coach that expects his team to be physically ready to be on the ice, be able to maintain their skill sets, and be able to grow within the team structure. If that is considered to be an authoritarian, then I have a castle at Disneyland for sale . . . cheap.
Looking at Hartley’s prowess as coach you begin to see that Hartley is less concerned with his image, because he knows that the fans come to see the players, not him. He thereby downplays himself in order to foster a better all around team. We all know that when you have a consistent winning or championship team, it gives you the leeway to speak out more, but I believe the outspoken Hartley was justified. Don’t forget that coaching in a big city market is a different ballgame. The fans and media are completely ruthless and constantly take jabs at every managerial decision or scratch mark in the loss column.
With all of the history behind Hartley, he now stands at the doorstep of making more history with the Calgary Flames. The authoritarian of yesteryear has turned into an locker room example of infectious optimism. Yes, he is still a defensive minded coach and he still has high expectations of his players. However, there is a reason he has the nickname of Bob the Rebuilder. His track record is clear. The occasional whines of primadonna players and fan grumblings quietly disappear after winning division titles.
The worldly and incredibly experienced Bob Hartley simply does whatever is needed in any new role he takes on, whether its teaching a three year old how to skate or wining the Stanley Cup. Yes, he does it in his unique way. Given his career credentials, wouldn’t you want him to?