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Has This Team Outgrown Bob Hartley?

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So my Stanley Cup Playoff tickets just arrived just now. They have a bit of U. of Michigan blue and maize look to them. I put them up on my shelf next to last year's tickets. I'm propping them up with my Byron Dafoe and Norm Maracle (Wolves) bobble heads (as least they're helping me reach the playoffs).

Anyway, I would like to be writing some glowing piece about how I expect the Thrashers to dominate and roll to the Stanley Cup but instead I'm left writing about how I think the coach is no longer a great fit for the team anymore. I gave myself a cooling down period of a day after the Washington lost so I wouldn't just vent. So I've had time to reflect and I'm going to take the plunge.

When Bob Hartley was hired he brought some badly needed discipline, organization and a stiff upper lip. He hammered away at the need for players to stay in the fight and keep battling away. The Thrashers were young, unstructured and lacked confidence. However, those words no longer describe this team.

The Thrashers now have one of the oldest rosters in the NHL. They have veterans who have been around the league for years--people who ought to know where to put their stick in the faceoff circle. This is no longer a club of young kids taking on the big bad National Hockey League and as a consequence they need don't need a coach who is going to lead the charge over the barricades. What this team needs is a coach who make the roster function together with maximum efficiency, and I'm pretty sure the Hartley is not the guy.

  • The power play is loaded with talent, but it simply doesn't work. All the skill that GM Don Waddell has assembled is deployed with almost no imagination. The goals that have been scored recently were because of fortunate bounces on broken plays--they were not the product of designed plays.
  • Anyone who watches the team long enough knows that Coach Hartley has his favorites. Those favorites are not held to the same standard as other players. It is nearly impossible for one of Hartley's guys to get benched no matter what they do on the ice. This undermines the team concept. It is not smart to let a guy gather mold up for a month in the press box (Hnidy in October, McCarthy in March). Bob explains that "you don't change a winning lineup" back in October, but then later he does scratch someone from a winning lineup--why not just admit that you don't want to play someone?
  • Hartley's handling of the goalies has not been good. Is it so difficult to put them into a rotation where Lehtonen gets two start to every one for Hedberg? But coach plays Lehtonen until he looks tired and then expects a rusty Hedberg to give them a great game. Not every goalie is Patrick Roy.
  • For a coach that was supposed to be a great teacher Hartley sure doesn't seem to like young players very much. The Thrashers ended up losing Chris Kunitz to Anahein because Hartley refused to play him. This is a huge problem in the salary cap age, because every team needs to have young (read: cheap) players on their roster. Look at the rosters of western powerhouses like Anaheim and San Jose. Their coaches seem to be able to find a spot for players like Chris Kunitz. Next year the Thrashers are going to need to play rookies like Bret Sterling or Enstrom if they are going to spend their money resigning Kozlov. Yet I fear Hartley's head will explode once he realizes he must give ice time to those young players.

I'm not just posting this because of the Washington game. I've been concerned about this for quite some time. My guess is that I'm not the only one who notices these particular flaws in our coach. Hartley's contract is up at the end of the season, and personally I hope the team chooses to pursue someone who knows strategy and tactics better. The Hartley mentality of "just keep working hard" doesn't cut it, when you are employing a flawed strategy in the first place.