Most newly hired coaches want to start yesterday. Geoff Ward will accept a little extra time off.
Instead of prepping for September training camp in Calgary, he plans to watch his children play hockey, field hockey, and lacrosse. He and his wife hope to see the foliage in New Hampshire and Maine.
“I’m going to take full advantage,” he said by telephone this past week. “If this goes on a little bit longer, I’m not going to be disappointed. As long as we get back to work relatively quickly.”
Ward, 58, has called the Boston suburbs — Bedford, and now Lexington — his home base for 11 years, while traveling the world building the résumé of an NHL bench boss. Ward has his shot now. This past week, he was stripped of the interim tag by general manager Brad Treliving.
In announcing the hire, Treliving praised Ward for stabilizing the team during the “uncomfortable” situation last year with deposed coach Bill Peters, who was accused of making racist comments. Dealing with instability, as Ward can attest, is part of the gig.
Ward, who taught elementary school before getting into coaching, has stopped at a Canadian university (Waterloo), the OHL (Kitchener, Guelph), Germany (three stints), and AHL (Hamilton). He is best known in Boston for his seven years as a Claude Julien assistant, resigning in 2014 to take a head coaching job with Mannheim of the DEL. He returned the following season as a Devils assistant, returning to Germany in the spring to coach in the World Championships four years in a row. He joined Peters’s staff in 2018.
“I have to give my family a lot of credit,” Ward said. "It’s a tough gig at the best of times. My wife [Carolyn] has been so, so supportive. She’s strong. There’s been lots of times when I’m not there when they need their dad, when something happens at school or in sports, and my wife kind of does all that. There’s no chance I’d have been able to do everything without her.
“The kids have done a good job, too. My older two have done a good job with the younger two, filling in where they need to. It’s been a whole team effort.”
For his oldest two, Cody (a junior student assistant for Canisius College hockey) and Kylie (a sophomore lacrosse player at Merrimack), being the kids of a coach meant an international education. When Ward traded his job on Edmonton’s player development staff to coach the DEL’s Iserlohn Roosters in 2006, his kids entered German school, in first and second grade.
“They were fluent in three months,” Ward said. “When they wanted to talk privately at the dinner table, they’d just rattle on in German. We had to say, hold on, hold on . . ."
When Ward left the Bruins for Mannheim in 2015, they stayed home, as did younger sister Hannah and brother Sawyer. Their father lived in apartments in New Jersey and Calgary.
Around the league, players are thankful for the time with their families, in this strangest of offseasons. Instead of FaceTiming with his kids during the fall, Ward will be Zooming with his players and fellow staff over the next few weeks.
He’s expecting to be back in Calgary by the start of November, start training camp in the middle of the month, and open the 2020-21 season in early December. He recognizes those dates could move. Many around the league expect to play in bubbles, at least to start. Cross-border travel and indoor crowds are unlikely to be a part of the restart.
Ward cut players loose after their first-round exit against Dallas, hoping a few weeks’ break would let them reflect on what went right and wrong. He was holding exit meetings this past week. His staff of assistants “will be finalized shortly,” he said. Ryan Huska, Martin Gelinas, Ray Edwards, goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet, and video coach Jamie Pringle were on the staff at season’s end.
The old Bruins' core, built during Ward’s time under Julien, rolls on. While Boston tries to reload as Patrice Bergeron and Co. slow down, Calgary is trying to get over the hump.
The Flames' dossier includes three first-round exits in the last four years, and four coaches in the last five. They were first in the West last year, but fizzled out in five games against Colorado. This season, L’Affaire Peters hit them in November, and Ward coached at a 100-point pace (24-15-3) from Christmas onward. In the Edmonton bubble, they beat a banged-up Jets squad in the play-in, and lost a 2-1 lead to Dallas in a six-game ouster.
Naturally, Ward compares the Calgary core — Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Mark Giordano, Mikael Backlund — to that of the 2009-10 Bruins, who surrendered a 3-0 lead to Philadelphia in the second round.
“We had that collapse against Philly, after being up, 3-0, after [David Krejci] got hurt,” Ward said. "I don’t know if we would have won the Cup the next year if we hadn’t gone through that. It was a solidifying factor.
“I’m not saying at all that what happens in Calgary is going to follow what happened in Boston. But where our leadership group is at this time, what they have to learn, how they’re evolving, those years have a lot of similarities for me, between the two groups.”
The Bruins had difficult, personal conversations after the Philadelphia collapse. They went to Brattleboro, Vt., for two days of team-building exercises.
“That was a huge moment for us, going back and putting the end of that ’10 season to bed,” Ward said. “I remember Bergy standing up and [Zdeno Chara] talking about it. The things they said were powerful and on point, and they needed to be said.”
The Flames are having similar discussions now.
FEATHER IN THEIR CAP
Laviolette’s presence sure to be felt
Another coach with a Black-and-Gold past, Peter Laviolette, will get a chance to prop open the Capitals' window for contention as Alex Ovechkin continues to go gray.
Washington, without a coach since Todd Reirden took his pink slip and returned to Pittsburgh as an assistant, left several other veteran coaches on the market. Mike Babcock, starting a volunteer gig at the University of Vermont, can afford to sit out. Expansion coach extraordinaire Gerard Gallant still looks like a fit for Seattle, or in Detroit (if Jeff Blashill isn’t the answer there).
As Laviolette, the Franklin High and Westfield State product, took the reins in Washington, he had a flashback to his Providence Bruins days, remembering when coach Bobby Francis planted a seed by asking him to be a player-coach.
“I had no idea what coaching even meant,” said Laviolette, who brought the P-Bruins from the AHL basement to the Calder Cup in his first season (1999).
After Boston fired Mike Keenan in 2001, Laviolette was a candidate despite his age (36). His boss, Mike O’Connell, named him the leading contender, but eventually chose the more veteran Robbie Ftorek of Needham.
Laviolette, who would later become one of four coaches to bring three franchises to the Cup Final (2006 Hurricanes, ’10 Flyers, ’17 Predators), landed his first head gig on Long Island that year.
“In a word: presence,” said Mike Milbury, the GM who hired him, in an e-mail. “Besides working his way through the ranks and having a compatible hockey philosophy, he has a self-confidence and air of being a leader. I believed he could command the room and have players believe in his direction. Best coaching interview I’ve ever conducted.”
Wild put green on blue line
A best-case scenario for the Bruins regarding prospect Urho Vaakanainen: He becomes Jonas Brodin on a cheaper contract.
Brodin is a weighted blanket for the entire Minnesota defensive zone. He mutes chances all over, though he doesn’t turn it the other way. He is understated and doesn’t play with a ton of bite. But Minnesota doesn’t allow much when he’s on the ice.
The Bruins hope the same happens with Vaakanainen, who will get a long look in training camp as a third-year pro.
Defenders without big offensive numbers, such as Brandon Carlo, don’t usually get a large slice of the pie. But GM Bill Guerin served up $6 million annually — seven years and $42 million — for Brodin, whose career highs are eight goals and 28 points.
“The value in Jonas is his defensive play,” Guerin said. “He’s an elite defender, not just a good one. He’s elite, and we put a premium on that just like putting the puck in the net.”
That’s apparent. Guerin’s first major deal after taking over late last summer was Jared Spurgeon, a 40-point blue liner who can defend, for seven years times $7.575 million.
In next year’s expansion draft, the Wild have to protect the big-money contracts of Spurgeon, Brodin, and Ryan Suter (five years left at $7.54 million). All three have no-move clauses. No question they’ll explore the value of Matt Dumba, who has three years left at $6 million per, rather than lose him to Seattle.
While dangling Dumba, Guerin bet Marcus Johansson can fill Eric Staal’s shoes as a middle-of-the-order center.
Being dealt to Buffalo this past week, straight up for Johansson, caught Staal off guard. The soon-to-be 36-year-old reportedly didn’t have Buffalo on his 10-team no-trade list, because he didn’t think a perennial non-playoff team like the Sabres would consider him.
Staal, who has scored 42, 22, and 19 goals in the last three seasons (the latter in 66 games), reportedly vetoed multiple deals to contenders at the trade deadline two years ago, including one to the Bruins. Instead of something involving Staal, former Wild GM Paul Fenton and Bruins GM Don Sweeney wound up swapping Charlie Coyle and Ryan Donato (plus a conditional fifth).
Despite Coyle and Johansson forming a decent bond in Boston, the Bruins let Johansson walk. Johansson, now on his fourth team in three seasons, has been better on the wing in previous stops. Maybe this is the fresh start he needs.
Two Bruins rumors that caught the eye this past week: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said they were among several teams who asked Arizona about captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He would be impactful on the left side in a post-Torey Krug world, but taking on $8.25 million for each of the next seven years seems inadvisable. Ekman-Larsson would be nearing 38 at the end of his deal, and has a full no-move clause. Also, veteran scribe Kevin Allen speculated the Bruins are leaning toward dealing Jake DeBrusk instead of giving him a second contract. Allen noted Carolina, Dallas, and Nashville could use a scorer, and Detroit and New Jersey need players . . . To draw another Boston-Calgary comparison, Flames coach Geoff Ward sees Milan Lucic as their Mark Recchi. “A huge add for our locker room at that point in time,” Ward said of the Hall of Famer, who arrived in 2009 and retired after winning the 2011 title. Lucic, 32, hasn’t produced much offensively the last two years (14 goals and 40 points combined), but Ward said his leadership has been important. “Our guys learned an awful lot from Looch this year,” Ward said of Lucic, who has three years and $18 million of cap hit left on his contract. The two broke in with the Bruins together in 2007 . . . Not convinced Montreal improved by adding defenseman Joel Edmundson for four years at $3.5 million per. He kills penalties and has a heavy shot (twice a seven-goal scorer) but doesn’t have the kind of impact his size (6 feet 4 inches, 215 pounds) promises. To wit: The Hurricanes, one of the best possession teams in the league, were underwater in shots, scoring chances, and expected goals when Edmundson was on the ice. A fine player on a slimmer or shorter deal, but this may not be GM Marc Bergevin’s best signing . . . The IIHF moved the World Junior Championship to the Edmonton safe zone. The tournament, which is set for Dec. 26-Jan. 5, will be played entirely at Rogers Place in an NHL-style bubble. The original plan was for Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta to co-host . . . The NHL will hold its awards show Monday (6:30 p.m., NBCSN). Yours truly’s ballot had Artemi Panarin for Hart, Roman Josi for Norris, Quinn Hughes for Calder, and would have had Connor Hellebuyck for Vezina if writers, not GMs, were so entrusted . . . After one season, former Bruins playmaker Marc Savard left his post as an assistant to Craig Berube in St. Louis. Family time and golf are on the docket. Savard’s departure opened the door for Jim Montgomery’s return. The former Stars coach, whose battle with alcoholism led to his firing in December, says he has been sober for more than nine months. “Sometimes it takes an unbearable consequence in your life to happen to have an unbelievable breakthrough,” he said in a Zoom call. Montgomery will likely pick up where Savard left off, and run the Blues' power play . . . The Blues also lost assistant GM and director of amateur scouting Bill Armstrong, who became the GM in Arizona . . . Lucic and Ward were happy to see Gregory Campbell join Merlot Line brother Shawn Thornton in the Florida front office. Campbell, a player development coach the last four years in Columbus, followed new GM Bill Zito to Sunrise. “I wish them nothing but success,” Lucic said. “It always seems they’ve got all the pieces in place, but they never seem to figure it out. Hopefully they can help move in the right direction.” Deciding what to do with the pieces around franchise center Aleksander Barkov is Job No. 1 . . . Also new in Zito’s cabinet: veteran executives Rick Dudley and Paul Fenton (senior advisers), Blake Geoffrion (assistant to the GM), and P.J. Fenton (scout). Zito fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who reportedly kicked a player on the bench in January . . . Good to see Geoffrion, who, like Campbell, had Zito as an agent during his playing days, carve out a career post-hockey. In 2013, the former Hobey Baker winner at Wisconsin retired at 23 because of a head injury . . . Other former Zito clients include Tuukka Rask, John Madden, Kimmo Timonen, Brian Rafalski, and Tim Thomas. If we ever see Thomas return to hockey, it might be in South Florida . . . Toronto plucked Manny Malhotra off the Vancouver bench, adding him as a deputy to Sheldon Keefe. Lifelong Maple Leafs fan Bruce Boudreau, dismissed from the Wild in February, had his eyes on the role . . . This could be the last go-round with the Lightning for Alex Killorn (Harvard) and Kevin Shattenkirk (Boston University). The latter is a UFA, while Killorn’s $4.45 million cap hit (through 2023) could be cleared to make room for young RFAs Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak. Other Beanpot connections in the Cup Final: Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (Northeastern) is having a strong two-way postseason, and backup netminder Jake Oettinger (BU) is standing by.