"Jay called me the day after winning the championship in Zurich," Bob Hartley said. "He asked me if I would be interested to be part of the candidates to coach this great organization."
That phone call got the ball rolling with Hartley, who led the ZSC Lions of Switzerland's National League A to a championship this spring. The process reached its fruition Thursday when Hartley was introduced in Calgary as the next coach of the Flames after signing a three-year contract.
Hartley, who last coached in the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007, has a 329-226-61-34 record in his NHL career. As the coach of Colorado from 1998-99 to 2002-03, Hartley won four consecutive division titles, reached the Western Conference Finals four times and won a Stanley Cup in 2001.
In Atlanta, Hartley led the Thrashers to their only division title in 2007.
"Bob Hartley is and has been a winner everywhere he's ever coached," Feaster said. "Players in Zurich, some of them have been quoted recently as saying, 'Bob Hartley wins. He's a winner. That's what he does.' And that's the approach and the attitude we want in this franchise. I think that we have a tremendous opportunity here with the team that we have and the team that we're developing and trying to become, and we're very, very confident that Bob is the right man to lead this effort."
In addition to his NHL career, Hartley achieved success as a coach at the minor league and junior levels. As the coach of the Hershey Bears of the AHL, Hartley won a Calder Cup in 1997. As the coach of the Laval Titan, Hartley led the team to an appearance in the 1993 Memorial Cup as champions of the QMJHL. He also served recently as a volunteer adviser for the Shawinigan Cataractes, who won the 2012 Memorial Cup this past weekend.
Since March 2011, Hartley has been the coach of the ZSC Lions in Switzerland's top league after signing a two-year deal. Because he was still under contract to the team when Calgary began its coaching search, Feaster and the Flames had to get permission to speak with Hartley regarding the vacancy -- which not only complicated the hiring, but hastened the process as well.
"[ZSC Lions GM Peter Zahner] was good enough to give us permission to speak with Bob," Feaster said. "Peter made it very, very clear in our initial conversation that he had no interest in losing Bob Hartley as the head coach in Zurich and as a result he put a pretty tight time frame on us."
In recent weeks Hartley had also been linked to the vacant coaching job for the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal, however, may have been at a disadvantage given Hartley's connection with Feaster. The two have been close since Hartley coached in Hershey at the same time Feaster was serving as the team's president.
Hartley did say during the news conference that he had met with the Canadiens and was set to meet with them again this week, but he felt the opportunity to work with Feaster in Calgary was the right one and called Montreal GM Marc Bergevin on Thursday morning to inform him of his decision.
"Sitting with Jay was almost like sitting with a brother," Hartley said. "We've been working together since 1997; we've always stayed in touch. … I met the owners, and looking at this I saw the pride of those people, the way that they feel, that the Calgary Flames are their lives. I liked what I heard. It was music to my ears and I made the decision. It was a quick decision, but I have no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision."
The Flames are seeking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The three-season postseason drought is Calgary's longest since it ended a seven-year absence from the playoffs in 2004. The Flames advanced to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final that year before losing to Tampa Bay, but have not made it past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since.
For the past three seasons, Calgary was coached by Brent Sutter, whose contract expired at the end of 2011-12. The Flames finished ninth in the Western Conference this past season, five points out of the final playoff spot.
Given how long it's been since the Flames have so much as seen the second round, Hartley seems to have a daunting task in front of him to make the franchise a regular contender again, but the process has already begun. Hartley said Thursday he had already spoken to several players on the team, including captain Jarome Iginla, and planned to touch base with every player in the organization by the end of the weekend. According to Hartley, a successful turnaround isn't too far off.
"One of the teams in the Stanley Cup Final, the L.A. Kings, just finished five points ahead of the Calgary Flames," Hartley said. "The difference between being a Stanley Cup-winner and a non-playoff team is very, very slim. I can promise you, and I can promise the fans, that we will give you not only entertaining hockey, but we will make sure that the Calgary Flames are a top team in the National Hockey League."
One man who has already bought in is Feaster, who noted multiple times that most of the front office left its interviews with Hartley excited to have him become a part of the team. He doesn't think it will be too long until the rest of the organization follows suit.
"Bob is a guy who gets people to believe in him," Feaster said. "[Craig Conroy] came back to me after the two of them met with Bob for a day, and he said, 'I'm ready to play. I'm ready to go.'"