Bob Hartley's firing as coach of the Calgary Flames left him "very empty" and "very sad," but he said he is willing to wait for another chance, no matter how long it takes.
Hartley said he feels fit enough to add to a coaching career that includes 14 NHL seasons and a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2000-01. He knows vacancies exist with the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators, and possibly with the Minnesota Wild, who are exploring options in addition to coach John Torchetti.
"Coaching is my passion, coaching is in my blood," Hartley said Wednesday. "There's no doubt that I want to coach. I'm only 55 years old and I believe I'm in great shape. I love this game. I love teaching. I love competing to win hockey games. Obviously right now the coaching carousel is spinning out of control, so obviously there's lots of jobs, there's lots of names, and there's going to be lots of speculation. But I will not get involved in this. There's a process going on for every job open and I'll be very respectful to that process."
Hartley was fired Tuesday. The Flames were 35-40-7 this season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in his four seasons. One season after advancing to the Western Conference Second Round, and winning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year, the Flames finished fifth in the Pacific Division, 10 points behind the Wild for the second wild card into the playoffs from the West.
"[Tuesday] I felt very empty, very sad," Hartley said. "I felt that despite the fact that we didn't get maybe the result that we were looking for this year following up a great year, I really believe that this organization is heading the right way with a very strong foundation of great young players. I just feel very sad that I didn't get the opportunity to keep working as a group, to keep working as an organization.
"We cultivated pride, and today in my situation, I'm the one that has to show pride."
Optimism was high in Calgary after the Flames acquired defenseman Dougie Hamilton in a trade with the Boston Bruins at the 2015 NHL Draft and signed free-agent forward Michael Frolik. But the Flames never recovered after starting the season 2-8-1. Among the issues were their 22nd-ranked power play (17.0 percent) and a penalty kill that finished last in the NHL (75.6 percent). They also allowed a League-high 260 non-shootout goals, and their goal differential went from plus-25 in 2014-15 to minus-29 this season.
The regression led general manager Brad Treliving to fire Hartley. Treliving said Tuesday he believed Hartley took Calgary as far as it could go with him as coach.
"There's many factors that come into play when you get down to it and say 'OK, I'm making the decision now,'" Treliving said. "How I think you need to play to have success was a factor. It's one of many. I think there's a way, not only that you need to play to have success, but you look at your group and what the assets are and the style of play, among other things, led us to this decision."
Hartley said he believed he and Treliving were on the same page and was surprised at suggestions of philosophical differences.
"When you win, those minor details go under the table and nobody talks about it," Hartley said. "When you lose a few games and you have a different season, it's normal that there's going to be questions and debates on stuff. Brad Treliving was a great help to the coaching staff, was very supportive of us. At no point there was a difference of opinion, so yesterday that was news to me."
Whoever takes over for Hartley will work with promising young players. Forward Johnny Gaudreau, 22, led the Flames and was tied for sixth in the NHL with 78 points. Center Sean Monahan, 22, had an NHL career-high 63 points in his third season. Forward Sam Bennett, 19, had 18 goals and 36 points in 77 games in his first full season.
On defense, Hamilton, 22, had an NHL career-high 12 goals and 43 points, and TJ Brodie, 25, had six goals and an NHL career-high 45 points.
"There's no doubt in my mind that this team is one or two years away from being an excellent hockey club and making a push real deep in the playoffs," Hartley said. "But obviously it's going to be for somebody else. I fully understand the risk of our business and I accept the responsibilities also."