Calgary Flames’ head coach Bob Hartley placed himself in a highly controversial decision last week when he decided to bench three of his players for one game, including the club’s top two scorers. Hartley scratched forwards Lance Bouma, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan for the Flames’ home tilt against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs on February 9thand luckily for him they hung on for a 4-3 victory. The trio was listed as healthy scratches for the contest for arriving late for practice the previous morning. It was a risky move by Hartley though since the Flames are involved in a vicious dogfight for a playoff spot.
Fans were basically divided in their opinion on the benching and cynics pointed out the players would probably have all dressed if the game was against anybody other than the hapless Leafs. The 21-year-old Monahan and 22-year-old Gaudreau were leading the Flames in scoring as of Feb. 13th with 36 and 51 points respectively. The 25-year-old Bouma, who has just one goal this year, has been sidelined for most of the season due to injuries, but he’s seen as a valuable physical presence when healthy.
Those who disagreed with Hartley’s actions believe he should have come up with a better form of punishment. They point out that he actually punished the rest of the franchise and the Calgary fans by sitting out three important players during a playoff race. If the Flames had lost the game there would have been an uproar and Hartley’s decision could possibly have been the last one he made as the franchise’s head coach.
Critics said benching hockey players for a lone game doesn’t have an effect on the way they play the game and the organization would have been better off fining them or making them stay after practice etc. The players were probably more embarrassed than anything as the Flames’ fathers had gathered in Calgary to watch their sons take on the Leafs before heading out on a two-game road trip. The annual father and son event must have gotten off to a disappointing start for the dads of Gaudreau, Monahan and Bouma and their sons would have some explaining to do.
All three players apologized in the media to the fans, coaches, the organization and their teammates for showing up late for practice and claimed they were upset with themselves for acting unprofessionally. However, showing up late isn’t the end of the world and reports stated the trio arrived at 10:15 a.m. for a 10:30 session. Benching your best players isn’t going to make them perform any better on the ice and the move could have cost the Flames two crucial points in the standings.
Hartley must have been second-guessing his decision when the Flames’ 4-1 lead was suddenly cut to 4-3 by the Leafs in the third period and would have certainly been relieved when the final buzzer sounded. Hartley isn’t the only coach to make this controversial move this season as Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals benched his squad’s top scorer and captain Alexander Ovechkin back on Oct. 13. The Russian star was scratched after sleeping in and also showing up late for practice.
The move blew up in Trotz’s face though as the Capitals were embarrassed 5-0 on home ice by the San Jose Sharks for their first loss of the season. Luckily for the coach it was just the second game of the campaign and the Capitals have been in fine form ever since. In fact, in a poll taken by Sportsnet.ca, 77 per cent of voters agreed with Trotz’s decision. But while thousands of Calgary fans were questioning Hartley’s move to bench Gaudreau, Monahan and Bouma, Gaudreau’s father Guy wasn’t one of them. He said he was obviously disappointed, but his son has to play by the rules just like everybody else. His son agreed and added that being benched was certainly an “eye opener.”