The Calgary Flames finally have a general manager secured in Craig Conroy, which has been huge for setting the tone and tempo of the organization. The next big piece that the team needs to fill is finding a head coach. As the summer wears on, more and more teams will be looking to fill out their benches, limiting the number of options available for the Flames. There are a number of internal and external candidates on the Flames’ shortlist, but one right near the top of the list is Ryan Huska.
Having spent time with both the Flames’ AHL and NHL clubs, Huska has a ton of experience with the team and players, giving him perhaps the most comprehensive view of the team among all the candidates available. Let’s break it down.
Who is Ryan Huska?
Huska played junior hockey with the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL, winning the Memorial Cup twice on the legendary junior hockey side with former Flame Jarome Iginla. He was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft after putting up 32 points and and 50 penalty minutes in 68 games. Unfortunately, he was unable to develop into an NHLer, and only ever featured in one game. He ended his playing career after the 1999–2000 season with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL, putting up 21 points and 77 penalty minutes in 61 games.
In 2002, Huska began his coaching career, joining his junior hockey rival Kelowna Rockets as an assistant coach. The Rockets were a powerhouse club through the 2000s, and Huska was a key cog in their success. The team was in the Memorial Cup twice between then and 2006–07, coming third in 2003 and winning the tournament in 2004.
He was then promoted to head coach, where the team made the playoffs every single year he was in charge. In fact, Huska’s 2013–14 team still holds the record for the greatest points percentage in team history, losing just 11 games in the regular season. He was also able to take his team to the Memorial Cup once in his tenure, finishing second in 2009. Fun fact, Mikael Backlund was on that team, having moved over from Sweden midway through the season.
Following 2013–14, Huska was hired by the Flames to be the head coach of the Adirondack Flames, the team’s AHL affiliate at the time. He would be the Flames’ AHL coach for four years between Adirondack and Stockton, but would only make the playoffs in one of the four years he was in charge. The Flames have really struggled to build a winning team in the AHL for years, but in his tenure, Huska coached many current Flames including Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Andrew Mangiapane.
He was promoted to assistant coach of the Flames in 2018, a position he has held for the last five seasons under three different head coaches.
What would Ryan Huska bring to the Flames?
Huska has a long established record as a coach, and has a winning pedigree in his time. He’s a former Memorial Cup Champion in junior, a Memorial Cup winning coach, and a multi-time playoff coach in the NHL, AHL, and WHL. He also has experience coaching internationally, spending two years coaching Team Canada’s World Junior time as an assistant in 2009–10 and 2011–12. He coached Jonathan Huberdeau here when he was in junior.
On top of that, Huska has spent a ton of time with the Flames’ development system, helping to better understand who the team has in the minors, how the team likes to develop players, and how to set them up for success at the NHL level. Moving away from a coach that preferred older veterans, Huska is clearly a guy who understands the organizational need to draft and develop, and could be a great fit to help the team build a strong pipeline between the two levels. Of all the candidates in the running for this position, nobody has as much experience within the organization as Huska.
The downside with Huska compared to other candidates is that he has not been an NHL head coach yet. Coaching players in junior and the AHL is exceptional, and he has done really well in those roles, but coaching players in the NHL is a different beast. The personalities are bigger, the expectations are much higher, and the challenges are even tougher.
However, the Flames are coming off of a coach who had a ton of NHL experience in Darryl Sutter, and still struggled to get the results that they needed. Given the team will be paying him to not coach for the next two years, hiring Huska may be a prudent move. Having not been an NHL coach as of yet, Huska will undoubtedly come in cheaper than someone like Bruce Boudreau, Gerard Gallant or others, simply due to his experience. The Flames have already allegedly passed on Gallant simply for being too expensive. And while the objective is always to find the best coach, the cost absolutely matters here.
The other side of all of this is that if you don’t promote Huska, you likely lose him to another team. There are a number of coaching jobs coming available this summer, and Huska has interviewed previously. He earned an interview with the Chicago Blackhawks and was the runner up for the Detroit Red Wings job last year. He has attracted a lot of interest across the league, and if the Flames do not promote him internally, there is a good chance he is looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
How likely is Huska to be the Flames’ next coach?
Strictly from a financial perspective, I think the Flames opt for an internal option for their next head coach. Given the dismissal of Darryl Sutter did not include the rest of the staff, it seems that the team liked the rest of their coaches enough to keep them around. On top of that, they have two ace coaches in their stable in Huska and Mitch Love.
In my mind, the toss up is between the two, but Huska is the stronger candidate. Not only does he have more experience in both the WHL and the AHL, but he has also been on the Flames’ bench for years now and has an intimate relationship with this group of players. Like Conroy, Huska has grown with this organization and is ready for the challenge of being this team’s next coach.
It’s very easy to look at Love’s recent record and say he should be the next coach of the Flames, and he absolutely is a phenomenal voice to have on the team, but you probably want to give him time to grow at the NHL level by bringing him on in an assistant role.
Speaking of assistants, if the Flames do want to bring Jarome Iginla into their coaching staff, there is nobody better to do so than his former teammate Huska.
The open job should go to Ryan Huska. Of all the candidates in the running for the position, Huska brings the perfect balance of experience and organizational understanding to be the next Flames’ coach. As exceptional as Mitch Love has been as a coach of the Stockton Heat and Calgary Wranglers, the Flames should bring him in as an assistant.
Calgary Flames 2023 Head Coach Candidate Profiles
June 12, 2023 Update: Ryan Huska has been named head coach of the Calgary Flames! Check out Huska’s coaching profile for more information on him.
Here are past individual profiles on all the potential head coaches the Flames should or shouldn’t have considered for the new job: