The Kamloops Blazers have all but completed preparations for their WHL regular season-opening assignment against the Prince George Cougars on Saturday night at Interior Savings Centre.
But while the players have been going through their paces for the past month, there has been a rather large elephant — is there any other kind? — in the building with them.
Guy Charron, the Blazers’ head coach, is beginning his second full season behind the team’s bench. You may recall that he was hired on Nov. 23, 2009, to replace Barry Smith, who had been fired about a month earlier.
At the time, Charron was given a contract through the end of the 2009-10 season.
On March 10, 2009, the Blazers, seemingly pleased with the club’s 21-19-3 record and the progress it had made under Charron, announced that he had been given a two-year contract extension that would run through the 2011-12 season.
That season has started. Charron’s contractual situation hasn’t changed. It doesn’t appear that it will.
That means that Charron is, in the sporting vernacular, a lame-duck coach.
What makes the elephant even larger, or the duck quack even louder, is the presence of Charron’s lead assistant.
That would be Dave Hunchak, who spent the last four seasons as head coach of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. He joins the Blazers after helping the Warriors to 40 victories in a tough Eastern Conference last season. For whatever reason, his contract wasn’t renewed.
Hunchak, an assistant coach with the Swift Current Broncos for three seasons before he was hired by Moose Jaw, joined the Blazers on June 9 as the franchise’s first-ever associate coach. Charron was part of the interview process and has said repeatedly that Hunchak is the best man for the job, that they communicate well and that they are in the early stages of what he is positive will be a productive relationship.
The Blazers didn’t announce any contractual details when Hunchak was signed, not even length.
However, it is safe to assume that Hunchak, who apparently had other offers on the table when he signed with the Blazers, didn’t ink a one-year deal. Chances are he signed a two-year deal with a club option for a third season.
No matter. What is important is that the Blazers are in the position of having a non-head coach on staff whose contract runs longer than that of the head coach.
We don’t need to tell you that the Blazers are a franchise in search of an identity. The Blazers are coming off a season that ended in disaster, with an eight-game losing streak and a six-game suspension to their leading scorer, left-winger Brendan Ranford, after he cross-checked a linesman. He will complete that suspension by sitting out the first three games of this season, games that, by the way, will be played at home.
The Blazers were 29-37-6 when their season ended. That left them tied for ninth in the 10-team Western Conference, three points out of a playoff spot.
When Charron was hired, he became the franchise’s fifth coach in what was then two years under new ownership. Dean Clark, Greg Hawgood, Smith and Scott Ferguson each had taken a turn as head coach. Stability was a foreign concept.
And then they hired Charron. But the apparent disinterest in serving up an extension would seem to indicate that ownership has its doubts about a man who has been coaching hockey since the mid-1980s and has had two brief stints as an NHL head coach.
Everyone in the organization must know, too, that the heat has been turned up. Majority owner Tom Gaglardi cranked it up during an appearance on Radio NL’s The Jim Harrison Show in August.
Among Gaglardi’s statements:
“This is the year we’ve been building for. This is really the first year I think we can say it’s kind of our team. But last year we expected to make a step and we didn’t get that done. So it’s certainly a worry for us. . . .
“We like our team. We’re going to have 10, 11 19- or 20-year-olds in our lineup this year. So, as I say, expectations are high. . . .
“This is the year we need to take a big step. There’s no question. Everybody knows that. Enough of the excuses, rebuilding and stuff. This is the year that . . . and there’s no mystery around the Blazers offices. Our guys know it. . . .
“I think we should be top four in the West. We certainly by roster are. . . .
“It’s to the point now where, look, it’s the fourth full year we’re entering into as owners. It’s now that the proving has to start.”
The Blazers will play seven of their first nine regular-season games on home ice, with eight of the next 12 on the road.
By that point, the schedule will be almost one-third completed and the Blazers — and Charron — should have some indication as to which direction they are headed.
Prior to joining the Blazers, Charron’s last head-coaching gig was a 49-game stint with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2000-01.
He took over on Dec. 15, 2000, when Anaheim general manager Pierre Gauthier fired head coach Craig Hartsburg.
The headline in the Los Angeles Times?
Gauthier Pulls the Plug on a Lame-Duck Coach.
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