Bob Hartley Siberia-Bound?
Saturday September 13th 2008, 4:43 pm
Photo: Avangard Omsk

Photo: Avangard Omsk

Avangard Omsk head coach Sergei Gersonsky’s job is in jeopardy as the result of his team’s slow start, and former Calder- and Stanley Cup-winning coach Bob Hartley could replace him as early as this week, according to reports from Championat.ru and Sportstand.ru.

Leonid Mikhailov of Championat.ru suggests that a dispute between former Ranger Jaromir Jagr and Gersonsky earlier this week hasn’t helped the coach’s already-tenuous position. According to Mikhailov, the disagreement centered around Gersonsky’s refusal to allow the team to return home to their wives, girlfriends and families after their week-long season-opening road trip. In Russia, it’s not unusual for teams to mandate that players stay overnight at what’s called the “baza”, a sort of hotel/dormitory complex, on nights prior to games. It seems Gersonsky opted to require his team to report to the baza upon their return from Togliatti earlier this week, rather than allowing them to go home after a week away.

Jagr’s not the only highly-paid player on the team who’s dissatisfied with his coach’s decisions. Viktor Alexandrov, who lead Metallurg Novokuznezk in scoring last season before being signed by Omsk GM Anatoli Bardin this summer, played the first three games of the season on the fourth line before being banished to the press box for the last two. And Igor Volkov, the top player for league champions Salavat Yulaev in last year’s playoffs, who was offered five times the amount he was paid last season to come to Omsk this year, has just three assists and had been playing on what had been the third line until second line center Anton Kuryanov went down to injury.

But in the end, the biggest strike against Gersonsky is his team’s performance on the ice. Avangard opened its checkbook and made a big splash in the free agent market this summer, and started the season with extremely high expectations as a result. Currently they sit in last place in the Kharlomov division and 17th in the 24-team KHL, having lost 3 of their first 5 games. Omsk regional governor Leonid Polezhaev, who offered Jagr a number of personal assurances before he agreed to leave the NHL in July, is said to be extremely dissatisfied with the team’s performance.

Hartley appears to be the front-runner for the job, and is rumored to arrive in Omsk in the coming days to meet with Bardin, though Bardin is also said to have talked to other candidates even before yesterday’s thrashing by Salavat Yulaev. In fact, both Mikhailev and Sportstand’s Maxim Nesterov suggest that Rangers assistant coach Mike Pelino’s recent visit to Omsk was the first indication that Gersonsky’s position was in danger, though both dismiss any thoughts that Pelino could be a candidate for the post. According to Mikhailev, the team’s board of governors was dissatisfied with how the team was playing even before the season got underway, despite the fact the won both of the pre-season tournaments in which they participated.

The irony here is that Hartley himself was fired early in the Thrashers season last year following a dismal 0-6 start, and amid speculation of strife between him and some of his senior players. Hartley, who’s known as a no-nonsense bench boss who’s reputation is not one of being a player’s coach, seems a puzzling choice for a high-priced team lead by the mercurial Jagr.

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