Jay Feaster made one simple request of players when he became the acting general manager of the Calgary Flames in late December. Work hard.
"I told them we can control our work ethic and that is the one thing that we have to be sure that we do. The other thing was to keep it simple. Let's not look at the big picture and how far back we are. Let's not get wrapped up in what we have to do globally to win the game tonight. Let's break it down very simply. Let's go one shift at a time and do everything we can to win the shift," Feaster explained during a 15-minute call in to NHL Live Tuesday prior to the Flames playing Nashville.
"I said to the guys in my first meeting take every shift and believe it is the last of your career and that is how you will be remembered. My point was, if we play that way, one shift at a time, most nights the results will take care of themselves."
And lately, that has been the case. Actually, since just before Christmas the Flames have been very good, posting a 10-3-3 record over 16 games and crawling back into the playoff race in the Western Conference.
"Our work ethic has been very good the last month, month and a half," said Feaster. "We weren't getting results back (in early December). We are the type of team that has to commit to the work ethic every night. We are not a talented enough team or a deep enough team that we can rely on talent alone. When we stick with the system and we do what the coaches ask us and we play that way for 60 minutes, I think we are capable of beating any team in the league.
"It is when we abandon that or decide we are going to play for only 40 minutes -- that's when we get into trouble."
The coaching staff, too, has played a role in the resurgence. They have broken the segments into three games with the requirement of gaining four of six points in each segment.
"(Head coach Brent Sutter) instituted a new focus right before Christmas to focus on three games at a time. We have to take four out of six points and, really, since that time we have paid attention to detail and have been able to climb back into it as we come out of the all-star break."
Tuesday's game in Nashville marked the first since the all-star break which, for the Flames, began after they beat St. Louis 4-1 on January 26 to win their fourth straight game for just the second time this season. They had momentum going into the break. Will they have it coming out?
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say I am nervous about how we respond to that," said Feaster. "I think it (the break) came at a good time in that we got some guys some rest, both physically and mentally. And yet at the same time we had some real momentum. I am anxious to see how we respond coming out of the time off."
Feaster said there is no real magic in what has transpired but it would appear everyone, from players to coaches to Feaster are pulling the rope in the same direction.
"I had the opportunity to be with the team and time to spend with Brent and his staff," said Feaster of being with the team as assistant general manager prior to the resignation of Darryl Sutter as general manager. "I wanted Brent to be free to do the things that he felt he needed to do. I told him I was going to support him in that whether it be who he was going to play, the personnel he wanted to deploy on the power play and special teams and really sort of turn him loose to do things as he wanted."
That philosophy is carrying through to some roster moves, too. Craig Conroy and Ales Kotalik were both placed on waivers recently and both cleared waiver. Kotalik is to report to Abbotsford while Conroy is taking some time to decide whether he will report to the Flames top affiliate or retire from playing.
Feaster said the moves were made to free up roster space to "reward" some of the young players in Abbotsford.
"I don't think we have someone in Abbotsford ready to come up for 31 games and contribute to us winning. I do believe that we have a number of players who have done what we have asked them to do, they have worked hard, played within the system and they deserve a promotion as a reward. I think if we bring some of those guys up we inject a lot of energy and enthusiasm into our line-up," said Feaster.
He felt Kotalik was not producing the way he was expected to.
"He is a very, very talented player and he has a cannon of a shot. He won our super skills competition with the hardest shot and it wasn't even close. He really does have the big, booming shot. He had a good training camp and then he got hurt. Now that he has come back, he hasn't been as productive. The thing is I am not sure he has done everything we need him to do to get himself into a position to be as productive as we need him to be. Going back to the line-up situation, I wanted to give Brent more flexibility and more freedom in terms of injecting some energy into the line-up when needed. We'll send him down to Abbotsford and hopefully he gets his game together and we will make decisions from there," said Feaster.
Conroy's situation is a little different but with the same effect. Conroy, who is expected to make a decision on his future any day, was a healthy scratch for 27 games before being placed on waivers.
"We will be meeting with Craig this week. He will give us a decision. We put him on waivers going back to that issue of trying to create some flexibility with our active roster. He is at the point, after playing 1,000 games in the league, if going to Abbotsford is something he wants to do or if he just wants wants to call it a very successful and illustrious career. We will meet and see what his decision is and proceed accordingly."
In the meantime, Feaster is counting on players like Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff to continue their strong play as the Flames continue their push to a playoff spot.
"In the first month, Jarome didn't have the start he wanted. Since the first month he has been outstanding. He has been our best player on a consistent basis. He has been productive. It doesn't matter who we put on that line with he and Alex Tanguay, they have found a way to score," said Feaster, noting that Matt Stajan, Olli Jokinen and now, Brendan Morrison, have all played center for Iginla and Tanguay.
"There is the knock on him that he is not as productive offensively as you would like...Perhaps it is an overrating of the player offensively but there is always an underrating of Bo in terms of what he does defensively. Until I got here and watched him play 27 or 28 minutes a game against the other teams' top players I didn't appreciate how good he was defensively. He has been very solid for us," said Feaster.
And, despite a couple of uncharacteristic games that had many scratching their heads, Kiprusoff has rebounded -- apparently at exactly the right time in the season.
"Of late, he has looked like the Kipper of old. He had some struggles a couple of weeks ago and was fighting it a little bit. It's amazing. No one is used to that with Kipper so we were on high alert here in Calgary and in Flames Nation. It was a big time concern. But Kipper is a consummate professional. He has worked hard with Jamie McLennan, the goalie coach, and he really has rounded back into form."
All of which has Feaster smiling these days.
"When we work hard and work for 60 minutes we can beat any team in the league," said Feaster.
That belief, that work ethic, will be critical over the remainder of the season.