Simply competing isn't going to be enough for the Calgary Flames in 2014-15.
Though the Flames continue their rebuilding project, coach Bob Hartley is demanding more.
"Progress is a big word right now in our vocabulary," said Hartley, who guided the Flames to a 35-40-7 record last season, good for 27th in the League standings. "We really want to make the next step, but at the same time I want this to be a giant step. I really believe that despite the fact that we're going to read everywhere that we're going to be ranked anywhere between 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th in the League by all the experts, I really believe that we can be a [Stanley Cup] Playoff team."
The Flames haven't skated beyond the regular season since 2009. Plenty will need to go Calgary's way in order to reach Hartley’s goal:
1. Return to a blue-collar culture -- Hartley last season managed to squeeze the most out he could out of the Flames, who played in an NHL record-tying 49 one-goal games.
"Last year we established a slogan: Always earned, never given," Hartley said. "With this, you build accountability only if you respect the slogan. Everyone has slogans. If you don't stick to them they become words, and words have no power."
Calgary found power in the phrase last season. It'll be up to the Flames, including the additions, to carry the slogan and continue carrying the culture.
"It's so important for our veterans, for the players from last year and the new guys, to come in with the same attitude and the same work ethic that we ended the season with last year," Hartley said. "Whoever was on our team last year and he's coming back, we have a mandate and we have a job that whoever comes in, the Sam Bennett, the Mason Raymond, the Devin Setoguchi, we need to bring them into the mold right at Day 1 in camp.
"We want to be the hardest working team in the League again. Success starts with this."
2. Additions must make an impact -- The Flames tinkered with their roster over the summer with the hope of improving upon their 77-point season.
While leading scorer Mike Cammalleri left for the New Jersey Devils, Calgary brought Raymond in. The team also replaced departed forward TJ Galiardi with Setoguchi. Deryk Engelland replaced Chris Butler on defence, while the club also added goaltender Jonas Hiller via free agency. Rugged forward Brandon Bollig was acquired in a trade during the 2014 NHL Draft.
Hartley needs his new players to pay immediate dividends.
"As a coach you hope for instant chemistry because you can fast-forward your progress much quicker," he said. "We'll take the time we need. Communication over here is real huge. I'm a firm believer in communicating with people, giving them roles, telling them what's expected of them. It's already been done."
The expectations will be high, though. In losing Cammalleri, Calgary will be without the team's leading goal scorer from last season. Hartley will look to others to do the delivering now.
One player needed to step up is second-year forward Sean Monahan, who had 22 goals as a rookie last season, four behind Cammalleri's team-lead.
"What he did last year as a first year guy is very impressive," Hartley said. "I had lots of fun working with him on a day-to-day basis, the way that not only he played, the way he was accepted by his teammates. Sometimes you get those young kids, they make it to the NHL and suddenly everything is easy and they act differently.
"With [Monahan], it was always the same great team player loved by his teammates. I really believe that he's going to be a huge leader for us. Huge leader, big minutes, and he's going to have a great season."
3. Prospects need to produce -- Monahan's rise last season helped ease the growing pains of a franchise in the infancy of a rebuild. For the Flames to take the next step, Calgary's next wave of prospects will need to assert themselves too.
While it remains to be seen if Bennett, the Flames' top pick (No. 4) at the 2014 NHL Draft, is ready to step in, reigning Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau will make a push to start his first full professional season in Calgary. Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund and Max Reinhart also will look to assert themselves as NHL regulars.
"Last year I think we were on the ball," Hartley said. "If you deserved it, you played. If you didn't, you didn't. That's going to be the same way at training camp. It's not a matter of height, age, size. It's not a matter of anything else other than if you compete and deserve it and fight for your spot and earn your spot.
"If you're 18, if you're 22, if you're 32, if you're 42, you'll be on the team."
Author: Aaron Vickers | NHL.com Correspondent