CALGARY, AB -- A year ago, Dennis Wideman might recall, the notion of the his team being a playoff caliber club generated a snicker or two amongst those outside the walls of the Calgary Flames’ dressing room.
But not anymore. Not now.
And a year later, increasing expectation from the outside hasn’t changed the process internally.
“We put that kind of pressure on ourselves last year at the start of the year,” Wideman said. “We wanted to make the playoffs and we felt that we were a playoff team. I think that the outside guys that are thinking that we should make the playoffs this year doesn’t change how we feel. We still feel that we want to make the playoffs and we should make the playoffs. It’s a long season and there are a lot of really good teams in the West. We’ve got to go out and play as good as we did last year and take another step forward.”
The Flames surprised the naysayers by piecing a 45-30-7 record in 2014-15, a 20-point increase year-over-year, to finish third in the Pacific Division and qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- the first such participation since 2009. A winning opening round against the Vancouver Canucks gave Calgary their first series win since strutting to the Cup final in 2004.
It’s raised the bar in determining success declare those on the outside.
Those on the inside suggest the same, too.
“Our first focus is as a team, we have to get better. Bottom line,” captain Mark Giordano said. “We know that last year is over and done with. We had a lot of things go well for us, especially late in games and comebacks and things like that. We’ve got to take the next step. If you take that step as a team, I think individuals will too. I know for myself, individually, the expectation is to get better from last year and I think, if you go down the line, everyone will be thinking the same way.”
The Flames had plenty go in their favour to buck prognostications a year ago.
It was fueled, and maintained, by a multiple of factors, the most intriguing -- and difficult to replicate -- of which was the sheer volume of career seasons via veterans and youngsters alike. In all, Giordano, Wideman, TJ Brodie and Kris Russell all had career-years on defence, while Jiri Hudler, Lance Bouma and Sean Monahan improved on personal bests.
Coach Bob Hartley, who was at the helm to help facilitate Calgary’s rapid growth, is of the belief that it can happen again.
“You do it once, you should be able to do it twice. That’s the easy way to look at it,” the reigning Jack Adams Award recipient as the NHL’s coach of the year. “But again, I look at the character, I look at the leadership of this hockey club. It’s pretty fun. Obviously we’re all pushing. We have to get the max out of everyone. But at the same time, when you’re working with good human beings, it certainly facilitates the job of everyone.
“It’s a great group and the expectations from the inside, and I’ll repeat, from the inside, are the same as they were last year and the year before … We’re a very proud group. We’re representing a very proud community. The expectations are always make the playoffs and then you have a shot at the ultimate goal.”
The players know it, too.
They’re all cognoscente, Wideman suggests, that repeat performances are a must to replicate past successes.
So too are new contributions.
“Especially in the West with how tight all the teams are, you have to have everybody contributing, Wideman said. “If we want to make the playoffs, we need to have (Micheal) Ferland have his best year, we need [Monahan], Gaudreau, Hudler and all of them to take a step forward. Us on defence, we need to be better too.
“It’s almost expected, if you don’t take a step forward, you’re going to take a step backwards and miss the playoffs.”
Externally, that was the expectation 365 days ago.
Internally, it wasn’t acceptable.
It isn’t now, either.
“The expectations, internally, haven’t changed,” Giordano said. “I think we always expect a lot out of ourselves. We did last year too. We kept saying it and no one believed it. I think externally there’s more expectations this year. People are expecting more out of us, but that’s a good thing as an organization.
“We’re moving in the right direction and we’ve got to take the next step.”