We will do what’s possible at the limit, to make sure that we go out there, we compete hard, we win games, we battle in games, and if it is to give extra responsibilities to some veterans or to some kids, we’re there to get two points. - Bob Hartley
PITTSBURGH, PA -- Technically, a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is still on the line.
But it’s pride that coach Bob Hartley wants his Calgary Flames playing for with 18 games remaining in a disappointing season.
“We’re a proud organization,” Hartley started. “We say it every day. We don’t want to lose. We want to win games. We will do what’s possible at the limit, to make sure that we go out there, we compete hard, we win games, we battle in games, and if it is to give extra responsibilities to some veterans or to some kids, we’re there to get two points.”
The Flames, who have dropped seven straight games and 10 of the past 11, now find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and looking 14 points up at the Minnesota Wild, who hold the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the West.
Sitting in the Pacific Division basement, Calgary trails the third-place San Jose Sharks by 20 points, too.
“Last year we were all pumped because we were fighting for our lives,” Hartley said. “Right now, we’re mathematically still capable, but we understand that it’s going to be real tough. At the same time, it’s the pride that you have as an individual.
“As a person, you’re a human being, you’re a player when you wear the equipment. You need to motivate yourself. Whether you have a contract or not, we’re all replaceable. Right now we have a chance to invest in our game, to invest in the systems, to invest in the organization.”
A lot of that investment has come in the form of opportunity for some of Calgary’s youth.
That too, suggested Hartley, should keep veterans hungry.
“When you bring young players on a team, it always brings hunger, creates hunger,” Hartley said. “Mostly all those players, they got drafted. The day of the draft they were excited, they were anxious that they would get picked, then by whom and in which round. Then you work your way up. Some guys go directly to the NHL. Some guys have to work their way through the American league.
“Once you get here, now you have to stay here. The danger of this is complacency, that you feel ‘oh my job is safe.’ There are no safe jobs in the NHL.”
Forward Garnet Hathaway, indirectly, is a good example of that.
Hathaway, the undrafted forward recalled after veteran forward David Jones was optioned to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for goaltender Niklas Backstrom and a sixth round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has been given an advanced audition to prove he’s one that can permanently fill a roster spot moving forward.
He’s earned a bigger showcasing by seizing the opportunity.
“Every day I’m here I’m grateful, and I’m going to go out there and try and show that,” said Hathaway, who has two assists, 13 hits and a plus-3 rating through his brief audition. “Not just for the guys in this room, but everything I’ve worked for.
“And I think it is for everyone though. Every game you have in the NHL, it means something. Whether it’s next year or the rest of your career, all these games matter. Winning will help that. You’ve got to keep going.”
It’s the message Hartley was gunning for.
“We’re in the National Hockey League. We’ve worked hard to get here,” Hartley said. “I told them this morning, ‘don’t take this for granted.’ It can disappear real quickly, real quickly. It’s a privilege to play in the NHL, and at the same time, yes, we’re riding a tough rave right now … injuries and trades. That was the situation of our team. There’s no surprises.
“Remember the way we finished two years ago. We had a very good finish. That’s part of our culture. The game on the ice is one thing. As an organization we want a culture. We want an identity that you don’t choose when you work. You’re going to work every day. I think that we’ve accomplished this.
“Right now, obviously, we’re missing quite a few guys but at the same time it opens the door for some newcomers to come in to prove themselves and that’s fact. There are no excuses. We’re not going to use this as we have a bunch of kids and that’s why we’re losing. No. We have to find a way to win games.”