CALGARY (CP) - In his first year as head coach, Jim Playfair talked about his Calgary Flames establishing an identity as an opportunistic, hard-working team that would give no quarter.
He got that . . . sometimes. Consistency was not the Flames' strong suit in their 2006-07 campaign. More was expected of this club than hanging on for the last playoff berth in the Western Conference.
The Flames were predicted to win the Northwest Division for a second straight year, thus finishing top three in the conference.
But Calgary's post-season was a microcosm of the entire season. They were nearly unbeatable at home, but rotten on the road.
They looked like Stanley Cup contenders at times. And then you wondered if they would even make the playoffs.
It ended with a 2-1 double overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday in Game 6. Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who faced 255 shots in the series, was the main reason it went as long as it did.
It marked Calgary's second straight exit in the first round after going all the way to the Stanley Cup final in the pre-lockout season of 2003-04.
"Right now amongst the players, it's just disappointment," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said upon elimination. "We wanted it to go further."
It was supposed to be a season in which Calgary could go about building a contending team without the off-ice distraction of contract negotiations with its stars.
That will hang over the team next season as eight players, including playoff hero Kiprusoff and franchise player Iginla, become unrestricted free agents at the end of it. Defenceman Dion Phaneuf will be a restricted free agent.
Kiprusoff would command more on the open market than the US$3.6 million that is to be his salary next season.
Even sooner than that, general manager Darryl Sutter must decide if he can afford to keep defenceman Brad Stuart, who becomes a free agent on July 1.
Sutter acquired Stuart from Boston before the trade deadline. Stuart's salary was $2.4 million this season.
A look at the good and bad of the Calgary Flames' season:
-Calgary scored more goals this season than last, but also gave up more than it did in 2005-06, when it boasted the best defence in the NHL. The off-season acquisition of playmaker Alex Tanguay from Colorado had the desired effect up front, but giving up Jordan Leopold to get him cost the Flames one half of their best defensive pairing. Kiprusoff saw more shots this season and his numbers were slightly off what they were when he won the Vezina Trophy last year.
-Iginla had his best season since winning the NHL's scoring trophy in 2002 with 39 goals and 55 assists in 70 games. But the Wings were able to limit him to two goals in the playoffs.
-Winger Kristian Huselius had a breakout season with 34 goals and 43 assists and then disappeared in the post-season.
-The acquisition of Stuart made Calgary stronger and tougher in their own zone and along the walls in the final stretch. The Flames lost some of that when Robyn Regehr went down with a knee injury prior to the playoffs.
The Flames ran cold and hot with a three-win October and a six-game winning streak to recover in November.
They were particularly streaky after the trade deadline Feb. 27. They briefly held the division lead with five wins in a row but lost it in a mid-March swoon.
Calgary bounced back to win six in a row to stay head of Colorado breathing down their necks before losing their last four before the playoffs.
For a team as strong at home and as weak on the road as the Flames, they needed to tighten their grip on the division lead when they had the chance, which would have given them home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"We tried in every different way to be better on the road, to play up to our potential on the road, but I don't think we got to the level that we thought we were capable of playing on the road," Tanguay said.
Playfair's first season as head coach received mixed reviews. Sutter handpicked Playfair to replace him, promoting him from assistant coach last July.
As the post-season approached, there was speculation Sutter would step behind the bench again. But the general manager insisted he would not do so and supported his head coach.