Early on in Calgary Flames training camp, Jay Feaster pulled Dennis Wideman aside for a heart-to-heart chat at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
"I love to watch you shoot the puck and keep shooting it," the general manager told the newest member of the Calgary defence corps. "We don't do it enough."
Wideman looked at his boss with a blank stare.
"You're kidding me," he asked. "With all these snipers here?"
Channelling the pain of long-suffering Flames fans, Feaster replied in the affirmative.
"I'm not kidding," the GM said. "In the past, our team would rather pass the puck into the goal than shoot the doggone thing into the net."
Shooting the doggone thing into the net just happens to be Wideman's specialty. Unlike several big-name Flames defenceman in recent times - Dion Phaneuf comes to mind - Wideman has an uncanny knack of unloading a heavy shot that actually hits the net.
The concept sounds so very simple in theory. But in practice? Not so much.
"He has that poise with the puck that kind of puts opponents to sleep," head coach Bob Hartley said Friday in the bowels of the Rogers Arena. "He makes the right decision. If he has the shot, he wants to shoot. If not, he always finds the open man.
"You cannot teach this. In hockey, we can teach lots of things. But decisions with the puck, to pick up the right guy who is open? This is very tough. I've coached very few defenceman who have the ability Dennis has."
Offensive acumen, especially on the back end, does not come cheap in the National Hockey League. As such, Feaster drew considerable fire from his critics last summer for signing Wideman - considered a defensive liability in the playoffs for the Washington Capitals - to a five-year deal worth $26.5 million.
The early returns? Through eight games, the Kitchener, Ont., native has collected two goals and seven points to lead all Calgary defenceman.
But the most impressive stat attributed to Wideman is actually the success of the power-play. With the man advantage, the Flames are ranked an impressive sixth in the league with a success rate of 26.7 per cent.
That's a marked increase from last season when Calgary resided in 13th place with a success rate of 17.7 per cent.
"With Dennis, it's a very calm presence with the puck," Hartley said. "He has great vision. A great passer. Great shooter."
Wideman is second behind only Jarome Iginla with 27 shots fired on net (the captain has 33.) The offensive-minded defenceman also leads the team in ice-time with an average of 25: 06 a night - 21 seconds more than minute-munching workhorse Jay Bouwmeester.
"I would be lying if I said to you that I projected that's where it was going to shake out to start the season when we signed him," Feaster said. "But again, what he's done for us in terms of the way he plays on the power play and the way he shoots the puck ...
"Even that first pass. Sometimes we ice the puck and sometimes it doesn't connect, but he's a guy who is not afraid to try to make that home-run pass. The forwards like that."
For his part, Wideman likes the way the Calgary forwards make his job easier.
"Whenever they start cycling the puck more, that pulls the wingers down further," said Wideman, 29. "And then they can snap it up and it gives us more time to get shots through."
Hartley is a stickler on shots getting through. In fact, the coach nags his defenceman when they make a habit of ringing the puck off the shinpads of the opposition.
"I know they really want us here to get shots through and get shots on net and have the forwards go whack in some rebounds," Wideman said. "That's something they've stressed that they want us to do. And that's what we're trying to do."
Wideman concedes to having had a "pretty good" shot for most of his life, especially as a boy.
"I think I only grew an inch or an inch and a half after Grade 8," said the six foot, 200-pounder. "So I was always just bigger than everybody. A hefty kid."
A hefty kid with a hefty shot that even did some damage at home in mini-hockey.
"I think me and my brothers might have wrecked a deep freeze shooting pucks off it," he said. "I think we beat it up enough that we had to get a new one."
Accuracy with the puck clearly comes naturally to the eight-round (241st overall) pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2002. "You know what?" he said. "The deep freeze was there for a long time. It served us good."
These are early days, but Wide-man is clearly giving the Flames good return on their investment.
Calgary (3-3-1-1) at Vancouver (6-2-0-2)
8 p.m., Rogers Arena
TV: CBC Radio: SN 960
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