Iain MacIntyre: Flames' Hartley uses the legions of doubters to motivate his underdogs

 

Calgary’s lineup appears to be a scoring drought waiting to happen, but …

 
 
 
 
Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley says while his team is expected to finish near the bottom of the league by many, ‘our mission is to be in the playoffs.’
 
 

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley says while his team is expected to finish near the bottom of the league by many, ‘our mission is to be in the playoffs.’

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images

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CALGARY — Turns out Brian Burke isn’t speaking much to the media these days, but Bob Hartley is — and on Tuesday that trade-off turned out surprisingly well for a Calgary Flames’ team that hasn’t, uh, traded well.

With the Flames still tied for first place in the National Hockey League, which technically only opens its regular season Wednesday, president Burke watched Hartley coach the team through its final pre-season practice Tuesday morning at the Saddledome.

Out of the playoffs and fading over the last five seasons, the Flames’ opening-night lineup against the Vancouver Canucks will feature one player who scored 20 NHL goals last season, and he is 19-year-old sophomore Sean Monahan. Former Canuck Mason Raymond, who probably saved his career by making the Toronto Maple Leafs on a tryout last fall before producing 19 goals, is featured on the second line. The Flames’ offensive wild card is John Gaudreau — Johnny Hockey — the elfin 150-pound rookie from Salem, N.J., who was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 and merely produced 80 points in 40 games last season for Boston College.

“The tower and two Timbits,” Hartley said of Gaudreau’s line, which includes 6-5 Joe Colborne and 5-7 Paul Byron. “Let’s get Tim Hortons to get sponsorship.”

The American Gaudreau, whose name is probably being pronounced for the first time as his French-Canadian great-grandparents intended, said: “I thought it was pretty funny. I didn’t know what Timbit meant at first, so I needed to ask a few people.”

He could have asked Burkie, but never mind.

Burke, who three jobs ago helped save the Canucks franchise at the turn of the millennium, has given up public speaking in an attempt to remove his shadow from newly hired general manager Brad Treliving, who has the daunting task of rebuilding the Flames after years of roster neglect by Jay Feaster and Darryl Sutter.

Nostalgia and delusion caused the former managers to hold on too long to an aging core of stars who eventually left for nothing or little in return, which should be a warning to Canucks general manager Jim Benning. There were also a couple of awful trades involving younger players.

Consider that in return for Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames have in their opening-night lineup Byron and Matt Stajan, who centred the fourth line on Tuesday.

Calgary has several decent prospects in its system from deals involving some of the old stars, and appears also to have drafted well the last couple of years. But heading into this season the Flames, despite their pledge of hard work and player development, are a scoring drought waiting to happen. They have the lowest payroll in the NHL and are expected to finish out of the playoffs again, likely near the bottom of the Western Conference.

Enter Hartley.

“Our mission is to be in the playoffs,” the coach told reporters. “And for some of you guys, you might go: ‘Those guys are crazy.’ And that’s OK. You’re allowed about your opinions, and we’re allowed about our beliefs.

“If we don’t believe in our ability, who will? This is the NHL, and if you don’t believe in what you can do, well, please leave. It’s plain and simple.”

Hartley cited as inspiration the unexpected baseball playoff run by the resourceful Kansas City Royals — “those guys are diving in the walls, diving at home plate … you can see there is passion in their face and they believe in themselves” — and said the Flames will have to score by committee.

“It’s going to be through hard work, getting our face in the mud and not being fancy,” Hartley said. “That’s our culture.

“What I always tell my guys is I don’t live my life trying to prove people wrong. I’m trying to prove the people who believe in us, I’m trying to make those people right. That’s our attitude and it’s a very positive attitude.”

Hartley is also trying to get himself a new contract because his current one was neither terminated nor extended by Burke and Treliving and expires after this season. Treliving promised Tuesday that the coach’s contract will be dealt with at an “appropriate time.”

After the opener, the Flames play 11 of their next 16 games on the road. So the appropriate time could be in November if the Flames struggle out of the gate, although Hartley has great conviction in his team and guided them to a 19-14 record at the end of last season after repelling former Canucks head coach John Tortorella’s dressing-room attack in January.

Hartley said he introduced himself to new Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins during the pre-season.

“I met Willie the other day in the big hallway,” Hartley said with a smile. “I felt it would be cheaper in the big hallway than the short one. I didn’t know him, but I made sure I went to say hi to him and I had the white flag.”

But don’t expect anyone on the Flames to wave that flag again this season.

“We have to believe in ourselves, which we do, and forget about all that stuff,” captain Mark Giordano said. “But those projections (of failure) are out there and we have to use that as a little bit of motivation, too. When you’re chosen to finish last in the league, you can use that a little bit. We know we’re better than that, but we have to prove it and prove ourselves right.

“We know we can accomplish a lot. You look around the league and see it every year — there’s always a team that is surprising and plays really well. This year, why can’t it be us?”

Well…

imacintyre@vancouversun.com

Follow me: @IMacVanSun

 
 
 
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Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley says while his team is expected to finish near the bottom of the league by many, ‘our mission is to be in the playoffs.’
 

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley says while his team is expected to finish near the bottom of the league by many, ‘our mission is to be in the playoffs.’

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images

 
Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley says while his team is expected to finish near the bottom of the league by many, ‘our mission is to be in the playoffs.’
Head coach Bob Hartley of the Calgary Flames talks with a referee during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 22, 2013 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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