Naturally, the timing was probably the most unusual part of the announcement.
In the midst of a season-high six-game losing streak, the Calgary Flames revealed Wednesday that they'd signed coach Bob Hartley to a multi-year contract extension. The Flames could have done it two weeks ago, when they'd inched to within a couple of points of the overall Western Conference lead, or they could have waited until after Christmas, to see where this slide may end.
But in the end, it didn't really matter to general manager Brad Treliving, who had already decided that Hartley was his man – now and for the foreseeable future. Treliving has a background in business and then spent seven years apprenticing in a Phoenix Coyotes organization that has employed just a single coach, Dave Tippett, since 2009.
Accordingly, he understands the value of stability and consistency. Treliving joined the Flames' organization back in April after it missed the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year and didn't know Hartley, except by reputation. Over the course of the summer, then into training camp and the new season, he discovered that he and Hartley shared many of the same philosophies about how to handle a rebuild.
Hartley's contract was scheduled to run out at the end of the season and it became clear to Treliving more than a month ago that an extension was warranted. During a hastily assembled press conference and then again on the team's flagship station, the Fan 960, Treliving said what pleased him the most about Hartley's work with a young team was quickly the team's hard-working identity has emerged.
"When I break down the critical fingerprints that a coach can have, I start with the work ethic and the compete level of your team," said Treliving. "Not sporadically, not once in a while, but is that consistent? One of the hardest things to do is build the identity of your team. I think our team has that and it's driven by Bob.
"Then there's that tricky balance of what I call push and positive. This is a hard game and you have to push people to do things that are uncomfortable – and that a lot of guys don't want to do. Are you capable of doing that, but also balancing that personal education and positive side?
"I came in with criteria in terms of what's important in the position and Bob exudes plenty in all areas - and encompassing all that is a passionate drive to win. He wants to win."
More than a third of the way through the season, the Flames are tied with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for eighth in the Western Conference standings, even after losing six in a row and remained in the thick of playoff competition. Considering the grim forecasts heading into the season, their position is better than most had hoped.
Most of the progress has come despite a relatively inexperienced line-up that saw as many as half-a-dozen first or second-year forwards playing a couple of weeks ago because of a rash of injuries up front. The only two first-round draft choices in Calgary's line-up for Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers were forwards Sean Monahan and Joe Colborne. The rest of the roster consists of either free agents or mid-to-low level draft choices.
Hartley is in his third season with the Flames, joining them after guiding Zurich to the Swiss league championship in 2011. He'd previously won a Stanley Cup as head coach of the 2001 Colorado Avalanche and was originally hired by Treliving's predecessor in the job, Jay Feaster. Primarily, it has been Hartley's teaching skills and his patience that have proven to be a good fit with the Flames.
"I've always said that I love the direction we're going," said Hartley. "That's what matters the most to me. Even now, we hit a skid. We're winless in six, but I still like the way we work. We have to improve our focus, but that's part of growing with a bunch of young players. I know we will find a way of turning it around."