Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter has a very important task on his hands. With the firing of coach Mike Keenan after two fruitless seasons – preceded by a similar disappointing 2006-07 with Jim Playfair at the helm – Sutter must come to grips with the fact his GM skills are not as sharp as his coaching acumen.
Fortunately, Sutter was a pretty good coach, so this isn’t a big slight on his character. But while Keenan was indeed ineffective as Calgary’s bench boss, the extra push a team such as Pittsburgh got at the trade deadline from Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz was not felt in Cowtown.
What about Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold, you say? Well, what about them? Leopold was a minus-5 with four points on the Flames blueline in 19 regular season games and did only slightly better in the playoffs. (But when your team loses in the first round, does it really matter?)
Meanwhile, Jokinen finally got into the post-season, but clearly wasn’t the difference-maker the Flames were hoping for. The team went 8-11 down the stretch after acquiring him. Granted Calgary’s defense was rocked by injury heading into the post-season, but with the firepower at its disposal, a first round exit is not acceptable.
And if you’re not a fan of the big Finn, things only get worse next season: Jokinen still has another year on his contract, while leading goal-scorer Mike Cammalleri is likely gone as an unrestricted free agent this summer because of the ensuing salary cap crunch. So the roster isn’t getting much better next year.
Stalwart Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr told the Calgary Herald Keenan’s days as an NHL coach have likely passed him by. It’s a new league with new ins-and-outs and mistake-prone, fire-wagon hockey just won’t do in the post-season (ask the Washington Capitals).
So, to whom should the Flames turn? The trend this season has been to buck the trends of the past: instead of going with old-school coaches who have long resumes, teams tended to give newbies a shot and the results were pretty solid. Dan Bylsma has the Penguins inches from a second straight Stanley Cup berth, while Cory Clouston almost orchestrated a miracle comeback in Ottawa.
But the Flames are a veteran squad with great leadership. They don’t need a fresh outlook and they certainly don’t need any more motivation at this point. What they need is a strong voice with a definitive plan the team commits to follow. Perhaps this is the job posting Pat Quinn is qualified to fill.
Quinn definitely fills the respect quotient and his coaching at the world juniors this past winter indicates he can still win games on a big stage with a big spotlight. He’s always been an offensive-minded coach and that’s the trend in the NHL these days.
If not Quinn, why not Sutter himself? In recent years he was the one steering the ship when Calgary had the most success, specifically the team’s 2004 Stanley Cup final run. And most of the core from that team – Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Regehr, Craig Conroy – is still around.
Pulling double duty as coach and GM doesn’t really work anymore in the NHL – it’s just too rigorous – so maybe Sutter should find a new boss for himself.
It could be the best career move he ever makes.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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