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Sutter brings Keenan back to NHL as head coach of the Flames

One of Darryl Sutter's first NHL coaching jobs was as Mike Keenan's associate coach with the Chicago Blackhawks. Sutter has brought Keenan back into the NHL by hiring him as head coach of the Calgary Flames. Keenan, 57, joins his eighth NHL team as either a coach or general manager.

He last worked in the league for the Florida Panthers but abruptly resigned as GM in September 2006 with more than two years remaining on his contract amid rumours of differences with head coach Jacques Martin.

"You never know how the game is going to call you back do you?" Keenan said Thursday when he was introduced at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

It's surprising that Sutter, the Flames' GM, would agree to a three-year contract with a nomad who seems to wear out his welcome at each stop.

But Keenan had a knack early in his career for getting results quickly. He's navigated his teams to the Stanley Cup final four times, culminating in a title with the New York Rangers in 1994.

He is sixth all-time in NHL wins with 569 wins, along with 447 losses, 140 ties and 20 overtime losses in 1,014 games over his career.

Keenan won the Jack Adams trophy, awarded to the league's top coach, in 1985 while leading the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup final.

"We've coached with each other, against each other and for each other, all those things," Sutter said. "I can't say that I've been associated with a coach or worked with a coach that has a more focused vision than him."

Jim Playfair will remain in the organization as Keenan's associate coach. The Flames went 43-29-10 under Playfair last season and were considered underachievers in an eighth-place finish in the Western Conference and a first-round loss in the playoffs in six games to Detroit.

Sutter promoted Playfair from his assistant to head coach last summer when he stepped aside to continue on as GM.

"I thought Jimmy did a really good job but I wasn't sure that everybody else did," Sutter said. "With that, comes change."

Playfair said it was "an easy decision" to stay with the Flames.

"This is the next step for our organization to find a way to make sure we prepare ourselves as well as we can to win the Stanley Cup," he said. "It's not anything more than that."

Sutter contacted Keenan about 10 days ago about stepping behind the bench.

Sutter was associate coach to Keenan in 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons and they went to the Stanley Cup final in their second season together.

Keenan said their prior relationship was the key in his return.

"We've worked very closely together, we've been in the trenches together and when you are there together you understand and know each other very well," Keenan said. "When I was the manager and coach and Darryl was my associate, it worked very well.

"We had good chemistry and I think it will work again."

The upcoming season is a pivotal one for the Flames as both star goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and franchise player Jarome Iginla become unrestricted free agents at the end of it.

The direction the Flames go under Keenan may be a factor in those contract negotiations.

Keenan, from Bowmanville, Ont., has earned the nickname "Iron Mike" because of his reputation for inflexibility.

"I think part of the persona you develop of being extremely firm is that you maybe are not compassionate or you don't care," he said.

"When you try to reinforce amongst the group, those standards that people sometimes don't want to accept or deviate from, you might have to give them leadership and direction. It doesn't mean you don't care about them as people.

"To win a Stanley Cup is not an easy task. It's a very difficult task that demands abnormal behaviour in terms of excellence. Your dedication and sacrifices are going to have to be more than normal which isn't easy for people to grasp."

With his success, Keenan has had a mostly tumultuous career as a coach or general manager with the Flyers, the Blackhawks, the Rangers, the St. Louis Blues, the Vancouver Canucks, the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers.

He parted company with the Flyers in 1988 after four years as head coach despite twice guiding them to conference titles.

He won a title with the Rangers in 1994, but couldn't get along with GM Neil Smith well enough to stay for a second season.

He'd barely hoisted the Cup over his head in New York when it was announced he was heading to St. Louis.

One of the quirkier trivia tidbits from his nearly three years with the Blues before he was fired was his refusal to allow the players to don newly designed alternate sweaters because he didn't like the way they looked.

He didn't mesh with GM Brian Burke in Vancouver and was fired, and there was a quick exit from Boston, too.

In his early days with the Panthers, he and then-GM Rick Dudley engaged in power struggles. Then he abruptly left the team just before the 2006-07 season got underway.


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