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Allan Maki

Heat is on Sutter after he fires Keenan Add to ...

With the victim long ago shuffled out of town, with the general manager nowhere to be seen or heard from, the Calgary Flames boldly tiptoed to the forefront late yesterday afternoon - on a Friday, no less - and whispered via e-mail, "Psssst, we've fired our coach."

How utterly courageous of them, not that Mike Keenan didn't deserve to be canned for a pair of first-round playoff exits. It's just that dumping a coach, any coach, calls for someone to stand behind a microphone and answer questions such as: Why? Why now? And who's ultimately responsible for Keenan being trashed with one year left on his contract?

That man, Darryl Sutter, won't be explaining his actions until Tuesday, time enough for everyone to have chewed on the news and maybe got over the odd taste of it.

That Sutter, usually a straight-up sort, would oust his old buddy Keenan without offering more than an obligatory statement ("We believe this is a necessary change required to allow our team to continue toward our objective of winning the Stanley Cup.") is telling stuff. It says the heat is squarely on the GM. It says the good will generated by the Flames' 2004 Stanley Cup surge has run drier than a dusty well.

It's Sutter's behind on the barbecue grill now and the gas is about to be turned way up. After all, it was Sutter who moved upstairs and promoted assistant Jim Playfair to head coach when Playfair simply wasn't ready for the promotion. It was Sutter who then pushed Playfair aside and welcomed Keenan as the elite-level coach who could take the Flames toward their objective of winning the Stanley Cup.

In two years, Keenan could do no better in the playoffs than Playfair. Worse, Keenan couldn't seem to get his players ready when it counted. For whatever reason - he wasn't respected enough, wasn't tough enough, wasn't being listened to - his team had all the resolve of cooked squash in its last two playoff games against the faster, hungrier Chicago Blackhawks.

So dumping Keenan was the way to go, especially since the contracts of all the assistant coaches (Playfair, Rich Preston, David Marcoux, Rob Cookson) are about to expire, making it easier to bring in a new staff en masse.

And the best bet to be leading that staff is Sutter himself.

Guaranteed, that likelihood has many Calgary hockey fans pounding their heads against a wall and pleading, "Why put Sutter behind the bench when he's the one most responsible for where the Flames sit - out of the postseason without a head coach and a number of key personnel decisions to be made?"

But the Flames' ownership has to be thinking, "This is Sutter's mess. He made it. Let him clean it up." Besides, the owners will be paying Keenan not to coach next season so why not have the GM do double duty? If Sutter does well and the team responds in the postseason, lovely; everyone wins. If he doesn't, then Sutter loses and it's time for someone else to run the show.

In the days ahead there will be speculation Brent Sutter could end up as the new coach of the Flames, as soon as he extricates himself from the New Jersey Devils. The word at the rinks is Sutter wants to get back home to Alberta, that he'd be as good a fit with the Edmonton Oilers as the Flames but that Calgary is the ultimate destination since the front office includes brothers Duane, in player personnel, and Ron, as a scout.

As a matter of record, Devils' GM Lou Lamoriello has repeatedly said Sutter isn't going anywhere, at least not until Lou tells him where to go. And think about this: What has Brent Sutter actually accomplished in New Jersey? Try two first-round exits a là Iron Mike Keenan, which is why the Flames' ownership would prefer to have Darryl Sutter as coach, because it would make him responsible once and for all.

So don't be surprised if the GM is forced to coach and if Dave Lowry, the former Flame who head-manned the Calgary Hitmen to the 2009 WHL final, is added as an assistant. And don't be surprised, either, if at least one of those announcements is trumpeted at a specially staged news conference held to usher in a new day, a new beginning.

That's how the Flames handle good news. The bad stuff? Check your e-mail and don't expect accountability.

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

 

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