Brent Sutter will be living in Alberta during the NHL's 2009-10 season. Might Dany Heatley be joining him? In the same city?
Those questions fell in stride yesterday via a confirmation (that Sutter had resigned as head coach of the New Jersey Devils) and fervent speculation (that Heatley had asked the Ottawa Senators to trade him despite signing a six-year, $45-million [U.S.]contract extension less than two years ago).
News of Sutter's New Jersey departure created scarcely a ripple since his longing to return to Alberta had been widely known. The owner and former head coach of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels said he was needed at home, adding he had spent the past six weeks contemplating his future.
In the end, he opted to leave with one year remaining on his contract and will require the Devils' permission if he wishes to coach with another NHL team next season.
The Flames are not only in the market for a head man, having fired coach Mike Keenan, they are crawling with Sutters, from general manager Darryl Sutter down to 22-year-old centre Brett, son of Darryl.
Darryl Sutter wouldn't talk about his brother when meeting with the media two weeks ago. The Flames general manager said there were three candidates for the coaching job and that all three were under contract elsewhere. He also acknowledged he would coach the team if none of the three candidates could be freed.
Darryl Sutter was unavailable yesterday to expand on his thoughts while Brent, equally evasive on the Calgary scenario, said he didn't consider leaving the Devils the act of a quitter.
"I threw two years of my life and made a big commitment 3,000 miles away from where my family was and tried to do everything I possibly could to accomplish a goal," Sutter said during a conference call. "So by me doing that, my life has suffered in other areas, and those areas to me are bigger than the game."
While Brent's coaching style would fit with Darryl's defence-first attitude, the truth is the Flames need someone to take them beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Keenan couldn't do it; neither could his predecessor, Jim Playfair.
As for Brent Sutter's handiwork, his Devils were knocked out in the first round each of the past two springs, posting a disappointing 4-8 record.
"Brent's a good coach," one NHL insider said. "But there's no guarantee he would get more out of the team than Keenan did. It's still up to the players."
To improve their playing ranks, the Flames may be casting a curious eye toward the Calgary-raised Heatley, who doubtless, sources say, wants out of the nation's capital.
Senators GM Bryan Murray acknowledged he has had discussions with Heatley's representatives but wouldn't elaborate. Though he insisted the 28-year-old winger remains under contract, Murray didn't deny the possibility Heatley could be dealt.
"We signed him to a long-term deal and we expect him to honour it. At this point in time he's a Senator," Murray said.
Heatley is believed to have had a philosophical run-in with Sens coach Cory Clouston which, in turn, has sparked rumours of a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning (in exchange for Martin St. Louis and the second pick in this year's entry draft), the Anaheim Ducks (for winger Corey Perry) and the Los Angeles Kings.
L.A. is eager to acquire a big-name player and has been mentioned as a new locale for either Marian Gaborik of the Minnesota Wild or Daniel Brière of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flames would need to part with at least one high-priced body to make room for Heatley's $7.5-million salary-cap hit. That body could be defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who struggled last season with inconsistency and injuries, yet remains a potential franchise player at 24.
Adding Heatley would undoubtedly upgrade the Flames forwards (they're expected to lose Mike Cammalleri as an unrestricted free agent) but trading Phaneuf would leave them vulnerable on the back end. It's also worth wondering whether Heatley would feel at ease functioning within a Sutter-ized defensive game.
A better fit would be the Edmonton Oilers, who could use a proven scorer and whose up-tempo ways would better suit Heatley. Edmonton has more cap space than Calgary as well as some defensive offerings (perhaps Lubomir Visnovsky), which Ottawa covets.
There has also been talk the Oilers will make a pitch for Edmonton-born defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer at the tender age of 25.
With a report from Sean Gordon