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 ineffective as Calgary’s bench boss, the extra push expected from deadline deals 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.
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.
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.
Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr told the Calgary Herald that 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.
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 with resumes, teams tended to give newbies a shot, with good results. 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. They don’t need a fresh outlook and they don’t need any more motivation at this point. What they need is a strong voice with a definitive plan.
So why not Sutter? He steered the ship during Calgary’s most-recent success, specifically the team’s 2004 Stanley Cup final run. And most of the core from that team 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.