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Sutter fires himself!

Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter (left) confirms he's handing over his head coaching duties to...

Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter (left) confirms he's handing over his head coaching duties to longtime assistant Jim Playfair (centre) yesterday. (Calgary Sun/Carlos Amat)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Turns out Darryl Sutter's sometimes-harsh accountability sessions include the man in the mirror.

Holding the dual posts of GM and head coach the previous two seasons, Sutter sat down with himself after his team was bounced by Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs and decided it was time for a new presence in Jim Playfair behind the bench and in the locker-room.

"At the end of the day, I hold myself -- the head coach -- very accountable. The general manager this year held the head coach very accountable and I think he could have done a better job," Sutter said yesterday.

"It's hard to explain but ... there were times, to be quite honest, when you have experience of having been through a lot and coached a lot of playoff games, you know there's maybe one minute or one important part in the game day or some point you could have done a better job.

"Basically, I'll tell you this: I think we have a great team and I think now we have a great coach."

With that, Playfair becomes the 14th head coach in Flames history and Sutter kicks himself upstairs full-time. The Flames also hired Wayne Fleming as an assistant coach.

Sutter's decision to give up coaching was long expected and, it turns out, was long in the making.

Having held both posts since the spring of 2003, Sutter has worked relentlessly to build the team from an also-ran to a Stanley Cup finalist in 2004 and a favourite again for the upcoming season.

But even he couldn't do both jobs indefinitely, knowing he'd be short-changing his responsibilities somewhere.

"The lockout probably stalled (stepping down as coach) by a year," Sutter said.

"There wasn't anything that led to the final decision. It was an absolute succession plan.

" It was really important, when the lockout was over, (to be) still in the locker-room because there was a lot of (uncertainties) in the league and it was important for me to be down there."

Now, with the Flames a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, Sutter's focus will be best served keeping the club in the upper half of the NHL.

That means having a better handle on all the players within the organization, being able to take a more active role scouting and having an even better sense to make player moves.

Simply being prepared for the inevitable annual turnover of a half-dozen players or so is a massive task.

"Compared from three years ago, there are two positions -- goaltending and centre ice -- we have, from a prospect standpoint, probably the best in the National Hockey League," Sutter said.

"That becomes almost a total focus. Because of the cap system, you have to make sure your young players are coming into your team. That's what good organizations are going to do."

Naturally, there are questions about what kind of coach Playfair will be. Is he a motivator? A teacher? A stern task-master?

"He'd better be a winning coach," Playfair said.

"Relentless pursuit will be a real mindset of our team. Hey, we're gonna be a hard-working team, really hard to play against in this building, all those things we've been working on.

"Time will tell what the word on the street is about my style of coaching and what kind of coach I am but that's irrelevant to how we perform."

Just the fact Sutter is willing to hand the role to him proves Playfair has done an outstanding job of earning respect.

"Three or four years ago, the general consensus was Jim Playfair was going to be the head coach of the Calgary Flames," Sutter said.

"I think the experience of coming to the league and working with experienced people has taken him to the next level."


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