SUN Hockey Pool

Record speaks for itself

Coach Jim Playfair answers a question during a press conference after the Flames were eliminated...

Coach Jim Playfair answers a question during a press conference after the Flames were eliminated from the playoffs by the Red Wings on Sunday. (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Fourteen games above .500.

With his club playing in the toughest division in hockey, Jim Playfair managed to guide the Calgary Flames to a 43-29-10 record as a rookie.

Few coaches in NHL history have opened their careers with such a lofty record. Yet, the masses want Jim Playfair fired.

Following every loss over the last three months, Playfair has been the whipping boy for fans at a loss to explain why a team with that much talent can't win on the road.

So they blame the coach.

It's not the most ridiculous parallel ever drawn in sports.

But the truth is, there's a much bigger reason they want the former assistant to get the axe. His name is Darryl Sutter.

They want him back.

Thing is, it's just not going to happen. Sutter has made it clear he has no desire to climb back behind the bench where he managed to transform the 2004 Flames into a Stanley Cup finalist.

And because of it, the fans have placed unrealistic expectations on a team and its coach to repeat the near miracle the franchise almost pulled off in Tampa Bay.

It's not easy replacing a local icon -- had Playfair followed Greg Gilbert or Don Hay he'd be the toast of the town. That said, as GM, Sutter has to figure out why this team couldn't win on the road.

Indeed Playfair looked tense behind the bench, a vibe the players surely picked up on. It could have played on their confidence. A handful of other coaches look far more wound up and manage to win regularly.

Yes, the Flames backed into the playoffs, were stunningly inept once they left the comforts of Calgary and were outplayed and outcoached by the Wings.Playfair deserves his fair share of heat for that.

However, surely he also deserves credit for helping the club to the most dominant home record in hockey, shaping great special teams units and finishing 13th overall in his first year as the big boss.

He should also get kudos for overseeing a team that gave fans two shocking wins at home last week when all seemed lost against the west's top team.

Sutter knew there would be growing pains with his young protege behind the bench.

It appeared he did well to give Playfair space to work through them and will undoubtedly sit down soon to go over how he could have handled certain things better. He'll improve.

Next year will be the last season this franchise will have the luxury of keeping both Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla. Surely you don't want to introduce a stranger to the mix who will go through the same growing pains Playfair did this year.

Sure, Mike Keenan is available and so are a handful of other established coaches.

Sutter -- a man who has proven to have an impeccable ability to assess talent -- saw many things in Playfair that led him to believe he can win at this level as he has in the minors.

Playfair deserves at least another year. If you think otherwise, remember his replacement wouldn't be Sutter.

Next year Playfair will have a younger, faster team. Knowing the personnel as well as he does, Playfair is up to the task of finding and establishing the identity of a club that went from gritty and defensive-oriented to talented yet uncommitted to the cause.

Jim Playfair should remain coach of the Flames.

And Sutter needs to give him that vote of confidence now.


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