Flames get Miked up

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

Fifteen years after making his NHL coaching debut under Mike Keenan, Darryl Sutter has hired his old boss.

After months of speculation surrounding the future of coach Jim Playfair, a club source confirmed last night the Calgary Flames have hired Keenan as their new coach and will introduce him as early as this morning.

While team officials closed ranks last night, refusing to comment, it was confirmed Playfair will stay in the organization, likely as an assistant coach.

And while many fans wanted the relatively inexperienced Playfair out after going 14 games above .500 in his rookie year, few will be happy Keenan is his replacement.

He's that controversial. That brash. That abrasive.

Truth is, it's a brilliant move.

First, having worked with Keenan in Chicago, Sutter knows the 57-year-old disciplinarian well and has modeled his coaching style after the fifth-winningest bench boss in NHL history.

For all those hoping and praying Sutter would climb down from the press box to coach again, Keenan is the next best thing. He's similar in style: Straightforward. Those two will be on the same page.

The key to this organization's success going forward is getting the players to do the same.

That was the problem last season when an inconsistent Flames team was humiliated in the first round by Detroit after being outcoached and outworked.

That won't happen with Keenan around.

A hardass with credentials like his is the perfect antidote for an underachieving team that had all the tools necessary for a long playoff run but fell flat.

On paper, the Flames had the sort of talent needed to challenge for the Cup.

Somewhere along the way they lost their discipline and their identity as a gritty, hard-working team. They started believing their press clippings and relied too much on their skill. Keenan can re-instill the work ethic that got Calgary to the Final in 2004.

With seven stops to his credit, Keenan has been to the Cup final four times with three different teams, winning the big prize once as head coach of the New York Rangers in 1994.

With more than a half dozen of the team's top players heading towards free agency next summer -- including Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Daymond Langkow, Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf -- this club has one year left to challenge for the Cup.

Time is of the essence, which is why Sutter decided he simply couldn't wait to see how Playfair's ongoing development continued.

That's not to say this isn't a gamble.

Keenan's career has been mired in controversy due largely to power struggles at the top like the one that saw him abandon his post as GM with the Florida Panthers just prior to last season's opener.

His clubs have posted losing records in six of his last seven seasons behind the bench as many players simply tune him out over time. That's a fact.

However, all Sutter needs is for his troops to buy in for one year.

Keenan's penchant for pulling goalies will not fly in Calgary, where Kipper is king. His no-nonsense approach will be backed by the GM, meaning players buy in or are shipped out.

Armed with precious little ammunition heading into next weekend's draft, Sutter's traditional draft-day splash came a week early.

Thing is, with the talent he already has, it could prove to be the missing ingredient.

It could also prove to make this the most interesting year in Flames history.


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