Keen anticipation in Calgary

Mike Keenan is in a good mood after being named head coach of the Flames on Thursday. (Sun...

Mike Keenan is in a good mood after being named head coach of the Flames on Thursday. (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

The fans don't like it.

Neither do many of the players, despite what they'll say publicly.

That didn't stop the Calgary Flames from ushering in a bold new era yesterday by introducing Iron Mike Keenan as Jim Playfair's replacement.

And while the majority of fans blamed Playfair for the Flames road woes and early playoff exit, the same bunch is already convinced the 57-year-old Keenan is the wrong choice. They worry the game has passed him by and that he's more trouble than he's worth.

Arriving with a losing record the last decade and more baggage than WestJet, Keenan indeed has a reputation for clashing with superiors and players as part of his seven-team tour.

However, with his volatility comes a Stanley Cup ring, four trips to the final and the fifth-most wins in NHL history. He's also a known commodity, bringing a straightforward approach Darryl Sutter is convinced can lift a highly-skilled team that lost its way.

Truth is, he's right.

"Mike Keenan's greatest ability as a coach -- I've seen it --is to get the maximum out of top players and our team has five or six of the top 30 or 40 players in the game," said Sutter of his longtime associate.

"I think our top players all want it and need it. Our team has evolved from a lesser skilled team and one of the hardest working to a more skilled one that was capable of being very successful."

Sutter said the move was made after months of evaluations that came down to the fact finishing 14 games above .500 wasn't good enough. If not Playfair, Keenan was his only other choice.

"The determination was based on our own expectations," said Sutter, who started his coaching career under Keenan in Chicago 15 years ago.

"It's another way to bring stability to the organization."

Given the fact Sutter is widely considered a Keenan clone, you'd think fans who wanted Sutter to return to the bench would be happy.

Wrong.

Despite the fact fans originally praised the hiring of Playfair last summer and have long had faith in Sutter's judgment, the city is now full of fans angry a controversial coach is being recycled here.

"The fans will love winning," said team president Ken King, pegging early fan support for the move at 50-50.

"Say what you want but we don't take the easy way out. We make decisions based on effectiveness, not popularity. I think people will judge him by what he will do. If we're right, we'll find that out in due course but if we're wrong, we'll admit too -- but we're not wrong."

Sutter likened it to landing a big-name free agent without having to give up a thing, especially since they managed to retain Playfair as an associate coach.

"We have been in the trenches together and when you do that you understand and know each other well," said Keenan, who many believe will eventually end his three-year deal by clashing with management.

"To win the Stanley Cup is not an easy task.

It demands abnormal behaviour in terms of excellence. You have to find, educate, teach and lead people that want to be lead to grasp those ambitious goals and to be passionate about living it, achieving it and believing it."

Insisting he wasn't looking to get back into coaching, Keenan said a call from Sutter made him realize how good a fit he was in Calgary -- a team that needs to win this year before free agency changes its face next year. After that, they can tune him out.

If indeed Playfair needed to go, Keenan was the only option. It makes sense.

The players don't have to like it -- heck, they didn't like playing for Sutter, either. But they respected him.

Keenan will demand the same, re-introducing the only ingredient the Flames were missing last year: A work ethic.

It's a risk few believe will pay off. It says here, it will.


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