SUN Hockey Pool

GM likes Keen approach

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Darryl Sutter saw it in his longtime friend's eyes when he and Mike Keenan got together to discuss the possibility of a return to the bench.

The intense desire to lead a group of players and compete for the Stanley Cup.

"What was really important to me is he really wanted to coach again. It's not like he had to be a coach," said Flames GM Darryl Sutter yesterday after handing his former boss a three-year deal to coach in Calgary.

"Once I looked at him and saw that and understood that, the next part of it was making sure that Jimmy (Playfair) would stay."

After one season in charge, Playfair -- who studied under Sutter as Sutter did under his mentor Keenan in Chicago -- did accept a return to an associate position and, with that, there is a tight triangle of three generations of NHL head coaches leading the Flames.

Sutter knew the reunion would work after meeting with Keenan in person following phone calls discussing the possibility of joining forces for the first time since his former Blackhawks head coach and GM left Chicago for New York in 1993-94.

"You can talk on the phone all you want but you can't see emotion or get a feel for it, you have to see it," said Sutter, who courted Keenan for nearly two weeks before yesterday saw the deal done.

"If there's anything that goes back in our relationship, I know when the man is emotionally invested how good a coach he is."

But the ties between Keenan and the Sutter family go back further than Darryl's apprenticeship in Chicago.

"It's not just me. Mike has coached with, traded for, I think, all my brothers. He coached Duane, Brent, Ronnie, Rich. He coached with Brian in the Canada Cup and him and I coached together," Sutter said. "All of us, in some way, there's been a connection."

Even the Sutter family matriarch Grace has a history with Keenan, who coached twins Rich and Ron in Philadelphia in the '80s.

"I've had an interesting relationship with Mrs. Sutter," said Keenan, sporting a wry grin. "One of my first experiences when I was coaching the twins, a funny story is she gave me an earful a couple of times. I've always enjoyed her, as well."

The tongue-lashing came after Keenan contributed to Flyers GM Bobby Clarke's decision to split up the twins and send Rich to Vancouver but the relationship with hockey's greatest family was cemented further when Darryl joined the Blackhawks.

Keenan admitted he was surprised by the latest set of calls, though.

"I was a little bit surprised," Keenan said. "But pleasantly surprised because I know Darryl so well. Once we had discussed it for a while, I started to get a feeling I'd like the opportunity to try and help this team and it developed from there."

Sutter is convinced the partnership will be a success.

"I can't say that I've been associated with a coach or worked with a coach that has a more focused vision than him."


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