Keenan key in fuelling fortunes

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

On paper, it appeared last year's Calgary Flames had what it took to compete with anyone in the NHL.

On the ice, it was obviously a different story, especially away from the 'Dome and once the post-season started.

Outside of Miikka Kiprusoff, few players showed up when it mattered most, as evidenced by the Flames' six-game playoff humiliation at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.

Changes obviously needed to be made, and Darryl Sutter decided -- given his club's solid talent base -- his biggest move should come behind the bench.

Although it ruffled the feathers of many a fan, by adding hardnosed Mike Keenan, the GM brought in hope the Flames could reignite the fire Sutter himself lit under the lads during their magical 2004 playoff run.

The rationale was simple: If last year's club had matched the work ethic of the 2004 club, the Flames could have been standing in Trafalgar Square last weekend showing the Stanley Cup off to puzzled Brits.

And so, as evidenced by his first meltdown at practice last week, Keenan is now diving head first into figuring out a way to motivate his eighth NHL club.

If he can do so, this team will officially have all the ingredients necessary to challenge and be considered among the favourites to host another final.

So why is it so hard for people to get excited about the Flames these days?

Maybe it's because they've won just three of their last 18 games or because the reality of losing Kiprusoff to free agency looms.

Or perhaps it has more to do with the fact the alleged depth of the organization is still clearly at least a year away from paying off as no youngsters proved worthy of injecting their youth and exuberance into the lineup during camp.

Instead, GM Sutter added another aging role player to the mix on the weekend by the name of Mark Smith, fresh from San Jose.

Make no mistake, Flames tickets are as coveted as rental properties in Calgary, the new jerseys are selling by the thousands and the price of oil has once again ensured every ticket and luxury suite will be filled this season.

Indeed, when the curtain rises on tomorrow night's season-opener against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers, those in the pews will be jacked.

It's from the opening drop of the puck we'll see if the recent lack of momentum has anything to do with the team's fortunes and just how much impact Iron Mike can still have on his troops.

Last year, this club had clearly lost its edge and identity, which is why many hope the addition of former captains like Owen Nolan and Adrian Aucoin, as well as Cup-winner Cory Sarich, can breath new life into a franchise currently residing in the 'wait and see' file.

This entire season revolves around hustle.

If the Sutter-like work ethic can be re-instilled, Keenan will be a coach-of-the-year candidate and Sutter will be praised for the type of genius move he became known for in 2004.

None of this is to suggest this team is lazy -- after all they were one of the league's most dominant hosts last year.

They just need to be more consistent. More persistent.

If they can do so, few teams have a better chance at playing deep into the spring than Iron Mike's.

If not, let the coaching controversy and dismantling begin.


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