SUN Hockey Pool

Mike ain't gonna take hike

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

It wasn't all that long ago Mike Keenan's name was being thrown around as a coach-of-the-year finalist.

Over the last few days, the debate has taken on a decidedly different flavour as many are starting to wonder if he should be shown the door.

Blanked in successive road games and losers of seven of their last 10, the Flames are doing exactly what Darryl Sutter suggested doomed them last spring: Limping into the playoffs.

Outscored 41-26 over a three-week stretch that has seen the number of team meetings far exceed the number of times Miikka Kiprusoff has been pulled (three), the Flames season appears to be spiralling out of control.

Apparently unsure whether the key to success is striving to somehow regain their defensive edge of years past or attempt to run-and-gun with all comers, the Flames appear somewhat directionless.

Despite their talent and depth, they have no identity no set lines, and soon, they likely won't have a division lead and accompanying home-ice advantage thanks to the surging Vancouver Canucks.

Of Calgary's three wins in 10 outings, one was a gift from Chris Osgood, and another a late 2-1 win at home against the 22nd-ranked Stars.

Those residing outside the 403 area code may wonder what all the fuss is about given the Flames lead the division at 16 games above .500 and have flirted with the notion of being amongst the elite.

However, nothing matters more to this franchise than, at the very least, winning its first playoff round in four years -- something that will become increasingly daunting a task if this team continues to choke away the division title.

Keenan may be the fourth-winningest coach of all time, but his penchant for throwing lines out like Boggle dice has frustrated fans for two years now, prompting many to easily call for his head. With Thursday's humiliation in Ohio marking a new low point for the team, many see Iron Mike as the most logical and convenient scapegoat.

While some figure he's lost the team, others argue he never even had it given the players' decision to abandon the defence-first system Darryl Sutter has demanded ever since he got here. Sutter insisted from Day 1 his team needed to be amongst the league-leaders in goals-against. It's now amongst the worst in that department.

Keenan has talked about his players lacking effort or discipline but has yet to back it up by benching anyone.

While it had previously been unheard of to can a playoff-bound coach with less than 10 games to go, Lou Lamoriello changed all that years ago. Keenan's cause wasn't helped by the bevy of successful coaching changes in cities like Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago and Ottawa, where new blood seemed to get much more out of the team's talents.

Those who've been hoping and waiting for years for Sutter to descend from the press box to run the bench again are salivating. And yes, at this point, Sutter would be the only candidate to take over, given the familiarity needed to take charge with so few games left.

Thing is, it won't happen. Nor should it.

While a coaching move would be the type of shakeup sure to grab the players' attention, Sutter is far too rational to panic now. It's an unfortunate time to struggle, but most of the team's issues have been on the road, they've had several injuries, and this team is far too experienced to let an otherwise solid year end this way.

They played brilliantly in their 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh and had no gas left in Columbus the next night.

The team is getting healthier and there's still time to clinch the division, pick up a little momentum and do damage in the playoffs.

Indeed, a first round loss should and would cost Keenan his job. But given the club's 84-56-16 record under him, he deserves a chance to turn things around.

And he'll get it.


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