Sensing some shufflin'

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

The longer Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter remains silent, the more you wonder whether or not he's really prepared to make a statement by making a change.

Maybe Mike Keenan is safe after all.

With a year left on his contract and a longtime friendship with Sutter, Keenan could lead the Flames for another season. At least in theory.

Talk around the Saddledome all season suggested the assistant coaches did a lot of the teaching. Conveniently, their contracts all expire at the end of June.

Sutter doesn't even have to fire anybody to make the kind of changes that will satisfy some fans, and perhaps bring a new focus to the locker-room. Suggesting in post-season interviews the core of his team was safe, maybe Sutter should swap staffs instead.

Injecting energy into the on-ice product with the addition of a couple youngsters every season, the GM can do the same behind the bench by adding a couple of American Hockey League coaches to Keenan's crew.

Why not bring Ryan McGill and his current assistant Scott Allen aboard and see what they can do with arguably the finest core assembled in Calgary in a decade?

Keenan can continue holding court daily with members of the media while his helpers break down video and plot the Xs and Os.

McGill and Allen have been teaching the same system on the farm for years -- defence first -- but some new faces and new voices might be all the tweaking needed to prolong the Flames' next season.

It's the perfect time to shake things up with the AHL affiliate moving to Abbotsford as the Heat, and ownership likely feeling a little chill from the fans despite a fifth straight playoff appearance.

Moving pieces around in the existing Flames franchise family is a fairly hospitable way of suggesting changes need to be made while keeping the consistency necessary for long-term stability.

That includes current Calgary Hitmen head coach Dave Lowry, who could end up the inaugural head coach of the Abbotsford Heat if this speculated scenario were to actually take place.

No one in the organization is willing to talk until Sutter decides -- or makes public -- his plan for next season.

Announcing the hiring of Keenan and demotion of former head coach Jim Playfair to the status of associate back in June two years ago caught everyone by surprise.

Nothing should shock the local fanbase now.

A second demotion is unlikely for Playfair, who is expected to explore other options after almost a decade with the organization.

But Rich Preston and David Marcoux might seriously consider the swap as opposed to the unemployment line awaiting another NHL opportunity.

The two most-targeted assistants -- one by the fans and the other by the GM himself in some 'read-between-the-lines' statements at the end of the season -- would work well with the prospects.

Fans of the Flames have harped all season about the dreadful powerplay, which has been one of Preston's responsibilities.

Marcoux took a shot from Sutter about needing to pay more attention to the No.-2 netminder. And while blame over Miikka Kiprusoff's heavy workload should fall on the head coach, Marcoux might be the scapegoat -- especially with former goalie Jamie McLennan joining the staff last season.

Preston's relationship with the Sutters stems back to their playing days. He was also an assistant to Darryl in Chicago and San Jose. His first stint in Calgary came under Brian Sutter's tenure as head coach.

Wanting to be loyal, Sutter could offer him a spot in the AHL. Wanting to keep working, Preston could accept and thrive in a new role.

Rob Cookson -- the Flames' version of Roger Neilson in the video room -- is the most likely to stick around.

His work is limited mostly to the back rooms, and it would surprise no one if the quiet coach returned.

Lowry taking a role with the Flames wouldn't be a surprise, either. The former team captain who called it quits after the 2004 season guided the Hitmen all the way to the WHL championship in his first season as head coach.

Stepping into that role in the AHL isn't too drastic a leap, and he could be groomed to one day take over the top job in the NHL.

Many believe a shakeup is necessary. One like this would see the pieces settle quickly.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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