Time for new game plan

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Now that Darryl Sutter has done the expected, let's see if he has the courage to do the unexpected.

Go outside the box with his next move.

The firing of Mike Keenan from his job as head coach of the Calgary Flames yesterday came as no real surprise. It had become painfully obvious it was about to happen. The fact Keenan spent more than a month a dead-man walking was absurd.

Who Sutter brings into the dressing room when the revolving door rotates will be interesting fodder.

The time has come for Sutter to find somebody with a different message.

Find somebody outside the Sutterite colony.

Let's face it, the job Sutter has done since taking over as GM is worthy of kudos. Making the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, especially without the benefit of high draft picks such as Sidney Crosby, is an achievement.

Just as impressive as the fact it's been done with three different head coaches: Sutter himself, Jim Playfair and the now-disposed Keenan.

The next chief whistle-blower, however, has to be somebody different.

It's obvious this is a veteran team still in need of coaching.

Real coaching.

For all the talent the Flames can boast -- sure, they're not exactly the Detroit Red Wings, but they're not the New York Islanders, either -- it's a team that needs a real guiding force behind the bench.

Over the last two seasons, it's painfully obvious there are not enough Xs and Os in the equation. At least, too little is seeping into the minds of those donning the Flaming C.

For all we know, the best coach to take over is Sutter again, although he's said repeatedly in the past he doesn't want the job.

Certainly, this team hasn't been anything close to the ones we witnessed the season before and the season after the lockout.

At that point, the Flames were strong defensively.

It's why they went to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 and why they won the Northwest Division title the first season back from the lockout.

It's why goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff won the Jennings Trophy for backstopping the team to the fewest goals allowed.

Since then, it's a steady fall downward, all the way to a horrible 23rd overall this past season.

Worse than Edmonton, who nobody in the Stampede City would think of a defence-first squad.

Sure, the scoring talent among the Flames has been increased over the years, but that inability to keep the puck out of the net has become a massive Achilles heel.

Sutter has already said job No. 1 will be to improve the squad's defensive play.

For that, the Flames need a much better tactician.

The hope was Jim Playfair was that man, but after three seasons in which he's been either the head coach or the associate coach, it's not the case, at least with this crew.

We all know what the message will be. The time has come for a new messenger.

There could be a place for Ryan McGill, the farm team's head coach the past three years.

Likewise, it may be an opportunity to give Hitmen head man Dave Lowry a look at another level.

Or maybe poach Scott Arniel from the Vancouver Canucks organization.

Or recycle a coach who's been in the NHL before, such as Tom Renney, Peter Laviolette or Craig MacTavish.

So long as they commit to defence and coach system play.

That's not to give the Flames players a free pass. Going through so many head coaches is a bad sign.

No matter how you want to spin it, it's clear the leadership group must take better charge to the positive and make this a real team again.

Either way, the Flames need a new voice.

The Flames need to look outside the norm for it.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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