SUN Hockey Pool

Sutter must act quickly

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Firing Mike Keenan wasn't the hard part.

It's finding someone who can get more out of the players than Keenan did that will ultimately determine whether Darryl Sutter made the right move yesterday.

Granted, Keenan's inability to guide one of the league's best rosters to a Stanley Cup run of any sort is reason enough for Keenan's early termination.

However, given the club's regular-season success under Keenan the last two years, there's heavy pressure on Sutter to come up with a better alternative -- a coach who can elevate this team NOW.

As Craig Conroy said in this space earlier in the week, time is of the essence for a collection of talent that made up the Flames' best team in almost two decades.

Sutter knows that, which is why you likely won't see a hotshot minor-league coach brought in to try steering the boat.

Instead, it will be a proven leader of the Jacques Lemaire ilk, who knows his way around an NHL dressing room and isn't afraid to simply institute a my-way-or-the-highway approach in a roomful of veterans who've clearly become a little too comfortable with their surroundings.

(In that vein, if the defensive-minded Lemaire is at all interested in coming out of his recent, self-induced retirement, Sutter will announce the hiring Tuesday. It's a match made in heaven, but Lemaire is likely content to watch from afar.)

That said, you can bet Sutter already has a short list of candidates he has already talked to.

Otherwise, he wouldn't have fired Keenan.

It's one thing to pin the season-killing powerplay woes, the sub-par seasons of Dion Phaneuf, Jarome Iginla and Kiprusoff and the disregard for defensive discipline on the current coach. It's quite another to simply fire him without thinking hard about who would be a better fit.

Of those near the top of his list: Pat Quinn is one of the league's winningest coaches (and his daughter works in Calgary for Hockey Canada), Peter Laviolette led the Hurricanes to the 2005-06 Stanley Cup, Marc Crawford won a Cup with Colorado, Craig Hartsburg has Sutter ties dating back to Chicago, brother Duane has NHL head coaching experience and even brother Brian added an Allan Cup to a resume that includes time guiding the Flames. Craig MacTavish and Tom Renney will also be considered.

The sexiest hire would be homesick brother Brent, which wouldn't come without having to give New Jersey huge compensation for letting him out of a contract he's hinted at ending so he can live closer to his Red Deer ranch, family and junior club.

Former Flame-turned-Hitmen coaching god Dave Lowry is an intriguing possibility despite his lack of experience.

Darryl himself could descend from the heavens to reinstate a dressing room dynamic in which players hated but respected their head coach.

But who'd want to do double duty unless they absolutely had to? Sutter is still far from being in self-preservation mode.

Fact is Keenan was too nice to the fellas, giving them the run of the place while betraying the Iron Mike persona that would likely have served him better in Calgary than the Mild-Mannered Mike we got to know.

For myriad reasons, the move had to be done to change the culture and shake up a club that will stay largely the same player-wise this fall.

The message from Sutter has been simple both years Keenan was here: Tighten up the defence.

Keenan couldn't get the players to buy in.

So he's gone.

With competition for a coach coming from two teams in his own division, you can bet Sutter will move swiftly to secure the services of someone he thinks can improve upon the job Keenan did.

Whether that -- or any of the other sky-high expectations that did in Keenan -- is reasonable remains to be seen.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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