Flames captain tries to look forward

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:50 PM ET

CHICAGO -- Jarome Iginla doesn't have a wish list.

The Calgary Flames captain hasn't been jotting down his suggestions for the team's new head coach to forward to GM Darryl Sutter.

He's hasn't pondered who he wants to see behind the bench -- be it Sutter himself, somebody already in the organization or a fresh face.

"I haven't really wrapped my head around any of it," Iginla said yesterday from his off-season home in Kelowna. "I know Darryl is a very good coach, and we've had success with him. But I haven't thought too much who our next coach will be.

"We don't have a lot of say in that. Our job is to be prepared for next season."

He and the rest of the Flames had better be, because it's a team at a crossroads after Mike Keenan was fired as bench boss Friday.

The window of opportunity for this crew is closing with a core of players that includes Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Daymond Langkow, Miikka Kiprusoff and Olli Jokinen.

The need to succeed sooner rather than later grows more each year.

Sutter's new coach will be a crucial decision, not only for the team's Stanley Cup chances but likely his job security, since GMs aren't usually afforded a third crack at finding a head coach, but he has the opportunity after both Jim Playfair and Keenan failed to guide the veteran and high-payroll squad to championship glory -- or even to the second round of the playoffs.

Iginla is torn between the disappointment of seeing yet another head coach fired during his tenure -- believing his teammates know Keenan's firing was in large part because of their own failures -- but hopeful of what the future holds.

"It's probably the most optimistic I have been," Iginla said. "Some years, you look at it and say, 'We're not fast enough up front' or 'We don't have this or that,' but there are things if we really put a conscious effort into, starting in training camp -- and they couldn't have been more obvious this year -- and things we're capable of doing, we may still be playing."

First on that list of things would be a better commitment to defence, which he knows Sutter has demanded be improved next season.

In a nutshell, the Flames went from being the NHL's stingiest team the first season after the lockout to a disappointing 23rd this past year.

"We should be better. We have one of the best goalies in the world and a good defence group," said Iginla, who pointed the finger at himself, too. "I think we need to be better with the puck. Darryl has done a good job -- our team speed is improved, and we have made some huge acquisitions in (the offensive) area.

"I think it's just getting better. The best teams in the league -- the teams still playing -- are good at both ends of the rink. You can't just be defensive, shoot the puck out and that's the end of it. And you can't just leave the defencemen hung out to dry."

As for the departed Keenan, Iginla wouldn't say whether he felt the coach was too nice to their team -- "He was intense, and things got heated at times. It wasn't that he wasn't intense at all, believe me" -- or that he agreed the game had changed too much for Keenan's style.

"Mike did bring a lot of good things," Iginla said. "He helped a lot of guys in different areas. A lot of guys played really well for him. I liked Mike and think he was a good coach and brought a lot of good things to our team, a winning attitude, his intensity and competitiveness."

What he will admit to is being more motivated for the coming season in light of a disappointing season in so many ways.

"To have the group we have and get to compete for the Stanley Cup, not many organizations get to do that for so long. It's great, but each year that goes by is another opportunity you didn't take advantage of," Iginla said. "Personally, I look back, I can be better. I need to be better defensively, part of the powerplay, and just overall.

"I looked at the stats -- I didn't know this -- but I think there was 36 or 37 games I didn't have a point this season. That's just not consistent enough.

"It was good I was able to get what I did in the other games, but I have to work on being consistent because it would help the team a lot."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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