SUN Hockey Pool

Sutter best bet to coach Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

DETROIT -- Ask a question around the NHL, and all it seems you receive in return is a question.

For those wondering what the next step for Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter will be, the most common response was: "Isn't Darryl going behind the bench?"

Maybe. We'll know today.

Possibly.

Sutter today will answer why he finally tied the can to Mike Keenan as head coach -- four days after the deal was done, hardly proper treatment for the loyal fan base.

What we don't know is whether he'll lay out the next step for the organization.

Finding out for certain is a fool's game. The man himself is locked down and not waging his tongue.

It seems the whole world of those who could be in the know has gone silent.

Contacts around the league -- be them executives from other teams, players, agents, friends-of-friends-of-friends -- all seem to believe Sutter is going to return to his dual role and serve as GM and coach.

Because it makes sense on different levels.

For starters, the Flames may be a top-level income earner in the NHL, but the ownership won't like paying Keenan's salary for the next year when he's not coaching.

Plus, the owners have always believed Sutter was the best man for the job.

Much of that is based on the fact he guided the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup final and then the NHL's Northwest Division's regular-season title the next season.

That the Flames barely made the playoffs the only year with Jim Playfair at the helm, as well as Keenan's first season, and then gassed a double-digit lead in the division standings during Iron Mike's second year has only increased the Sutter-as-best-man-for-the-job mystique.

Toss in the three consecutive first-round losses, which means all kinds of lost revenue in comparison to a lengthy run, and it's even easier to understand the sentiment from the big suite at the Saddledome.

Then comes the theory he's the one who's created the mess, so it's time for him to clean it up.

True, he seems to know what buttons to push with some of his proven vets and may even figure out what it will take for Dion Phaneuf to have his game moving forward, but calling the Flames a mess is far-fetched.

Before Sutter took over as the GM, the Flames had missed the playoffs seven straight seasons, and every campaign ended with point totals in the 70s.

That's great if you love to golf -- be it the scorecard or the weather in Fahrenheit -- but not enjoyable when you're talking about points in the NHL standings.

What Sutter has built has worked -- not perfectly but still worked. It's just not working well enough with somebody else in control.

Of course, the other task is what to do with the rest of the coaching staff -- all of whom have contracts expiring this summer. Yesterday, Sutter met with them all. Rumours abound most, if not all, won't be back in their same capacity.

Ryan McGill has served three years for the club's AHL affiliate.

Being a former defenceman, it stands to reason he would be a potential assistant and would deal with the blueline crew.

Dave Lowry, the Hitmen head coach is a rising star in those ranks, knows some of the players -- especially the key ones, such as Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff and Robyn Regehr -- from having been in the trenches with them and has a player-friendly vibe that would be needed.

Then, there are other potential coaches who have made their mark on the game.

To name a couple: Kevin Constantine, the former San Jose Sharks bench boss guided the Houston Aeros to the AHL's Western Conference final has been there before, while Manitoba Moose coach Scott Arniel, whose contract expires after this season, is an up-and-comer.

Sutter's options for assistants are many.

His options for head coach appear limited. Falling short of putting his brother Brent into the head man's chair -- which would require him to walk away from his contract with the New Jersey Devils, and compensation from the Flames (a first-round draft choice) -- it's likely we're going to see Darryl Sutter come back to the dressing room on a full-time basis.

After all the silence, letting all know that it's happening is the least he could do.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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