SUN Hockey Pool

Familiar frontrunner for Flames job

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Darryl Sutter's search for a new head coach shouldn't be too difficult.

All he has to do is look in the mirror.

Assembling the local media to talk for the first time about Friday's firing of head coach Mike Keenan, the Calgary Flames GM was asked if he was a candidate.

"Right now, I'm the best one," Sutter said with grin slowly creeping across his face.

But he was dead serious.

And although he said he'd do his "due diligence" in interviewing for the position, reading between the lines at the Saddledome gathering suggests he won't find anyone better than himself.

"We have high standards, and that's what matters," said Sutter, who last held the dual role in 2005-06 when the Flames were the best defensive group in the league while winning the Northwest Division banner.

"If I find out at the end of the search that I'm the best candidate, then I am the coach.

"I can do it, easy."

With enough stability in the franchise and having had plenty of time to adapt to the post-lockout era, Sutter is now surrounded by people who can take some of the GM duties off his plate.

What he may not be able to find while seeking a new body to take over behind the bench and assemble a new assistant coaching staff -- Sutter also admitted Rich Preston, David Marcoux and Rob Cookson would not see their contracts renewed once they expire at the end of next month -- is someone who can get the Flames stars to play to their potential the way he did when he was in that position.

Those stars and their lack of consistency is the reason the head coaching spot has been a carousel since Sutter stepped upstairs full-time.

Jim Playfair, who has been offered the head coaching gig in AHL Abbotsford, couldn't get the most out of them.

Keenan, who will be paid a reported $1 million this season not to coach the team, couldn't do it either.

While Sutter suggested there are a few strong candidates currently under contract to other teams, the easiest solution is stepping back to ice level himself.

It sure sounded like he's leaning that way.

Asked to clarify whether he could see himself in the dual roles next fall, he said, "Yeah."

Asked if he would be excited about it, he slowly answered, "I wish it was September."

"This is a difficult group to coach, obviously. There's star players here that need special attention."

By special attention, Sutter must mean constant needling and motivation.

Getting Jarome Iginla to play better defensively and with the kind of intensity he showed in the 2004 playoffs isn't automatic.

Helping Dion Phaneuf find that consistency at both ends of the ice is just as difficult.

Managing Miikka Kiprusoff's minutes means standing up to the elite goalie and telling him "no" on occasion.

"All the best coaches in the league are under contract," Sutter admitted yesterday.

"I think there's three guys that are excellent -- I won't tell you who they are -- and then I'm fourth."

If none of those guys can wiggle out of their current contracts, he'll have to interview himself. Radio play-by-play man Peter Maher asked Sutter how that interview in the mirror would go.

"It ain't pretty," said Sutter.

Neither is his coaching style.

But it gets the job done, and a month from now he'll likely be holding court again to announce it.


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