Playfair leaves Flames, moves to Phoenix

Jim Playfair. (QMI Agency file photo)

Jim Playfair. (QMI Agency file photo)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:33 AM ET

CALGARY - Jim Playfair is returning to the NHL ranks, and the Flames are looking for a new head coach for their AHL affiliate.

The Flames announced officially Monday their Abbotsford Heat bench boss resigned his post to accept a coaching position with Dave Tippett and the Phoenix Coyotes.

"We would like to thank Jim for his years of service within the Flames organization and wish him well in his future endeavours," said Flames GM Jay Feaster, who will immediately begin the process of seeking out and hiring a new head coach for the Heat.

Playfair's option year was picked up by the Flames in mid-May, but he had a window in his contract to pursue an NHL position.

He's been a member of the Flames organization for more than a decade, as head coach with the Saint John Flames in 2000-01, joining the NHL club in 2002-03 as an assistant, and earning the head coaching job with the Flames for the 2006-07 season before being pushed back into an associate role the following year.

Playfair accepted the Heat head coaching job when the AHL team moved to Abbotsford and coached the team to a 77-61-22 record over his two seasons there.An Arizona reporter was quick to react to the news Jim Playfair was coming to the Phoenix Coyotes.

“No truth to the rumour that the Coyotes have bought 1,000 extra sticks … just in case,” said the e-mail.

But there was plenty of truth to the story first reported by the Calgary Sun last week that the Abbotsford Heat head coach was invited to the desert to join Dave Tippett’s coaching staff.

Playfair officially resigned his post with the Flames organization Monday to join the Coyotes as associate coach.

The Incredible Hulk impression the Arizona scribe was referring to — the behind-the-bench explosion that saw Playfair heatedly snapping sticks and shedding his suit last season while disputing an ejection — could mean Playfair was brought to the Phoenix Coyotes to provide some ‘Fire’ to the calm, cool and collected Tippett’s ‘Ice.’

Could be that explosion for all the hockey world — and eventually the whole world to see courtesy of the video that went viral on YouTube — was just the venting of years of pent-up frustration with a Calgary Flames club that gave him a decade of memories that were at times extremely rewarding and at others extremely trying.

His time with the Flames started with a bang.

In his first season as a head coach in the American Hockey League, he guided the Saint John Flames to a Calder Cup championship.

Midway through his third campaign there, Playfair joined new NHL head coach Darryl Sutter in Calgary as an assistant coach.

He hit the big-time.

With the former blueliner helping transform the team’s back end into a defensively conscious collection of rearguards, he quickly gained support as a future head coach at the NHL level.

That came in his fourth year with the parent club.

It was both the highlight of his coaching career and the beginning of the end of his time in Calgary.

Quickly following the high of taking over for Sutter — who turned his full attention to the team’s GM position — and becoming a head coach in the NHL was the realization the pressure cooker was cranked in Calgary.

And with his old lord Sutter still looming above him in the GM’s office, it probably never really felt like ‘his’ team.

Playfair led the Flames to a respectable 43-29-10 record and a playoff berth as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but still found himself under fire because of the way the team performed on the road, down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Truth is the team never really responded to the switch. That took years. It wasn’t until Darryl’s brother, Brent, came along, that this team finally found a leader the players would rally around.

But Playfair handled what followed pretty well.

When Darryl Sutter brought in the more experienced Mike Keenan to guide the collection of difficult-to-coach core players, he demoted Playfair to an associate role.

He served beside Keenan for two years before accepting the head coaching role with the Abbotsford Heat, returning to his roots with the franchise.

But there was likely no going back to the bigs with the Flames, so when Tippett called, Playfair’s decision was easy.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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