There is no good reason Keenan deserves Flames' coaching gig

Updated: June 14, 2007, 10:07 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

The only explanation we can come up with is Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter got kicked in the noggin by an unruly heifer on his farm and regained consciousness thinking this was 1994.

How else to explain his curious -- nay, baffling -- decision to drop-kick his former assistant coach Jim Playfair to the sidelines in favor of the inextinguishable Mike Keenan.

Mike Keenan
AP Photo/Ron FrehmMike Keenan's last taste of success came when he coached the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994.

"I'm shocked," one NHL GM told ESPN.com Thursday morning. "Shocked."

The reaction was almost universal around the hockey world.

"I nearly fell off my chair," said another NHL club executive.

If Keenan was an animal, he'd be a cockroach, impervious to every natural disaster from flood to nuclear winter. You know the old Timex catchphrase, "Takes a lickin' and keeps on ticking?" Keenan's is "Ruin a franchise, keep on getting another job." OK, it really doesn't rhyme, but you get the point.

If there is a stronger personality in the game than Darryl Sutter, we aren't aware of it.

As both coach and GM of the Flames, Sutter has resurrected a franchise that was on the verge of disaster and took it to the seventh game of the 2004 Stanley Cup finals. Two more playoff berths followed, but the Flames were bounced in the first round by Anaheim a season ago and Detroit this spring.

The Flames held off a furious charge by the Colorado Avalanche in the final weeks of the regular season to snag the eighth seed a year after winning the Northwest Division. There were even calls from some quarters for Playfair to be replaced before the playoffs began. That said, it is natural to expect change from a franchise that, rightly so, has high expectations.

What is surprising is that Sutter chose to resurrect Keenan to effect that change.

Clearly, the Flames might have changed their identity since the end of the lockout, putting more emphasis on offense and less on grit, a change that was highlighted in their six-game loss to the surprisingly gritty Red Wings. But those are personnel issues, not coaching issues, aren't they?

Sutter was an associate coach with Keenan in Chicago from 1990 to 1992 before taking over as the Blackhawks' coach. Presumably, Sutter hopes Keenan can instill that hard-working, hard-nosed style of play in the Flames that he did in Chicago and before that in Philadelphia.

If Keenan was an animal, he'd be a cockroach, impervious to every natural disaster from flood to nuclear winter.

Here's the problem. There is absolutely no indication Keenan is capable of doing that.

The fiery coach is now far removed from his greatest triumph, the 1994 Stanley Cup win with the New York Rangers. He has been living off that success for every minute of the past 13 years with absolutely no tangible indication he can coach an NHL team anymore.

Since that seminal moment on Broadway, Keenan-coached teams have won just one playoff round. He has not coached a team in the postseason since 1996. Since the start of the 1996-97 season, he has managed to coach an NHL team for an entire season just once. What does that tell you? Well, the term "loose cannon" comes to mind followed closely by another term, "scorched earth."

In the past, Keenan's acerbic style of divide and conquer, his propensity to rule by terror and bombast might have been successful. But no more.

Even Randy Carlyle, the curmudgeonly coach of the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks is much more a players' coach than his personality might suggest.

Keenan has never been that. What is there to suggest he can be such a coach now?

Perhaps Keenan has learned his lesson, but history suggests he is incapable of adapting and coaching in the new NHL. History instead shows him to be a habitual team-wrecker, a coach and manager prone to erratic, irrational decisions whose exits are always more exciting than his entrances.

What makes Sutter's decision more puzzling is that he appears to share none of those qualities. At least he hadn't.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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