Flames coach Sutter leaves bench, remains GM

Updated: July 12, 2006, 6:12 PM ET
Associated Press

CALGARY, Alberta -- Darryl Sutter stepped away from coaching Wednesday, but it might be harder to pull away than he thinks.


At a news conference announcing longtime assistant Jim Playfair will take over as Flames head coach, Sutter had a hard time Wednesday letting the new guy finish his sentences.

"Don't overlook the fact that it's about the team and there's a time for your veterans, your skilled players and your top players to assume responsibility," said Sutter, who will focus on the general manager duties he added in 2003.

"It's not about one person or a spotlight, it's about the whole organization taking control."

Sutter said he will be quick to point out any problems he sees on the ice. But Playfair believes that will only help as the club focuses on capturing a Stanley Cup.

"Absolutely we'll butt heads: that's part of the deal," Playfair said. "It's why and how you get better. You have to have those challenges. It's never personal. The bottom line is it's about finding ways to get better. It's not an emotional issue, it's more about a competitive issue."

Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr welcomed the news of the coaching change.

"Jim is familiar with a lot of the players that are currently on our team," said Regehr, who was attending the NHLPA meetings in Whistler, British Columbia. "It will be a good fit. I also think Darryl was having a hard time finding all the time he needs to do both jobs the way he was happy with. Now he's having a chance to move upstairs it will be good for him to just focus on the general manager position."

Playfair has spent the last three seasons as a Flames assistant after two-plus seasons as head coach of the organization's AHL affiliate in Saint John, New Brunswick. He led the AHL club to the Calder Cup title in 2001.

Sutter became coach of the Flames in 2002 but found it difficult at times to manage both jobs. He said he always planned for Playfair to take over.

"It's the absolute natural progression of a good club," Sutter said. "Our team continues to get better and this is the culmination of what we've done this summer to improve our hockey club."

Wayne Fleming was hired as an assistant. The former Canadian national team coach was an assistant under Ken Hitchcock in Philadelphia last season, and has also had stints with the New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes. Assistant coaches Rich Preston and Rob Cookson will stay, along with goaltending coach David Marcoux.

But he hinted in the past that he would one day relinquish the coaching duties, citing the difficulty of doing both jobs.

Playfair inherits a team that has added star winger Alex Tanguay this offseason, a much-needed boost to an offense that was 27th in the league last season.

"I tell you what, I think we've got a great team and now we've got a great coach," Sutter said.

The 47-year-old Sutter led the Flames to a Stanley Cup berth in 2004, where they lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Calgary posted a 46-25-11 record this past season to finish third in the Western Conference, but lost to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

Sutter compiled a 107-73-26 record in two-plus seasons behind the Calgary bench, joining the Flames after head coaching stints in Chicago and San Jose.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press