"I’ve said it all along. I've told you this before. I can separate the general manager and coach (roles) pretty easily, if you’re surrounded by good people," Sutter said. "If I find out, at the end of our search, that I think I’m the best candidate, then I am the coach. I can do that.."
-- Darryl Sutter on the coaching situation in Calgary
"Right now I’m the best (candidate)," Sutter said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
"All the best coaches in the league are under contract. I think there are three guys (in that group) who are excellent. I won’t tell you who they are.
"And I’m fourth."
Four days after firing Keenan, Sutter announced Tuesday that the Flames have completed a full housecleaning, with associate coach Jim Playfair, assistant coaches Rich Preston and Rob Cookson, and goaltending coach David Marcoux all relieved of their duties.
Playfair, who coached the Flames before Keenan was hired in 2007 but remained on the team's staff, will be given an opportunity to coach the Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, in 2009-10.
Sutter also caused a stir with the strongly hinted suggestion that he’d reassume a dual role with the Flames. Sutter was Calgary’s coach and GM during the 2003-04 and 2005-06 seasons, leading the club to a Stanley Cup Final in the spring of 2004.
"I’ve said it all along. I've told you this before. I can separate the general manager and coach (roles) pretty easily, if you’re surrounded by good people," Sutter said. "If I find out, at the end of our search, that I think I’m the best candidate, then I am the coach. I can do that."
Keenan was let go by the Flames with one year remaining on his contract. He led the Flames to an 88-60-16 regular-season mark in his two seasons, but was unable to guide the club through to the second round of the playoffs — a barrier that has frustrated the Flames for four consecutive seasons.
Sutter, however, said the reasons for Keenan’s dismissal went beyond playoff records.
"I thought (2007-08) was awesome. We started to move back toward what it takes to be successful in the playoffs," Sutter said. "And then we slipped this year. I don’t base it on losing in the first round. If we’d lost in the second round, I’d still have been standing here today doing the same thing.
"I have high standards. We have high standards. The year after the lockout, we were No. 1 in team defense. We went from first in the League to 23rd (in ‘08-09), and were quite honestly fortunate to be a playoff team," Sutter said.
"We were 13th in the conference in goals-against (this past season). That's against what I believe in, and that’s against what successful organizations do. That’s the reason we made that change."
The Flames’ core group, signed to long-term contracts, includes forwards Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow, defensemen Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.
Sutter intimated that the last two Flames coaches, Playfair and Keenan, haven’t been able to get the most out of that group.
"This is a difficult group to coach. There are star players here who need a special type of coach," Sutter said. "You have to be able to maximize what you gain from the top players.
"I thought (in 2006) that our leadership group, those top guys, those star players, were ready for a coach like Jimmy. Obviously they weren't," he added. "It’s got to be somebody who can coach our top guys. They've all had average seasons. It's pretty simple.
"I know this group can be better. So if I’m the right guy, yeah."
Keenan is fourth in all-time NHL coaching wins, with 672. He's coached eight teams and has one Stanley Cup ring plus three losing trips to the Final.
Flames center Craig Conroy believes there's life in "Iron Mike" yet.
"Mike always seems to regroup and land on his feet. He probably will again," Conroy had told NHL.com on Friday. "I don’t know what capacity, but he’s got enough respect around the league that something will come up for him."