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Sutter's search underway

by Peter Zuurbier / Calgary Flames
Flames players will be taking direction from a whole new coaching staff when training camp breaks in September, as general manager Darryl Sutter has decided to clean house.

After taking nearly a month to evaluate the hockey operations department including the coaching staff, Sutter opted for a new slate of coaches.

And make no mistake as Sutter considers potential candidates, one place he will look is in the mirror.

"Right now I'm the best one," quipped Sutter.

"All the best coaches in the league are under contract and I think there are three guys that are excellent... and then I'm fourth,"

Sutter would not reveal what candidates have caught his eye, but he admitted his intention to have a new staff in place by the 2009 NHL Entry Draft on June 26.

While he promised to do his due diligence in his evaluation of candidates, he knows he may best suited to lead the team he put together.

"I can separate the general manager and coach pretty easily if I'm surrounded by good people. If I find in the search that I'm the best candidate, then I am the coach, I can do that easy."

Following the announcement on May 22 that Mike Keenan would be relieved of head coaching duties, Sutter maintained that he was still pondering the future of the remaining coaches. At a news conference Tuesday Sutter revealed that the team would be heading in a different direction entirely and that the contracts of assistant coaches Rich Preston, Rob Cookson, David Marcoux and Jim Playfair would not be renewed when they expire on June 30.

However, Playfair has been offered the head coaching position of the Flames American Hockey League afiliate in Abbotsford, B.C.

"When you're in that top group (of teams) you want to get to the top of that group," said Sutter. "We're talking about a very successful team, but we want more."

The Flames faced high expectations going into last season. The deep, tough, and talented team, were projected to make some noise in the playoffs as one of the top teams in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference.

Expectations were raised at the trade deadline with the additions of Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold. At that time, the Flames were the hottest team in the NHL, and while injuries did take their toll on the team from that point, they also had a number of flaws, including spotty defensive play, that contributed to the first round playoff loss.

Sutter was clear that the playoff exit was only part of the reason for the coaching changes, but that there were a number of areas that needed addressing. One of the areas Sutter stressed as needing improvement was team defence. The Flames finished the regular season 23rd in team defence, which was simply unacceptable to the GM.

"I think it slipped a bit this year," said Sutter of his team’s defensive play, "That's against what I believe in, and that's not what successful organizations do. There is a philosophy that's got to change... we're going to have to get back to what we were."

The core group of Flames are in the prime of their careers, as such the window for winning a Stanley Cup is now. Sutter was clear that only coaches with a certain set of skills and experience will be considered.

"This is a difficult group to coach obviously. There are star players (in Calgary) that need a special kind of coach. it's got to be somebody who can coach our top guys, they had average seasons," said Sutter.

There was nothing but fond memories for the coaches at the news conference, as many of them have been linked to Sutter for a number of years. Sutter was especially complimentary of the team's former head coach.

"Mike Keenan is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. He reached some milestones this season. There's no one coaching now who's going to catch him," said Sutter.

Sutter said the new head coach will have the authority to choose his assistants.

Associate coach Jim Playfair began his tenure with the Flames in 2003. He was head coach for the 2006/07 season, and guided the team to a 43-29-5-5 record. Playfair was offered the head coaching position for the Abbotsford Heat, the Flames new American Hockey League affiliate and is taking some time to consider his options.

The others will not have their contracts renewed.  Preston re- joined the organization in 2003 after also working as an assistant under Brian Sutter from 1997-2000.  Cookson was with the Flames for nine seasons, and goaltending coach David Marcoux was with the Flames for six seasons, working with goaltenders from all levels within the Flames system.

Sutter has his work cut out for himself over the next month as he tries to get a coaching team in place by draft day.

"I have high standards. We have high standards. And that's what matters," said Sutter. "It is a position that takes a lot of time and energy. The head coaching position is the toughest position in the organization."

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