There Will Be Blood, Saddledome edition

Jean Lefebvre
May 09 2009 09:31AM

Flames Head Coach Mike Keenan Hockey

What, a mere four straight first-round exits and the teeming thousands of Flames Nation (that’s Flames Nation in a more general sense of the term and not necessarily this site) are going all Henry VIII?

It’s been a dozen days since the Flames executed their most recent springtime sayonara and you never saw such blood lust. The head most requested for serving on silverware is the immaculately coiffed melon of head coach Mike Keenan, who has already beaten the odds and defied his recent career pattern by lasting two full seasons at the building formerly known as the Olympic Saddledome. There is also no shortage of folks demanding the head of the assistant coaches, with Rich Preston an especially popular target. Some even want the previously off-limits Darryl Sutter to be shown to the guillotine, or at the very least they want the guillotine’s existence pointed out to the general manager. But not a local columnist who wants only the heads of those who are calling for the head of Sutter.

Some of the criticism of the brain-trust is certainly warranted. The sticky cap situation that resulted in the vanishing fourth line trick late in the season and cost the Flames the Northwest Division pennant is probably a valid complaint. And Keenan’s generosity towards Todd Bertuzzi in regards to premium ice time is a reasonable beef. The action taken in regards to Dion Phaneuf’s defensive struggles and disclosed-after-the-fact supposed health issues — keep trotting him out there for 28, 29 and 30 minutes a night — was questionable, to say the least.

But a good portion of the criticism boils down to “We’re out, those bleepity-bleep Canucks are still going, somebody should pay the price” or similarly vague sentiments. Many times, fans who haven’t a clue of the individual responsibilities of the members of the coaching staff will demand firings on the flimsiest of pretexts. A classic is the old “Fire Preston because he’s hard to understand when he talks on the FAN.”

Pretty funny, actually. Unless you’re Preston of course. Truth is, there may be only a couple of dozen people in this city who are truly qualified to come up with a completely sound opinion about whether cans should be tied to Keenan, Sutter et al. But of course that’s not going to stop fans from debating the topic, nor from grousing about the Flames letting Chuck Kobasew, Rob Niedermayer, Steve Montador, Chris Clark, Brad Stuart and Andrew Ference get away as they watch the playoffs on TV.

A few years ago, back in the days the Flames weren’t making the playoffs at all, a Calgary daily ran its annual post-mortem “You Be the Boss” feature. There was plenty of pink-slipping proposed by the malcontent masses at that time of course, but one peculiar trend was a particularly high “Fire him!” tally for video coach Rob Cookson. At that time, Cookson worked only behind the scenes and would have been as anonymous to most fans as the dude inside the Harvey suit. The best hypothesis about the strong anti-Cookson sentiment was that the general population had heard some gossip that the video guru didn’t bother setting the time on the team VCRs and that the flashing 12:00-12:00-12:00-12:00-12:00 was starting to get on Roman Turek’s nerves.

Anyhoo, back to the present — who wants to set the odds of a Sutter being behind the Flames bench by Christmas?

And finally, the Wackiest Proposal of the Week is the suggestion that Jacques Lemaire should be the next coach of the Flames. The logic of course is that the Flames too often leaked oil in their own end and that old Coco Lemaire is a defensive genius who will trap the boys back to defensive respectability. Regardless of the merits of that hypothesis, this just ain’t going to happen. Firstly, a Sutter-Lemaire combo would be the most unlikely possible hockey partnership this side of Burke-Strachan. Secondly, the growing belief is that Lemaire will be taking a cushy advisor’s job with one of the Florida teams.

One thing’s for sure, the media is going to miss Lemaire. Fans had an intent dislike for Lemaire for supposedly taking all the joy out of the game, but reporters loved his wry sense of humour. Especially when he was ticked at one of his own players.

About defenceman Martin Skoula, Lemaire once grumbled: "I don’t know what he was doing. I guess he didn’t know, either."

Another time, unhappy with the length of a Marian Gaborik shift, Lemaire quipped: "He can do that in a garage league, Texaco vs. Mobil. There you can play two minutes and wait for a pass and score."

Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell, who played for Lemaire in Minnesota, tells this story: "I remember one time against Detroit. I scored late in the game to put us up 3-2 or maybe tie it at 3-3. It was my second year in Minnesota and we were playing against Detroit when they had everyone. Jacques pulls me in the office the next day and I think I'm going to get the old pat on the ass, the old fluffing up because I had scored.

"He said, 'Willie, you had three chances (to score) last game. Pretty good, pretty good. But you had three chances against -- ooh, not so good.' Then he says, 'Detroit Red Wings -- Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, three chances. Minnesota Wild -- Willie Mitchell, three chances. Who's going to score more goals? Play defence.'"

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Lefebvre is in that awkward stage of hockey following -- old enough to fondly remember the Cleveland Barons and too set in his ways to accept charity points and games where there's a winner but apparently no loser. As a long-time ink-stained wretch, he's also a firm believer in the old Bobby Knight quote about journalists: "All of us learn to write in second grade, but most of us go on to better things."
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#1 walkinvisible
May 09 2009, 11:10AM
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it ticks me off that in a one-hour plus post-mortem type interview with darryl sutter, nobody insisted on answers to:

-why he left himself with $300K for replacement players when he made the jokinen deal (when TWO THIRDS of that remaining capspace would have been already earmarked for lundmark/peters, who were playing for bourque/bertuzzi).

-why dion was playing 25 minutes/night if he was, infact, nursing a chronic (hip?) injury.

-why kiprusoff still started in 76 games if sutter thought he was "playing too much." surely the GM was aware of the situation as it unfolded, say, back in january ???

these three issues, as you mention above, are where the coach and GM were most culpable in the 08/09 season. instead of explaining these MAJOR issues, sutter was allowed to spin a yarn on how kipper was "an elite goaltender maybe top 5" and how bertuzzi "had a good year."

i just think that the fans are being patronized (and when they read damage-control style propaganda like the francis article, it irks me that much more). it's frustrating that everybody handles sutter with kid gloves and nobody ever demands ACTUAL ANSWERS on pointed questions....

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#2 Lefebvre
May 09 2009, 08:03PM
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@ walkinvisible: There's no question some media members may be guilty of letting Sutter get off easy sometimes, but to be fair those hard questions do get asked. The typical response is either willful deafness and an answer to a completely different question ...

SCOTT OAKE: What are the prospects of a trade before the deadline? DARRYL SUTTER: We're not trading any prospects.

... or a stern lecture and a "you guys just don't know" scowl.

Frustrating for the fans obviously, who must rely on their own judgment or depend on the analysis of the discerning journalist (and they do exist) who can see through the smoke and provide intelligent commentary.

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#3 Blazing Ace
May 10 2009, 02:54PM
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I think if the angty crowds start to form outside the doors of Mr. Sutter he is in a world of trouble. Keenan is an easy dismissal, but I can't see a new coach improving things substantially.

The problem is the team and the person responsible is Sutter.

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#4 R O
May 10 2009, 09:26PM
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@ Blazing Ace:

"The problem is the team" is a broad and rather vague statement, don't you think?

Some of the problems include:

- Goaltending. That's on Kiprusoff - I don't think there's any way Sutter could have realistically projected this level of decline, when Kipper had just delivered 2.5 seasons of great goaltending. At the tiime it was ocnsidered a steal of a deal.

- Special teams. Both PP and PK were abysmal this year by shots allowed (and scoring chances, by eye), and only the good fortune we had on the PK made it look better than it was. That's probably associated with the coaching staff. That's on Sutter to fix this year.

- Specific individuals like Bertuzzi were so abysmally bad that they are problems all on their own. That's on Sutter to fix.

- Injuries were a huge factor obviously, and that's just shit luck.

- The cap mismanagement at the end was on Sutter.

So as you can see, some problems are the responsibility of Sutter and some are not. There are also some nice things that Sutter has done - such as fix the foward depth.

The angry crowds ought to hold off until the Flames actually stop being a good team.

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#5 Blazing Ace
May 11 2009, 09:43AM
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@ R O:

I don't disagree with any of your points. I just don't feel that all of the problems can be laid at the feet of Keenan. He is clearly less popular than Sutter but that shouldn't lead to his demise - if the Flames decide to make changes in the offseason - which they should.

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#6 walkinvisible
May 11 2009, 10:57PM
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@ Lefebvre:

sutter is an absolute whiz at smoke and mirrors (i wrote about it quite extensively over at mine, hitthepost.ca, in a lengthy post called "csi: sutter part 1 capspace). while i appreciate him not tipping his hand (bryan murray comes to mind, here), he also is a king deflector... which is precisely why my comment above stated:

it ticks me off that in a one-hour plus post-mortem type interview with darryl sutter, nobody INSISTED on answers.

i'm not suggesting it would be EASY to get an answer out of sutter, i'm just saying that the select few who actually get the opportunity to interview him don't play hardball:

SCOTT OAKE: What are the prospects of a trade before the deadline? DARRYL SUTTER: We’re not trading any prospects. SCOTT OAKE: what are the odds you'll make a trade of any sort before the deadline, though ?

etc. etc. i know you know what i'm sayin', and i know that it's probably just not that easy in real life. ;)

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