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.'”