Former Calgary Flames head coach Mike Keenan is not surprised that the team has struggled the last several seasons.
“Quite frankly the team isn’t built to win a championship right now and I don’t know what the future looks like in terms of young people and draft picks and so on,” Keenan told Sportsnet 960 The Fan on Wednesday.
Keenan spent two seasons as the Flames’ coach in 2007-08 and 2008-09, but after exiting the playoffs in the first round for two consecutive seasons, Keenan was fired in May 2009 with one year remaining on his contract.
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Ironically, the team has not made the playoffs since Keenan’s last season and he believes it can be traced back to how the franchise is being run and the way they move players out of town rather quickly.
“Some of the decisions made about personnel, there has been a lot of discrepancy, there’s been fighting in the locker room between (former Flames Robin) Regehr and (Dion) Phaneuf at the time and you settle those things out as a coaching staff and a team but you don’t dismantle people and move people. I know there are budget constraints, when (Jay) Bouwmeester came in I think that’s why Phaneuf was finally perhaps moved. They were competitors and they were growing as a group.
“Competitive values can be raised in the room, but the most important thing collectively is the job and if they come together as a group and set aside their individual differences because it’s about the team and not about them or their own needs as individual people,” Keenan said. “They need to contribute to the greater good of the team, so maybe some people feel the solution to get rid of players and bring other players in. Often times the solution is in the dressing room and is doesn’t necessarily mean that those changes are going to have better results. It’s proven now in Calgary it hasn’t had better results, they haven’t made the playoffs.
“We went up against a healthy Chicago Blackhawks team the year I was fired and they were a very good team; they went on to win the Stanley Cup. They had no injuries, we had a plethora of injures on defence, Regehr and Giordano didn’t play, Phaneuf breaks his ribs and Sarich had a broken foot … When I went in there to talk to (then-general manager) Darryl Sutter when he fired me, he said if you didn’t have those injuries you’d be still coaching, so I said why are you firing me and he said ‘I’m not firing you the owners are firing you,” said Keenan, who won a Stanley Cup in 1994 with the New York Rangers.
Keenan also questioned whether the team would have been better off keeping Dion Phaneuf, adding: “When you got a superstar forward (Iginla) and certainly a winning goalie (Miikka Kiprusoff) … you need to be anchored by a defenceman that would have the calibre of carrying a team as well so I don’t know if Phaneuf would have drawn into that. He certainly had more upside than another defenceman that I was coaching and he’s a guy that needs a lot of direction and you need to be firm him but he can give you minutes and results offensively.”
The Bowmanville, Ont., native added that current head coach Brett Sutter needs to shake things up in dressing room because his job depends on it.
“Whether he’s getting the verbal message to this group I can’t tell for sure,” Keenan added. “I couldn’t find a job where I would go three or four years without making the playoffs and still have my job.
“The GM and owners need to make that assessment about the coaching position … I don’t know what the budget is for Brett and I really don’t know what the answer is because I never had the opportunity to keep my job after missing the playoffs after so many years.”
In 164 NHL games with the Flames, Keenan had a record of 88-60-16.
The Flames finish out the season against the division rival Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks. The Flames could look like a much different team next year as they have nine pending unrestricted free agent including Olli Jokinen, Cory Sarich and David Moss.