CALGARY — The Calgary Flames didn’t accept that injuries were to blame for the NHL club’s first-round playoff exit and fired Mike Keenan on Friday.
Keenan, nicknamed Iron Mike, expected to be back to fulfil the final year of his contract in 2009-10 because he felt a season-ending rash of injuries was the reason for a poor finish.
The Flames thought otherwise and dismissed the 59-year-old from Bowmanville, Ont.
“Our team did not meet expectations,” general manager Darryl Sutter said in a statement issued late Friday afternoon. “We believe this is a necessary change required to allow our team to continue toward our objective of winning the Stanley Cup.”
Calgary lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in a series that ended April 27 with a 4-1 defeat. It was the fourth consecutive season the Flames were ousted in the first round with the last two exits under Keenan.
The Flames have yet to live up to expectations raised by a run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, when the Flames lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. Sutter coached the team that year and in 2005-06 before stepping aside. Keenan’s firing will raise speculation that Sutter could coach the team again. The GM won’t address Keenan’s firing with the media until Tuesday.
If Sutter opts to hire a new coach, his next choice will be critical as the franchise is impatient for more than six or seven playoff games a year.
Keenan, a surprising hire by the Flames on June 14, 2007, was the only man on the Flames coaching staff with any time left on his contract.
The status of associate coach Jim Playfair, who coached the team the season before Keenan’s arrival, assistants Rich Preston and Rob Cookson and goalie coach David Marcoux remains under review, the Flames said in the release.
Calgary spent up to the US$56.7-million salary cap this season to ensure there would be depth for a long playoff run, but that price tag didn’t get the Flames any further in the post-season than the previous three years. The Flames led the Northwest Division by 13 points in January. Injuries and inconsistent play eroded that cushion and cost Calgary home-ice advantage in the post season. The Flames finished fifth in the Western Conference with a 46-30-6 record.
Calgary was Keenan’s eighth NHL club as a head coach. Two days after the loss to the Blackhawks, Keenan was asked what he would have done differently.
“I would have called for the medical team to make better improvements,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of experience with playoff-ready teams. This team was going to be in that position.
“In the end, they weren’t given a fair opportunity because of medical and health reasons. There’s never excuses, but there are reasons.”
Defencemen Robyn Regehr (knee) was absent from the playoffs and Dion Phaneuf (back, rib) and Cory Sarich (ankle) were not able to play to full capacity.
Daymond Langkow (hand) and top penalty killer Rene Bourque (ankle) were hampered down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Keenan leaves Calgary with an 88-60-16 regular-season record, while his 672 career victories ranks him fourth all-time among coaches. After 20 years of coaching in the NHL, Keenan may surface elsewhere in the league.