"Iron Mike" invades Calgary

Former Kenosha-based blogstatician Christoper Altruda was right. I was floored.

When I read the Canadian Press report that the Calgary Flames were reportedly going to hire "Iron" Mike Keenan as their new coach, my expression was that of a vicious -- albeit dumb -- German Shepard.

See the kibble in front of you, it's something you've torn into thousands of times. This time, you're not entirely sure what to make it and you kind of cock your head to the side, trying to put two and two together and not get 22.

I suspect history will show Flames general manager Darryl Sutter as that slow dog. The hiring of Keenan, made official on Thursday, sends a very classy franchise on a very uncertain path.

Keenan's shining moment came just over 13 years ago. As a die-hard Rangers fan, I will always link him with that magical time that ended a 54-year championship drought. I think, though, that team's success had more to do with the will of Mark Messier, some well-timed trade deadline deals that brought in grinders like Brian Noonan, and a healthy dose of luck (see: Matteau, Stephane).

Now 57, Keenan inherits a team that went 43-25-10 last season under Jim Playfair (now an assistant after one year behind the bench) but lost in six games to Detroit in the Western Conference quarterfinals.

Keenan was honored as the league's top coach in 1985 after leading Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup finals. He took Chicago to the Cup finals seven years later before getting his ring in New York. Keenan also coached St. Louis, Vancouver, Boston and Florida and has 569 wins in 1,014 games.

His coaching stint with the Panthers lasted just under two years. He returned in May 2004 as GM, and with Jacques Martin - a former Ottawa bench boss who was also his university teammate - swung several deals to acquire veteran forwards Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Chris Gratton.

The team failed to make the playoffs for a fifth straight season in 2005-06, prompting Keenan to make more dramatic moves over the summer. He swung a blockbuster deal that saw superstar netminder Roberto Luongo go to Vancouver for a package that featured power forward Todd Bertuzzi, and also signed veteran goalie Ed Belfour.

Bertuzzi was dealt to Detroit earlier this season, and Belfour is 42.

Though he won't be a GM in Calgary, it's not a stretch to think that he won't have Sutter's ear. Keenan gave Sutter his first NHL coaching job when he was the Blackhawks' general manager. Keenan also said the chance to work with Sutter again was a big factor.

"That had everything to do with it, to work with people that you know and share the same vision," Keenan said. "We've been to games in the finals before and we got close to the job that was unfinished. Hopefully, we're in a position now that we can go to that same spot and finish it off."

Good luck, Flames fans. Despite a wealth of talent that includes Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla, the closest you may get to having the Cup come back to southern Alberta is the picture above.

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