Following another playoff failure, the Flames enter this season with their sixth coach in seven years. The name of their latest leader - particularly the last one - is very familiar to the Calgary organization.
Brent Sutter begins his tenure Thursday night as the Flames host the defending Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks.
Mike Keenan was hired as Flames coach in June 2007 to achieve postseason success with a team that failed to advance past the first round each of the previous two years. Although Keenan guided Calgary to strong regular-season finishes in his two years, the team lost in the opening round of the playoffs both times and he was fired May 22.
A native of Viking, Alberta, Brent Sutter served as head coach of the New Jersey Devils for two seasons before resigning June 9, citing family reasons. It came as little surprise when two weeks later Brent was hired by brother Darryl, the team’s general manager.
“I’m the GM, Brent’s the head coach and this is the coaching staff,” Darryl Sutter said. “They were the very best people available. It didn’t really matter what their last name was.”
It will be Brent Sutter’s job to take the Flames (46-30-6) deeper than the first round of the playoffs, which is as far as the team has gone the past four seasons, including last year when they were eliminated by Chicago in six games.
“There’s high expectations on everybody,” Brent Sutter said.
Bouwmeester, who spent his first five NHL seasons with Florida, has totaled at least 40 points in three of the past four years. The addition of the smooth-skating Bouwmeester should give Calgary an outstanding defense featuring Dion Phaneuf(notes), Cory Sarich(notes) and Robyn Regehr(notes).
With Brent Sutter at the helm, the Flames figure to be a better defensive team than last season, when they dropped to 23rd in the league.
Calgary led the Northwest by 13 points in January, but injuries and inconsistent play down the stretch left it with a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference.
While Bouwmeester should help the Flames’ offense from the back, the departure of Mike Cammalleri and his team-high 39 goals will hurt. With Cammalleri in Montreal, Iginla will be counted on to return to the 40-goal mark after he slipped to 35 last season, matching his lowest total since 2000-01.
Vancouver (45-27-10) is coming off its second division title in three seasons, beating out the Flames by two points. The Canucks swept St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs, only to fall to Chicago in the conference semifinals in six games.
“This year there is the added element that we are a really motivated group from what we felt we left on the table,” defenseman Willie Mitchell(notes) said. “We’re not happy about losing in the second round. We feel we are a team that can win the Stanley Cup.”
With arguably the best goaltender in the league in Roberto Luongo(notes), the Canucks are always a threat to go deep in the playoffs. Luongo had another stellar season in 2008-09 despite missing nearly two months with a groin injury, going 33-13-7 with a 2.34 goals-against average and nine shutouts.
Luongo and his teammates will be tested by an NHL-record, 14-game road trip Jan. 30-March 10 due to the Olympics.
Besides signing Luongo to a 12-year, $64 million, the Canucks also resigned Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin(notes) - the team’s leading scorers with 82 points apiece - to five-year deals and inked versatile forward Mikael Samuelsson(notes), who brings the experience of winning a Stanley Cup with Detroit.
The Canucks swept the Flames in a season-opening home-and-home series last year, winning the opener 6-0 at GM Place before a 5-4 victory in Calgary on Oct. 11.