CALGARY - If he can't find someone better than himself, general manager Darryl Sutter says he'll be the next coach of the Calgary Flames.
Sutter, who coached the Flames from 2002 to 2006, was asked Tuesday at a news conference if he included himself in the pool of candidates to coach the team next season.
"Right now I'm the best one," Sutter replied. "All the best coaches in the league are under contract. There's three guys who are excellent.
"I won't tell you who they are, but then I'm fourth. If I find out at the end of the search that I think I'm the best candidate, then I am the coach."
The Flames announced Friday that Mike Keenan had been fired with one year remaining on his contract. His dismissal old news four days later, the focus was on whether Sutter would take up the coaching reins again or look elsewhere.
While naming his top three candidates would be considered tampering in the NHL since they are still under contract, one of them is likely his brother Brent, who has yet to decide if he will return to the New Jersey Devils.
"He's one of the top coaches in the league, but he's coaching the New Jersey Devils," Darryl Sutter said.
Two men were removed from speculation Tuesday as the Edmonton Oilers announced the hiring of Pat Quinn as their new head coach and long-time Rangers coach Tom Renney as his associate coach.
The Flames cleaned house in the coaching department as Sutter announced that assistant coaches Rich Preston and Rob Cookson and goalie coach David Marcoux will not have their contracts renewed when they expire June 30.
Associate coach Jim Playfair has been offered a job coaching Calgary's new American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford, B.C., next season.
Sutter wants his new coaching staff in place by the NHL entry draft June 26-27 in Montreal.
"I think the new head coach should pick his staff," he said.
Sutter joined the Flames as head coach Dec. 28, 2002 and added general manager to his job description less than four months later. He coached the Flames to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
After the 2005-06 season, Sutter divested himself of the coaching role and promoted Playfair from assistant to head coach. Playfair was moved to associate coach when Keenan came on board in 2007.
After four straight exits in the first round of playoffs, and the last two under Keenan, Sutter's next choice for a head coach will be critical.
It will be the third coaching change in four seasons for the Flames, who spent up to the US$56.7-million salary cap last season to build for a longer playoff run than their six games in April.
Flames president and CEO Ken King denied there was pressure from ownership for Sutter to coach as a cost-saving measure because the Flames will have to pay out the final year of Keenan's contract.
"That has no bearing on it," King said. "We're not trying to get rid of money, but the fact of the matter is Mike's not here and we'll have to pay him. We're not going to try and save that money by giving Darryl double duty. That wouldn't be the right thing to do."
King also denied the clock is ticking on Sutter's employment. Sutter's agreement with the Flames "does not have an end term to it," King said. "It's unique in the league."
Sutter isn't happy with the Flames' declining defence since he last coached the team in 2005-06.
"The year after the lockout we were No. 1 in team defence," the 50-year-old from Viking, Alta., pointed out. "The general consensus after the year was 'you guys have got to score more goals.' Well, that's not really the case. We went from first in team defence in the league to 23rd.
"We were fortunate to be a playoff team."
Calgary's Big Four - captain Jarome Iginla, goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and defencemen Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf - had average seasons. Sutter says the next coach has to get more out of them.
"This is a difficult group to coach, obviously," he said. "There are star players that need a special type of coach. You have to maximize what you're getting from the top players."