Mike Keenan wants to coach in the NHL again. Like that’s going to happen. According to an article by CSN Chicago, Keenan not only believes he still has the skills and knowledge to coach successfully in the NHL, but he goes on to compare himself with the legendary Scotty Bowman and much-respected Ken Hitchcock. Never a subtle man, Keenan leaves no doubt about the high esteem in which he holds himself. Incredibly, the man who never met a bridge he didn’t burn or a team he couldn’t berate and then gut, seems to think some NHL team will hire him.
Yes, and someday pigs really will fly.
Out here on the Left Coast, memories of Keenan’s short but devastating tenure as coach and de facto Canucks’ GM are indelibly etched into the fragile psyches of Vancouver fans old enough to remember what a mess the franchise was in at the time. Keenan had already been fired by Philadelphia and squeezed out of Chicago in a power struggle with long time Hawks executive Bob Pulford. He spent one year with the Rangers and led them to the first Stanley Cup in New York since 1940, and then he resigned claiming breach of contract.
By this time Keenan must have thought he was the greatest coach ever, because he believed he could win a Stanley Cup with a young St. Louis team. The Blues just happened to have Brett Hull at his peak production, and Wayne Gretzky ready to play out the rest of his career with the Blues. It was a can’t-miss enterprise that missed. Keenan managed to make a steadfast enemy of Brett Hull, and he so humiliated Gretzky in front of his teammates that the Great One declined to re-sign and went off to the Rangers. Halfway through his third season with the Blues, Keenan was fired.
In 1997, Arthur Griffiths Jr., Vancouver-based co-owner of the Canucks, the NBA Grizzlies, and then-named GM Place, was working day and night to keep his creditors at bay. Partner John McCaw, a Seattle businessman, apparently brokered a deal to persuade Mark Messier to sign a three-year, $18 million contract. General Manager Pat Quinn was bypassed, perhaps because of his clumsy handling of Vancouver’s legitimate chance of landing Wayne Gretzky only a few months before. The Messier signing marked the beginning of the end for Quinn and it came early in the 1997-98 season.
Enter Mike Keenan, who just happened to be out of a job but who also was head coach when Messier’s Rangers won the cup only three years before. At that point in his career, and except for a lackluster record in St. Louis, Keenan’s resume was still impressive enough that he took over the bench from Tom Renney. By the new year, Keenan was in control of player personnel moves. He was like a young boy who had just discovered the connection between a woody and a pretty girl.
Keenan single-handedly wrought more havoc in the organization in four months than hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. From the team that had lost to the Rangers in the 1994 Final, the first major blow came when Martin Gelinas and Kirk McLean were traded to Carolina for Sean Burke, Geoff Sanderson and Enrico Ciccone, all of whom were traded again shortly. Gelinas was a hard-working winger who was as popular then as Alex Burrows is now. McLean had got his team closer to a Cup than any other Canucks goalie, but Keenan didn’t care about loyalty, character or past performance. If Keenan took a dislike to someone, he was gone.
Next up came the trade of Trevor Linden to the Islanders for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and a third round pick (Jarkko Ruutu). Bertuzzi was a force until the season he jumped Steve Moore and McCabe was part of a deal that allowed Vancouver to draft a Sedin. It is impossible, outside of Vancouver, for anyone to understand how much Linden was admired and respected by fans and civilians alike. All Linden had done was give up his captaincy for Messier and continue to play his usual solid game, but Keenan decided Linden was a high value trade piece, so he moved him, but not before humiliating him in front of his teammates. Linden went on to the Islanders, Canadiens and Capitals before old ally Brian Burke brought him back to Vancouver.
Among the next to go were toughest of tough guys Gino Odjick and steady defenceman Dave Babych. Odjick fetched Jason Strudwick and Babych brought a draft pick who was never signed. For Keenan, though, it was never about acquiring character, it was about getting rid of it. If Keenan was appointed coach and found that certain players were hugely popular, he made it his business to use bully tactics with those players. Most often, the players were veterans used to a level of respect their careers had earned them.
From most accounts, Keenan ran his team with angry, profanity-laced tirades often directed at those he felt threatened his lofty space in the universe. By the end of his short tenure in Vancouver, Keenan had gutted an already mediocre team while allowing kindred spirit Messier to remake the team into his idea of what a team should be. Evidently Messier’s idea was to turn them into losers, because that’s what happened. In a particularly galling development, Messier recently won a $6 million settlement from the Canucks. This is considered the final middle finger that Messier thrust at Vancouver.
Keenan managed to land a coaching job with Boston but only lasted a season in which his Bruins missed the playoffs. From there it was off to a dual portfolio in Florida, where he first alienated popular goalie Roberto Luongo, then traded him to Vancouver. Keenan evidently felt so good about reacquiring Todd Bertuzzi that he resigned for some obscure reason. His final coaching job was with Calgary where he led an average team to the playoffs twice, but he inevitably irritated someone at the ownership level and was again fired.
In a career spanning nearly twenty-five years, Keenan has coached eight teams and was also general manager of four of those. He made a ton of trades and seemed at his happiest when he could spark controversy. He managed to infuriate everyone, from rival coaches and players to his own, from fans and media, and from everyone along the way who interfered with his quest to be the absolute king of the castle. The single biggest flaw in Keenan’s character is that he failed to understand that there can only be one king, and it was never going to be him.
And so Mike Keenan wants to coach in the NHL again. Like that’s going to happen.
- Keenan wants back in the NHL: “I still have the intellect for it, the knowledge and the passion” (prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com)
- After eventful summer, Keenan hopes for NHL return (nhl.com)
- Caps interviewed Mike Keenan regarding head coaching gig (prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com)
- Elfin: Caps Coaching Search Continues With No Deadline In Sight (washington.cbslocal.com)