The nine lives of Iron Mike
Hi James,You know, when you've been involved with — and been fired from — as many NHL organizations as Keenan has, another dismissal shouldn't, perhaps, come as a surprise.
I was wondering if you had any insights into the Mike Keenan leaving Florida thing.
What is surprising in this case, however, was that Keenan was kept around so long, right up until two weeks before the team's training camp was to begin, and allowed to make franchise-altering decisions during the entry draft weekend in late June.
Iron Mike's coached seven NHL teams, and this axing by the Panthers is the fifth time he's gotten the boot (sixth if you count his dismissal as Florida's coach in 2003). And I don't doubt for a second he'll be back in hockey by the time next season rolls around.
He may have been around hockey circles forever, but one thing he's not is old (56). An early retirement is, in my view, unlikely.
As for what happened that saw Keenan get the boot this time around — what it really boils down to is the same thing that saw the circus arrive at the New York Islanders camp earlier this summer. In both the Islanders and Panthers organizations, the hockey hierarchy was askew — directly due to the actions of meddling ownership — and the veteran GMs involved (Neil Smith in New York, Keenan in Florida) weren't comfortable in a situation where they didn't have complete autonomy when it came to hockey decisions.
And why would they be?
After all, a GM is ultimately judged by his personnel decisions, and if those moves aren't of his own volition, it would make for a troubling arrangement.
Several reports had indicated early in the 2005-06 season that Keenan — as he's prone to do — had wanted to make a rash decision and fire coach Jacques Martin when the team struggled out of the gate. Panthers owner Alan Cohen nixed that move, and as time went on, Martin's power within the organization grew to a point where many of Keenan's decisions were being questioned.
Many are pointing to the deal that sent Roberto Luongo to the Vancouver Canucks as the reason for Iron Mike's ousting, but that's simply not the case — at least not directly. Given the assets Florida received in that deal, as well as the fact that the team's young core is going to continue to improve, this is a better Panthers team than last season, and I wouldn't be shocked to see them sneak into the playoffs as one of the low seeded teams in the Eastern Conference.
If that happens, expect more than a few words of praise for the team building Keenan managed under trying circumstances, and, perhaps, even a few more job offers.
He's not done yet.