Keenan hoping for one more chance behind bench
Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:39 PM / NHL Insider
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com
Senior WriterMike Keenan works three part-time television jobs in order to stay abreast of what is going on in the National Hockey League today. The coach known as "Iron Mike" would give them all up for a chance to emulate what Ken Hitchcock is doing in St. Louis.
Keenan, who spoke to NHL.com in Las Vegas during Wayne Gretzky's Fantasy Camp, wants to coach again in the NHL. He remains hopeful that the opportunity still exists for him despite his age (62), his reputation as being hard-driving and relentless on his players, and the fact he hasn't coached since the 2008-09 season.
"I have enough energy and I've been exposed enough to stay on top of the game," said Keenan, who is an analyst for the NBC Sports Network, MSG Network, and Sportsnet. "The energy factor is a big thing. You have to be youthful thinking, enthusiastic and energetic about what you're doing. That was probably best exhibited in the National Football League (on Super Bowl Sunday)."
Keenan's motivation to coach again soared by watching the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin, 65, go head-to-head against the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick in Super Bowl XLVI.
Coughlin became the oldest NFL coach to win a Super Bowl when his Giants beat Belichick's Patriots 21-17 on Feb. 5. Belichick, by the way, is a few months shy of his 60th birthday.
"I don't know if the hockey ownership is paying attention at all," Keenan said.
If they are, nobody is telling Keenan. He didn't hear from any of the seven teams that changed coaches this season and he has no idea if he should be expecting calls this coming summer.
Keenan, who is fifth all-time with 672 wins and sixth with 1,386 games coached, shrugs his shoulders at the idea he could be bypassed.
He was most recently seen leading Calgary to the playoffs in 2009. It was the last time the Flames qualified for the postseason.
"Look, there is a plethora of coaches lined up because there are a lot of coaches being fired, old and young," he said.
But Keenan closely has analyzed two examples of old-school coaches that have made it work in the last calendar year. He thinks he could do the same.
"There's something to be said about young coaches, but there's also something to be said for experience," Keenan said. "You look at the veteran coaches who had the greatest impact in the last two years. Who were they? Hitchcock in St. Louis, and last year it was (Jacques) Lemaire in (New) Jersey. These are two guys, both in their 60s, that had the most impact on the teams and they came in as replacement coaches.
"I would venture a guess that the New Jersey Devils would have made the playoffs if Jacques was there all season. That's not a negative comment on John (MacLean); he was just very inexperienced. And I have no idea why they got rid of Hitchcock in Columbus."
Two of Keenan's former players told NHL.com the old coach could be successful if he were to get another crack at it because of his experience and his little-known willingness to adapt.
"He's a much different person than he was obviously 10 years ago, but he's even more of a different person than he was five years ago," said Jeremy Roenick, who played for Keenan with the Chicago Blackhawks and now works with him at the NBC Sports Network, told NHL.com. "He's an extremely smart guy, an extremely smart coach, and he's a motivator. But I think he's become a player-friendly motivator. I'm with him a lot and he's like a father-figure to me, and I know his passion to try to get back into the game."
"I think successful coaches like Mike are always going to be successful," added Brian Leetch, who won the Stanley Cup with Keenan with the 1994 Rangers despite repeatedly clashing with him. "They understand a lot about the team and the dynamics. Any smart coach learns from experience, from positive things as well as the negatives. He's got both in his career.
"You see Hitchcock this year, and sometimes Mike is thrown into the same category of wearing players out and having a strict system. But Hitchcock has an immediate impact with that team."
Keenan most definitely wants the opportunity to impact another team. He's not necessarily banking on it happening, but he's staying in the game as an analyst because the dream to win again is not dead.
"Have his nine lives kicked in early?" Roenick asked rhetorically. "I hope not, because I do think he can have an impact like Hitchcock has had. But sometimes you wonder if your welcome has become worn out. I really hope he does (get another chance), though, because he's a hockey man through and through. He's given his life to it, sacrificed a lot in his life for the game."