Only hours after he was fired as the St. Louis Blues' coach and general manager last week, Mike Keenan was busy revising history.
Speaking to selected reporters, he professed surprise at a dismissal he provoked and insisted that some of his worst deals--such as dumping Steve Duchesne and Esa Tikkanen for draft picks and trading Brendan Shanahan for Chris Pronger--were made because he had been ordered to cut the payroll. He acknowledged that "we" made some mistakes, but overall, the team's failures weren't his fault.
They never are.
He blasted Brett Hull for not being a team player, although Hull's World Cup performance showed that with proper coaching, he can excel.
And although Keenan implied that his actions were dictated by budgetary restraints, he's the one who overpaid Dale Hawerchuk and threw $10 million away on free agent Joe Murphy. The Blues are paying $2.3 million to players they bought out and $2.4 million to players they traded.
They also owe Keenan $7 million, to be paid over time or in a lump sum within 90 days, at his choice.
They will pay for his follies for years. They sent their 1997 first-round draft pick to the Kings when they rented Wayne Gretzky for half a season, their farm system is bare and the goodwill built over 30 years in St. Louis was battered.
"We were trying to develop a team-oriented concept and a team that would adhere basically to the same principles for everyone," Keenan told the Toronto Sun. "It didn't work out that way.
"Basically, you try to do what is right. You may not always like my style, but I think that I have a good handle on what it takes to be a winner and the implementation of a good program. At this point, I guess, they weren't ready for it."
"They" never are. Ideally, players sacrifice individual goals for the team good. Keenan makes them sacrifice their individuality. Only he can be an attraction. But fans don't pay to see coaches or general managers. After Keenan got rid of Shanahan and Curtis Joseph, Hull was the only player whose star outshone his. Their clash was inevitable.
"When you're in St. Louis, there always seems to be a huge weight on your shoulders," Shanahan said. "It has happened to just about every player before [Hull], so I don't think [Hull] should take it too personally."
Said Hull, "It's a lot more upbeat now. Mike was an intimidating type of guy. I think 95% of the guys were scared to death of him. It wasn't just me [who disliked Keenan], it was a lot of guys."
Former Blues coach Jacques Demers, who scouts for the Montreal Canadiens, was the early favorite to replace Keenan as coach. However, he's a fervent back-patter and defers to stars, and the Blues' owners may avoid that to quash any notion that they're catering to Hull. As a bow to fans, they might pick Bernie Federko, a former Blues' captain, or former coach Brian Sutter. Colorado assistant coach Joel Quenneville is also a candidate.
Keenan will turn up again, perhaps with the 1998 Canadian Olympic team. For now, he and former Disney executive Michael Ovitz, who's collecting $90 million in severance pay, can join former New York Knick coach Don Nelson on Maui, unemployed and getting rich at it.
STARRY, STARRY NIGHT
Congratulations to Dallas' Ken Hitchcock and Florida's Doug MacLean, who will coach the Western and Eastern All-Star teams, respectively, Jan. 18 at San Jose. Their assistants will be Marc Crawford of Colorado and Paul Maurice of Hartford. Hitchock and MacLean earned the jobs based on their division teams leading their respective conferences. The assistants are the head coaches of the teams in first place in the other divisions.
Hitchcock, whose team surged to the top on a 5-0-2 streak, didn't know he was in line for the All-Star job until a few days ago.
"Other than it means our team is in good position, league-wise, it means nothing to me," he told the Dallas Morning News. "And I don't mean that to be sarcastic."
Florida and the Philadelphia Flyers each had 45 points in the Atlantic Division but MacLean won out over Terry Murray because the Panthers had a better winning percentage, even though Philadelphia had more victories. The tiebreaker also applied for the assistant, because the Whalers and Buffalo Sabres each had 38 points. Too bad, because Murray and Buffalo's Ted Nolan have two of the NHL's hottest teams.
LETTER OF THE LAW
It's typical of the NHL to trumpet its Dec. 15 crackdown on illegal goalie equipment, only to back off and give four teams--among them the Mighty Ducks--more time because the pad police didn't get around to checking the gear of those teams' goalies. Sounds suspiciously like its crackdown on interference last season, which initially was gung-ho but rapidly lost its steam.
No goalie has been nabbed with oversized equipment, but some are still grumbling about switching their gear, no matter that the difference was often no more than half an inch on their leg pads.
"They might as well make us play naked out there," Dallas goalie Darcy Wakaluk said.
WORTH THE MONEY