Keenan loses tug-of-war

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

There are those who believe Elvis Presley is still alive.

There are those who believe Mike Keenan resigned as general manager of the Florida Panthers on the weekend.

The former group has a better chance of being right.

The Panthers, now serious contenders with the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks in the battle to become the National Hockey League's most dysfunctional team, announced Keenan had "resigned" and that Jacques Martin would be assuming double duties as coach/GM.

That is what's known as making a bad situation worse.

In today's NHL, each of those jobs is so demanding it doesn't leave time to do a second job properly.

The two guys who tried it last year, Bob Gainey and Darryl Sutter, both realized the folly of their ways and fired themselves as coach, even though both had excellent hand-picked support staffs.

Martin, on the other hand, is about to inherit Keenan's staff and, based upon recent performances, can't afford to take any time away from his coaching responsibilities.

In fact, if Keenan had been allowed to run the team his way, he would have fired Martin last season.

Not only did the Panthers miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, they couldn't mount an offence. In the new NHL, you can't just sit back and rely on defence, an observation that has escaped Martin's notice -- but not Keenan's.

It's the same old story, one that recurs so often in the NHL. The hockey people want to run the team their way but the corporate crowd has other ideas.

In the Panthers' case, Martin was hired by team owner Alan Cohen, who was lured into "an investment" by commissioner Gary Bettman and may, on a good day, know the difference between intentional icing and chocolate icing.

Cohen not only hired Martin before Keenan arrived (back) on the scene, he gave him a five-year deal, even though anyone with a hockey mind knows that coaches rarely last five years.

The first year was the lockout season. The second was the one in which the Panthers struggled mightily. But Cohen wouldn't let Keenan spend any serious money because he was determined to qualify for revenue sharing. And with Martin having worked for only two months out of a five-year contract, Keenan couldn't fire him because that would make the owner look stupid.

Keenan has been called many names over the years, ranging from "genius" to "complete idiot." But he has never been called "lackadaisical." It is not his nature to sit back and stew in silence.

Goaltender Roberto Luongo told Keenan he would sign a long-term deal with the club only if he were convinced there was a commitment from ownership to build a winner.

It is worth noting Luongo is no longer there.

Keenan made the best of the circumstance by moving Luongo in return for a package from the Vancouver Canucks that included Todd Bertuzzi.

But Bertuzzi is one of those players who has to be handled properly if he is to be productive. There's no indication Martin qualifies in that regard.

The specifics of the battle that precipitated Keenan's departure are not yet clear.

But Keenan's track record makes it almost certain that he made demands based upon his opinion of the needs of the hockey club -- and it's not unlikely that Martin's departure was one of those demands.

The owner, looking at the matter from a financial perspective and realizing Keenan's demands would require a further expenditure, turned him down.

From there, the matter escalated until it became clear the two couldn't co-exist and one of them had to go.

And it wasn't going to be the owner.


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