He's still keen to play

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

You'd think Mike Keane would be spending a beautiful August morning on the golf course, or leisurely sipping a cappuccino on the deck of his Tuxedo home, far away from the local hockey rink.

Or perhaps shining up his three Stanley Cup rings beside the pool, while trying to decide whether it's a top-up or top-down day for the Mercedes.

After all, for 16 years Keane carved out a reputation as one of the hardest-working players in hockey. So why not just put the feet up, chill out and embrace retirement with a drink in one hand, a remote control in the other, while the young grunts spill their guts in the new-look NHL?

Apparently, he can't. Or, at least, he won't. Not yet.

Because there was Keane at the Winnipeg Winter Club early yesterday, stride for stride with players young enough to be his kids. A 38-year-old who skates like he's 18, playing a two-on-two game of shinny the way you suspect he plays anything in which someone's keeping score -- flat out.

'NOT UP TO ME'

"I want to play," Keane said, between his on-ice workout and a trip to the weight room. "And I'm going to play. Somewhere. I think.

"But once again, that's not up to me."

No, it's not. Just like it wasn't the last time he was an unrestricted free agent the year before the lockout.

The doors are back open now, revealing a new world, one in which salaries are capped but the hockey is supposed to be wide-open.

Will there be room for an old-fashioned, not to mention just plain old, player like Keane to re-enter?

If it's a resume you're after, the 5-foot-10, undrafted winger is your man, having helped Montreal, Colorado and Dallas win Stanley Cups.

CAP CONSCIOUS

But Keane didn't get this far and last this long without hockey smarts, and he knows plenty of cap-conscious teams will take a look at what he does -- kill penalties, play stifling defence, chip in some offence -- and decide someone younger could be doing it.

"It might push out the older guys," Keane acknowledged. "Teams might take the option of taking draft picks, taking prospects, for filling those roles, instead of having a veteran. At least, that's what it's looking like. That's part of the salary cap, part of being a union member."

Still, Keane doesn't relent.

He spent the winter skating with the U of M Bisons, the junior Saints, whoever would have him. Lately, he's stepped it up, joining prospects and fellow pros in personal trainer Jeff Wood's program at the Winter Club.

So far, the NHL's signing frenzy has gone on without him. But that hasn't slowed him down.

"It's still a great game," Keane explained. "There's no reason not to play. I look forward to coming to the rink. I like the challenge. I love the competition. I love playoff time. I love the chance that once April 10 comes around, it's a clean slate and everyone has a chance to win the Cup."

So he scours rosters and team salaries, looking for a place he might fit in.

Keane doesn't come with a big sticker price -- he earned some $500,000 with Vancouver two years ago, slightly higher than the new minimum of $450,000 -- and he's got some miles on him.

But if it's dependability you're looking for, you could do a lot worse. Ask any teammate or coach who was part of those memorable championship runs.

All Keane can do, though, is wait.

LEADERSHIP

Is there a GM who'll see his experience, instead of his birth certificate? A coach who'll want his leadership over a 25-year-old's legs?

Keane has been asking himself some of the same questions.

"You're 38, and there's going to be new rules and new guidelines, and you really start thinking," he said. "On the other hand, I'm going to play as long as I can. I feel good. I did the work during the winter. That's all I do, is prepare. Because that's just the way it is. That's what you're supposed to do. We'll see if it's enough."


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