Wednesday May 27th, 2009

For Mike Keenan, eight might finally be enough.

Fired by the Calgary Flames last Friday -- the announcement came via a late afternoon email, a classic if not classy ploy by an organization looking to bury the news -- Keenan's dismissal might have marked the conclusion of a NHL coaching career that includes one Stanley Cup and eight teams. Unless some owner decides Keenan is the ideal guy for his team (and with Barry Melrose being rehired to start the 2008-09 season in Tampa Bay, the league can work in mysterious ways), Keenan is a long shot for a ninth shot behind an NHL bench.

The reason: Robyn Regehr's opinion.

With all due respect to Calgary captain Jarome Iginla, Regehr, an alternate captain, is the emotional fulcrum of the Flames. The defenseman's voice carries in the room. And instead of filling a tape recorder with platitudes after general manager Darryl Sutter pulled the plug on Keenan -- say, "we let him down," "easier to fire one coach than 20 players," etc. -- Regehr opined that Keenan's dismissal was a positive development for the Flames. His larger point was that, tactically, Keenan seemed stuck in the 1980s. He was yesterday's man.

Keenan has butted heads with players throughout a career that started in the 1984 in Philadelphia -- Detroit's Chris Chelios said last week that Keenan seemed to relish their confrontations in Chicago -- but never has he been so calmly and totally damned by a player of Regehr's stature, one who had no axe to grind.

After Chicago eliminated the Flames in the first round, Keenan, in a breakup news conference, seemed to state his case to be retained for the final year of his contract. He did not sound as defiant as he did cognizant that he was about to take the fall for a franchise that is stuck in a rut.

Although the Flames did not advance past the first round in two years under Keenan, they haven't fared any better since the appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup final with Sutter behind the bench. The GM still hasn't located a No. 1 center to play with Iginla or a trustworthy backup goalie to take some pressure off Miikka Kiprusoff. And as of Tuesday, when he belatedly addressed the media (and, indirectly, the Calgary fan base that had been left hanging), Sutter hadn't found a coach -- at least one not as accomplished as himself.

Unless someone under contract that Sutter covets shakes free, he sounds like a man who will kick himself downstairs to coach again. Maybe he can put Dion Phaneuf in touch with his Inner Norris Trophy-winner because the defenseman seems to have stalled.

If there is a route back to the NHL for Keenan, it might have been pioneered by Pat Quinn. Tuesday, the Edmonton Oilers hired the 66-year-old Quinn as a head coach for a young team, which might have seemed counterintuitive a few years ago before Quinn reinvented himself.

Rather than brooding after his firing in Toronto, Quinn hooked up with Hockey Canada and started to coach kids, first the under 18s and then the world junior team that won the gold medal last January in Ottawa. To buttress Quinn, GM Steve Tambellini dipped into his Vancouver past and named former Rangers and Canucks head coach Tom Renney as associate coach with a tacit agreement that Renney will succeed Quinn in three years when their contracts expire. We'll see.

The marriage should work on most levels given that Quinn is a big-picture coach who is confident in delegating -- Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock was his chief X-and-O man when Quinn won gold with Team Canada at the 2002 Olympics -- and Renney is a detail-oriented guy. There is, however, a stylistic difference: Quinn likes a wide-open Oilers style while Renney stresses defensive responsibility. The evolution of their relationship and the young Oilers is something to keep an eye on.

Theoretically, Keenan, who coached Team Canada back in the days of Canada Cups, could stroll down Quinn's path. He could also drift back into TV and remain visible to respective employers that way. He has worked as an in-studio commentator for two Canadian sports networks. His name will always have cachet. But now attached to his curriculum vitae, along with trips to the final with the Flyers and Blackhawks and that glorious Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994, are Regehr's pointed remarks.

They might prove to be the dirt that buries an amazing career.

A few weeks ago, On the Fly suggested that the two current assistant GMs who most deserved to run their own teams were Pittsburgh's Chuck Fletcher and Detroit's Jim Nill. Two down, one to go. Fletcher was a solid choice to run the Minnesota Wild, a franchise that needs refreshing before a patient fan base begins to sour.

What about Nill? At least six teams have called the Red Wings in the past few years to ask permission to interview him -- including the Wild this spring. The answer from Detroit is always no. Nill signed a long-term contract that has two more years remaining, one that values his contributions to the NHL's best franchise. (Starting next season, Nill, in fact, will make a salary commensurate with many GMs.)

Nill understood the risks and rewards when he signed the deal, and Door No. 1 in Detroit rather than something shorter term has been a prudent decision. His association with the Red Wings has continued to burnish his reputation, and there always have been and always will be GM openings as long as teams struggle. Nill, now 51, will eventually get his shot -- assuming he wants it.

But it might not be in Detroit. Steve Yzerman, who is GM for Canada's 2010 Olympic team, looks like the replacement if Ken Holland becomes team president or ever leaves the Wings. (Despite his favorite joke, Holland really isn't retiring the day Nick Lidstrom does.) Nill probably will have to go elsewhere to put his own brand on a team, but that won't happen until after 2010-11.

What about Vinny? Vincent Lecavalier, who signed an 11-year, $85-million contract extension with the Lightning last summer, is still on radar screens in Montreal, Los Angeles and Edmonton. While Tampa Bay fans might have revolted if the franchise had moved him to the Canadiens during the past season, the fallout is likely to be far less severe now given Lecavalier's annual injuries plus the strong second half and sterling world championship performance by rookie Steven Stamkos.

Plausibly, the Lightning can push Stamkos as the new face of the franchise. Lecavalier's no-trade clause kicks in July 1, but it is practically inconceivable that ownership and general manager Brian Lawton would ship him somewhere at the draft without first getting his seal of approval. They owe him at least that much.

If the New York Islanders ignore John Tavares and take Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman with the No. 1 overall pick next month, look for Tampa Bay executives to break Usain Bolt's 100-meter world record in a mad dash to Toronto's table to see what Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke will give up for a chance to draft Tavares.

Canadiens enforcer Georges Laraque told Montreal Gazette city columnist Mike Boone this week that he became a vegetarian a few months ago and plans to become vegan in June.

Insert own joke here.

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