Keenan ready to take Flames to next level
To say that Mike Keenan has been around the hockey block is an understatement. He has been a hockey analyst on television, an NHL coach, an NHL general manager and he has won a Stanley Cup.
Alng the way he has drawn both praise and criticism.
What is not an understatement is that Mike Keenan is never far from the action. And his latest action puts him in charge behind the bench of the Calgary Flames, marking the seventh National Hockey League team the 57-year-old has been employed with. He has been dubbed Iron Mike for his hard-handed tactics and demanding ways.
When he was hired in the off-season by the Flames, there was mixed reaction. But make no mistake on one point -- the Flames have made plenty of roster changes heading into the 2007-08 season but the one that might be the most significant is the hiring of Keenan, a man with a previous relationship with Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter from their time together in Chicago, might be the most significant change of the off-season.
|Keenan Coaching History|
calgaryflames.com sat own with Keenan for a wide-ranging interview with the Flames new bench boss to discuss a wide range of topics, from the new players the Flames acquired in the off-season to the goals and expectations facing the team, which has exited from the playoffs in the first round the last two seasons.
Keenan, who guided the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup in 1994, is ready for the challenge. Make no mistake, he expects his players to be ready for the challenge, too.
"I think the expectations are high and it is a good positive thing for the organization," said Keenan, sitting in his office and taking time out from planning the Flames upcoming training camp "The players have to be ready to embrace those expectations and grab the responsibility that comes with the expectations and feel confident among themselves that they can deal with what this city expects of them. I think that is a healthy scenario."
The Flames garnered 97 points last season but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Detroit Red Wings, in six games. That type of result probably won't sit well with Keenan, who pegs his new squad as a contender.
"They are not a development team," said Keenan. "They are not favourites until they establish themselves as favourites. On paper, there is some proclamation that they are a favourite. You are a developmental team, a competitive team or a favourite team. Well, there is only one favorite in my mind right now and that is the Stanley Cup Champions.
"There are a few of us that I would consider to be competitive and hopefully we can move towards that because that changes quickly for Anaheim (current holders of the Stanley Cup), once the season begins. The challenge for us is to exceed the expectations that people have."
The Sea of Red, that group that might just be the best group of fans in the NHL, is pretty demanding. Since the Flames revival from development team to competitive team in 204, when they went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the expectations on the team have risen. In an interview with The Hockey News during the summer, Keenan pulled no punches about why he was hired by the Flames.
'Fundamentally, your values for the game are not going to change and I don't pretend to say they have changed," Keenan said. "If you think you've hired aa guy that's here to change his whole philosophy or approach to the game at this point, you have made a big mistake. My whole career had been 'Let's win Now and I think, for that reason, Calgary was comfortable hiring me. (Darryl Sutter) wanted to build the program and now that he's got the program to a certain stage, he wants to win with that program."
And Keenan wants to win, too. Among his most recent NHL jobs were stints in St. Louis, where the budget was being cut, Boston, where he spent one season and went through five goalies and almost made the postseason and Florida, where, again, the budget was being cut. Coming to Calgary, then, represents one of the more favourable spots he has been in recent times.
"In recent years, it has," agreed Keenan. "I suppose sometimes you get lucky and you sustain situations that are stronger than others. I think I have gone the full spectrum now. I have had some the the best scenarios and some of the worst scenarios. It all depends on expectations and what people think you can accomplish with a particular group. Sometimes the expectations are realistic, sometimes they are not."
Keenan has notes on his desk and video in the computer -- we've interrupted some of that process for the interview. He is also busy talking with the Flames assistant coaches and defining roles. In essence, he is is settling into Calgary. He has not defined his lines for the season. He will evaluate players and combinations throughout training camp. The style of play for the team? Well, that's up in the air, but here is a hint.
"The style I probably like to coach the most, and it is an adaptation that the players have to make, is an upbeat game. In professional sports your obligation is to win. Your first priority is to win but I also think it is important to play an entertaining style of hockey, or whatever sport you are in, if your personnel is capable."
To that end -- what can these Flames players achieve -- Keenan leaves it in their hands.
"It's a team that has enough experience and enough good players that they should be able to establish themselves as a very competitive team in the league. Again, it is up to the players," said Keenan.
There is talk around the NHL media that Keenan and the Flames are destined for some big things this season. Keenan, calm as can be, shrugs off the predictions.
"I was asked, what do you think abut being a favourite, which has been predicted by some of the media. I think it is a situation that I enjoy more, personally. But hopefully the players can enjoy it as well. Because, with that comes responsibility. You have to have that kind of personality that you want that responsibility."
Knowing that Keenan has been around the hockey block, it is safe to assume Keenan has the personality and is willing to take on the responsibility.