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Q & A with Mike Keenan

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames head coach Mike Keenan will be entering his 18th trade deadline in the NHL as a head coach or GM on March 4. The Flames have posted a record of 35-18-6 for 76 points, good for first place in the Northwest Division and the third seed in the Western Conference.

Earlier this month, Mike recorded his 658th career win at Los Angeles, which vaulted him past Pat Quinn to fourth place on the all-time coaching wins list.

Keenan participated in a conference call with NHL media on Monday, February 23 touching on a braod number of topics, including the trade deadline, the use of Miikka Kiprusoff and fighting in the NHL.

Below are the excerpts from the question and answer session.

Q. I just wonder, what is your feeling on the relevance of fighting in the game today? Not whether it should be outlawed, but do you think it serves the purpose that it might have done say 23 years ago?

MIKE KEENAN: I think that it still has a presence in the game, and at one time...if you go back to the Philadelphia Flyers, if you want to go back 20, 25 years ago as you said, it certainly was part of their team personality and part of their mantra and how they were perceived in the league as a team. And I think it's still part of the menacing part of a team that plays physical, or can be. It's part of some teams' personality or persona and in other teams not as much.

Q. Would you favor any kind of differentiation between fights that occur in the heat of battle and things like that, and those are just almost prearranged by the so-called fighter on each team that happens in the third period because the game is a two-goal game?

MIKE KEENAN: Well, they are premeditated and they are prearranged as opposed to the spontaneous acts of fighting, and as long as we employ people that are described as enforcers, I don't think there's any way of legislating against their own individual wishes. If they're going to fight, they have to have somebody that wants to fight with them, and these types of players seem to find their way towards each other at different times during a game, not necessarily having an influence in the game whatsoever but for their own needs and their own satisfaction. That's probably a part of the game we don't need.

Q. Just one more question on that line. Do you think players going forward will have to be more than just enforcers, they'll have to have more parts to their game if they're going to make it in the NHL?

MIKE KEENAN: Well, I think even going back to the time I came into the league, people that we had in those roles, they had to be able to at least play in the NHL, and I think that will continue and probably more or so today than ever before. If they can't add something to your roster in terms of the contribution on the ice besides fighting, there's really no room for them.

Q. I wanted to talk about three guys your team added in the off-season in Todd Bertuzzi, Mike Cammalleri and Andre Roy and get your impressions of what each has added to this team, and with all three becoming unrestricted free agents at the end of the year their importance to the team long-term.

MIKE KEENAN: Well, first of all, the importance to the team long-term is completely up to Darryl Sutter. As you know, I've been a manager in the league and also a coach, and I've had dual responsibilities, as well. But I subscribe to the idea, and I always have, that the managers manage, the coaches coach and the players play. With a cap system in place now, that's completely up to the manager to work through those economic issues that he faces and the challenges he faces each and every summer.
Now, from a playing perspective, this year Mike Cammalleri has scored well for us and competed well, has been a consistent player. Todd Bertuzzi has added a lot to our team in terms of an extremely talented individual, has great size and skill set. And Andre Roy, who is out now injured with a concussion, but he has played up until recently, has played most of our games, and he's one of those individuals that has a physical element to his game but he can play minutes for us at the same time.

Q. The injury to Rene Bourque, can you talk about the adjustments you have to make to the team now and any update on when he will be back?

MIKE KEENAN: Well, unfortunately for us we've suffered a great number of injuries in the last three games. We've lost four players, and all four players will be out for a substantial amount of time. I thought that Rene Bourque, was on a track to be at least nominated for a Selke Trophy, a winning year. He's scored 21 goals, he's played against the best imposing players that we face in a checking role. He played right wing for the first time in his career. He killed penalties. He has a substantial injury now, and unfortunately for us and for him, he won't be back for a while.

Q. When you were a general manager -- hockey fans always dream up all these trades and they sound so great. When you're actually in the room and you're trying to make trades, how difficult is it and how many balls are you juggling at one time? It always seems like you're just zeroing in on one team, but there's probably two or three teams involved in a trade you're going to make.

MIKE KEENAN: Well, if you're fortunate enough there is more than one team involved because if there is, there's leverage that comes into play, and that's part of the process. The other part of it is getting exactly to the point where both people are comfortable with the transaction, and having built relationships with other general managers or negotiating skills between the two or three parties involved, or more than three, in some instances you can have multiple trade scenarios and/or dual trade scenarios, but it takes you to a point where you have to feel comfortable and you're then prepared to make the move, and conversely the person you're working with is prepared to make the move.
Sometimes it happens quicker than others, but usually there's a little bit of a process because you involve your staff from both sides and your ownership from both sides, and then you make a conclusion and try to get the deal consummated, and that's timing, and often times there are many deals that don't get completed because of the dynamics of the game changing.
For example, your team might go from a winning scenario to a losing scenario, or conversely the other way, or injuries might come into play, or the dynamics of the league. Somebody else might jump in and fit your needs better than the one trade that you were possibly going to make. There's all kinds of different scenarios that transpire, but those are basically the fundamental principles.

Q. Are the hardest players to trade the ones whose contracts are running out because the team that's trading for them pretty much knows they're rental players unless they can convince the player that they're getting to stay on? Like last year in Hossa's case, obviously Pittsburgh got to the finals and that was worthwhile to them, but they ended up giving a lot of players away and he goes to another team.

MIKE KEENAN: Well, sometimes you don't even want the player to stay, and that's based mostly on financing. In some cases you do, and you'll have the conversation with the player when he arrives. It again depends on the budget that you're given by your ownership group and how that's going to fit into the team moving forward and what assets or what players you have within your group that you'll be able to move forward with.

Q. I'm just curious, your team is obviously having a fine season so far, but moving ahead past the trade deadline, how comfortable are you with the roster moving towards the playoffs if Darryl doesn't make a trade?

MIKE KEENAN: Well, the first thing we have to work on right now is our rehab of our injured players because we're really comfortable with the depth that we have in the organization, and that's proven to be strong because you can't sustain the type of success we've had to this point without the depth. And then I have complete confidence in Darryl's judgment and his ability to either add or remain status quo, and that's because I've had the experience. It all depends on the dynamics of what can actually take place between now and the trading deadline for ourselves or any other team in the league.

Sometimes you have wish lists, and they're not achievable because those players aren't on the market or it doesn't exist. On the other hand, something could come out of the blue when you least expect it, and there's something there for you to make your team better. I guess that's pretty much the essence of why you would make trades at that point anyway, not for the sake of trading them but obviously for the sake of improving your team in whatever fashion that is, whether it's depth or making significant changes in terms of your personnel.

I guess I reflect back a little bit on our New York Rangers run. We made five changes at the trade deadline, and we were in a position to win the Presidents' Trophy. You just take a look at the future of your team in terms of where you think you might be and what you want to achieve. Obviously most of the teams that are beyond the developmental stage would like to take a run at the Stanley Cup, and you need to fulfill the needs of the team to be able to achieve that.

Q. And I've got one more question. I know you were mentioning earlier on that you're the coach and he's the GM, but has he asked your opinion on possible roster changes or trades or anything like that?

MIKE KEENAN: Darryl does communicate with me and discusses those aspects when it's necessary. And again, from having the experience, you don't necessarily, nor should you communicate with the coach every time you have a discussion about a player because often times it's a moot point. You really have to get to a point where that might be a possibility, a firm possibility, then you bring your staff in, because it's a waste of everybody's time to talk about hypothetical questions or deals rather that may or may not take place.

Q. The injuries that you have now, Bourque, Langkow, Giordano, you talked a little bit about tests your depth.

MIKE KEENAN: Well, your first priority or your first wish list is not to have to, but in saying that, I guess the comment I made is if it has to happen, I'm thankful that it happened now before the trading deadline so we can test our abilities. We're very comfortable with the players that we've brought up because these players have some NHL experience and we know that, but now you've got a chance to look at and survey the depth of the organization as we move forward here before the trading deadline. In the event that we continue to get injuries, that's the critical part of it.

Q. So it's almost like you can see what you have over the course of the next week?

MIKE KEENAN: Well, we're comfortable with what we do have, but if we have any other players go down, now you're going into another layer of your depth in the organization, and you may have enough. It depends on the strength of your players in the American League in our case because that's what our farm club is and how many of those players can actually play in the NHL. That's what a manager has to look at and compare the assets that might be available in the marketplace as opposed to what you already have.

Q. I just wanted to ask you about Miikka Kiprusoff. Do you worry about burning him out having him play so many games in the regular season? It's kind of certain goalies that like to play a lot of games, and he's historically been one of those, but also his goals against average and save percentage have kind of taken hits in the past post-seasons from his regular season stats. Is that something you think about at this point in the season?

MIKE KEENAN: No, I don't think so. I think that it's been obvious that we have identified him as the number one goalie, and there's several players that have played over 50 games. The best goalies want to play as much as possible. That's been the history of goaltenders that I've coached, and I've had the good fortune of coaching, I think, six Vezina Trophy winners. So they expect to play. You just have to be aware of their work-to-rest ratio, and we give Miikka a lot of days off. All he does is play the games, and that keeps him fresh physically and mentally. He can cope with it and deal with it very well.

Q. Tom Renney has been let go in New York. Can you give us any perspective on coaching in New York, having been very successful there in the past? And what do you think this will do to their playoff outlook this late in the season?

MIKE KEENAN: Well, those are unfortunate decisions from a coaching perspective that are made. My first reaction is I wonder how many people want to start their seasons in Europe. All four coaches that started in Europe now have been dismissed. That part of the industry has always bothered me, that you try to find a solution and success by making a coaching change, and often times it does not work. Probably more often than not it does not work. But it's a desperate measure at a desperate time when you feel that something of that magnitude has to happen in order to jumpstart your team. It's a little bit of a gamble by a manager to a certain extent, but the manager has to read the situation as well as he can and rely on his own experience and review the history of the team and what he thinks his chances are, what the results might be, in this case to sustain or ascertain continuous movement forward to make sure that they're well-positioned going into the playoffs.

To respond to your question about New York, obviously it's scrutinized quite a bit, more so than other markets, I guess. I never worked in Toronto except to coach at the University of Toronto. That doesn't nearly have the scrutiny obviously that the Maple Leafs have.
But in New York you're scrutinized very closely, and you know that going in there, at least I knew that going in there. That was part of what the expectations were for me as a coach, and on the other hand I knew that the team was dedicated and had the resources to try to put the best possible team they could on the ice and were committed to do that, and from that perspective I enjoyed working and I do enjoy working in that type of environment as opposed to an environment where they don't have the resources or they're not completely committed to trying to excel to a degree where you're in contention to win the Stanley Cup.

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