Panthers hire Keenan to replace ousted SutterPosted: Sunday December 02, 2001 4:18 PM
Updated: Wednesday December 05, 2001 2:24 AM
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida Panthers owner Alan Cohen reached across the table, grabbed Mike Keenan's right hand and held it up so everyone could see his Stanley Cup ring.
"I want one of those without the 'Rangers' on it," said Cohen, the largest investor in the team's eight-man ownership group.
That's the main reason the Panthers, tied for the fewest wins in the NHL, hired Keenan as their coach Monday.
He replaces Duane Sutter, fired a day earlier following the team's miserable start. The Panthers also fired general manager Bill Torrey, and promoted assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher on an interim basis.
Torrey, who won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1980s as New York Islanders GM, will remain the team's governor and continue to represent the Panthers on the NHL's executive committee. Sutter, meanwhile, has been offered a position as a team scout. He has not decided whether he will take the job, though.
Keenan, who has coached six other teams and won a Stanley Cup in 1994 with the New York Rangers, also will serve as Florida's assistant GM.
"We see a young team that's developing and has the opportunity and potential to develop and that's capable of competing for and winning a Stanley Cup," Keenan said.
Keenan's most recent coaching position was with the Boston Bruins, who fired him at the end of last season. He had been working this season as an analyst for the NHL Network in Canada.
He watched the Panthers, next to last in the Eastern Conference, start 6-15-2-3 this season. They are one point ahead of Atlanta in the Southeast Division but have dropped four in a row, including a 5-2 loss to the Thrashers on Saturday.
"We're all disappointed with the start of the season, and we're all surprised," Fletcher said. "I don't think you ever expect it. You know when things go poorly that bad things can happen.
The Panthers never looked like they would turn things around.
They had several key injuries, including right wings Pavel and Valeri Bure, defenseman Bret Hedican and goaltender Roberto Luongo. But the owners didn't feel that warranted the poor start.
Keenan believe the Panthers already have several key players who can make the team a championship contender.
He put Pavel Bure in the same category as NHL greats Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey, and called The Russian Rocket 'the most electrifying player' he's coached. They were together in Vancouver.
Torrey was in his ninth season as president of the Panthers, joining the team when it entered the NHL in 1993. He replaced Bryan Murray as general manager last December.
Sutter became interim coach when Terry Murray was fired after winning just six of the first 36 games last season. Under Sutter, the Panthers finished with a 16-24-6 record. He signed a two-year deal in June.
Keenan, who ranks fifth with 529 career victories, has coached teams to four Stanley Cups finals. He did it in Philadelphia in 1985 and 1987, with Chicago in 1992 and won his ring by leading the Rangers to their first title in 54 years.
He becomes the Panthers' sixth coach.