Another Ugly Exit
There are no happy endings with Mike Keenan. When the time comes for him to go—as it did last Thursday when the St. Louis Blues fired him as coach and general manager—there's rancor, there's recrimination and there are lawyers. The Philadelphia Flyers unloaded him in 1988 after a near mutiny by his players, and four years later he left the Chicago Blackhawks after a power struggle with team president Bill Wirtz. When Keenan orchestrated his getaway to St. Louis after winning the 1994 Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers, he was slapped with a 60-day suspension and a $100,000 fine by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for talking to the Blues and the Detroit Red Wings while under contract to the Rangers. Last week, after St. Louis ownership ditched Keenan with 3½ years remaining on his contract, he and the Blues were wrangling over the amount he was owed and the payment schedule.
Normally, messy goodbyes would hurt a man's job prospects, but not in Keenan's case. Like former big league manager Billy Martin, the often self-destructive Keenan is too good a game coach. Next spring, after the annual quota of firings around the NHL, some owner will pursue Keenan, warts and all.
Whoever does hire Keenan should reduce his workload by half because his tenure as St. Louis general manager was a train wreck. Keenan bloated the Blues' payroll without gaining in the standings, and his $25 million free-agent spending spree in the summer of '95 prompted ownership to draw the purse strings. He never did find the complementary center for right wing Brett Hull. Last February he traded three mediocre players and two draft picks to Los Angeles for Wayne Gretzky, a slim price if the Blues could have kept Gretzky. But Keenan was publicly critical of the Great One during the playoffs, and after only 11 weeks on the ice, Gretzky wound up taking his free-agent business to the Rangers.
When Keenan coached New York, he made sure he had captain Mark Messier as an ally, but in St. Louis, Keenan failed to make the right friends. He traded two fan favorites, winger Brendan Shanahan and goaltender Curtis Joseph, bungling those deals not simply because he didn't get fair value in return but also because he trampled the emotional link between town and team.
At the press conference announcing Keenan's firing, Blues chairman Jerry Ritter said that bickering between Keenan and the self-absorbed Hull had become a distraction. If the Blues had been a better team than when Keenan took over, maybe he could have won this battle. With a sub-.500 club and grim prospects, he didn't stand a chance.
Ill Legal Pitch
New Orleans lawyers Dennis Dolbear and Guy Lillian took out an ad last week in the Florida Flambeau, a Florida State campus newspaper, peddling their services to young party-hearty Seminoles fans who will be in New Orleans for the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl game against Florida. "If you get in trouble, we can help you out!" reads the ad, which includes the attorneys' office phone number. "If you need a lawyer while in New Orleans, call us."
You can put this news in your let's-kill-all-the-lawyers file, but you must admit that Dolbear and Lillian recognize potential clients when they see them: In a recent survey by The Princeton Review, Florida State (No. 1) and Florida (No. 3) were rated two of the top party schools in the nation. Of course, they have something to party about, because those are also their rankings in the college football polls.
Their Marshall Plan