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Decor by IRON MIKE
Michael Farber
December 15, 1997
Mike Keenan, the NHL's Martha Stewart, is putting his special touch on the Canucks
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December 15, 1997

Decor By Iron Mike

Mike Keenan, the NHL's Martha Stewart, is putting his special touch on the Canucks

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Keenan won't put up with excuses like that, and the first three weeks of his regime were a probationary period. History suggests that Keenan won't be shy about overhauling the Canucks. When he was with the Rangers, he lobbied general manager Neil Smith for late-season trades that brought Noonan and forwards Craig MacTavish, Glenn Anderson and St�phane Matteau to New York, even though the Rangers had the NHL's best record at the time. Now Keenan can go after his kind of players even more quickly: GM Place is G.M.-less. Ten days before Renney got the ax, Vancouver general manager Pat Quinn was fired. While Stephen Bellringer, the team's alternate governor, says he plans to hire a general manager, Keenan's three-year contract—worth a reported $850,000 annually—gives him a say in personnel decisions. On those matters Keenan works with Steve Tambellini, a former player and onetime Canucks public relations director who is Vancouver's senior vice president of hockey operations. The 39-year-old Tambellini is growing in stature, but Keenan has flossed with guys who have thicker portfolios than Tambellini's.

"There was one team in the league last year that didn't have a general manager, and it won the Stanley Cup: Detroit," says Keenan. If nothing else, Vancouver's good start under Keenan has reinforced his influence. The Canucks' Seattle-based owner, John McCaw, who's about as public a person in the Northwest as D.B. Cooper, stood in the runway behind the bench during a 3-3 tie with the Red Wings on Dec. 1. "Didn't even know he was there, and it didn't faze me when I saw him," Keenan says with a smile. "I guess he was just having a look."

The only thing certain about Keenan's return is that it will end badly. The last two times Keenan parted company with an organization—the Rangers after the 1994 Cup and the St. Louis Blues in 1996, following a fitful two-plus seasons as general manager and coach—NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had to step in and sort things out. In New York, Keenan broke his contract and within days signed a five-year, $10 million deal with the Blues, whom Bettman forced to fork over compensation to the Rangers. In St. Louis Keenan was fired, and management refused to pay out his contract, obliging Bettman to intervene again. Keenan walked away with a nice undisclosed settlement and a lingering sense of disappointment. "I learned in St. Louis that the things you can't change, you have a responsibility to manage better," says Keenan in an oblique reference to his clashes with hardheaded star Brett Hull. "That's part of having strong leadership skills, and I was disappointed in myself because I wasn't as good a leader or as fair to my players as I should have been."

Now he has another chance to burnish his reputation as a Mr. Quick Fix-it. For the formerly indifferent Canucks, one way or another it's curtains.

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