Six months after being fired by the KHL's Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Mike Keenan still wants to coach.
“I wouldn’t mind. I don’t know if its in the cards for me,” Keenan told Puck Daddy during a Thursday phone interview.
Since his October dismissal, Keenan has been working as an advisor for the KHL club that is currently tied 2-2 in the Gagarin Cup Final, the title the former long-time NHL bench boss won in his first year with Metallurg in 2013-14. As part of his duties, he travels to Russia regularly and attends games, giving feedback to the current coaching staff.
Keenan’s contract expires after this season and already there’s been speculation about him returning to coaching next season. Reports out of Switzerland had him exploring the ZSC Lions gig, which opened up following Marc Crawford’s departure. But at the moment, Keenan says he has not been contacted by anyone regarding any open position.
After his firing, there was talk that Keenan was pursuing Russian citizenship. He says that the KHL implemented a rule that the league’s Russian teams needed to be coached by Russians. Metallurg asked him to look into getting citizenship in hopes of circumventing the rule.
That rule, Keenan believes, was one of the factors behind his dismissal.
Before being hired by Metallurg, Keenan had a four-year break from coaching following his firing by the Calgary Flames in 2009. He did television work, but he still wanted to coach. After being approached by the KHL team he did some research on the league and liked what he saw.
“It was a good league. It’s probably the second-best league to the NHL,” he said. “And they were interested in me and I also wanted to look at the possible cultural experience, which was very unique and very interesting.”
The challenge of coaching in a foreign land went beyond the obvious language barrier. Keenan had to get his players accustomed to a different style of coaching and different mindset of playing the game. He was still the same old “Iron Mike,” pulling goalies at will and chirping at referees, and his efforts were rewarded after he became the first coach to win the Gagarin Cup and Stanley Cup.
In two full seasons in the KHL Keenan settled into life in Russia. He acted in commercials and celebrated winning the Gagarin Cup title with a little locker room karaoke. He connected with his players.
“I tried to interface with the culture,” he said. “I wanted the players to feel that I was attempting to understand their culture. It wasn’t their responsibility to understand mine. Although a few of them had played in North America, I still wanted to at least establish that aspect of my working conditions with them."
There was something I had always wanted to ask Keenan about. The NHL’s implementation of the third jersey program in the mid-1990s had interesting results, from the Los Angeles Kings’ “Burger King” logo to the Anaheim Ducks’ mascot breaking through ice.
For years, the tale went that during his second season in St. Louis Keenan was the one who put the stop to this proposed alternate jersey for the Blues:
So was it true that Keenan killed these plans?
“I don’t recall, but I could speculate that it probably was true at the time,” he said. “I couldn’t confirm it, but I probably had an inclination that that would be something at that time in the context of the league I probably wasn’t too enamored with. I don’t remember specifically, but I think that’s probably right.”
Not a big fan of the idea of alternate jerseys?
“Well, third jerseys were a concept that came out and it wasn’t a problem,” Keenan said. “This was taking it a little bit to the extreme at that time. Now they wear combat uniforms and pink uniforms. It doesn’t matter, it’s all marketing.”
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