Blues Fire Keenan After 2 1/2 Years For The Fourth Time, The Ex-flyers Coach Has Left An Nhl Club Under Less Than Amicable Terms.

Posted: December 20, 1996

ST. LOUIS — Once again, Mike Keenan is out of a job, with another abrupt departure on his resume.

After 2 1/2 seasons, dozens of player moves (most of which fizzled), and a highly publicized spat with superstar Brett Hull, the coach and general manager of the St. Louis Blues was dismissed yesterday.

``We felt it was important that we right this ship as quickly as possible,'' Blues chairman Jerry Ritter said at a news conference. Ritter also dismissed team president Jack Quinn.

Ritter said that Keenan, who could not be reached for comment, took the news well.

``Mike was very professional, he understood, he was sorry,'' Ritter said. ``He behaved himself quite well. You'll have to ask Mike if he was surprised.''

The Blues, hurting at the gate and with a record below .500, appointed assistant Jimmy Roberts interim head coach and Ron Caron interim general manager. Caron had been the GM from 1983 to 1994 before becoming executive vice president when Keenan arrived.

Mark Sauer, who previously was CEO of baseball's St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, was hired as team president.

Several broadcast reports said that Jacques Demers, who coached the Blues from 1983 to '86, would return as coach, but Ritter said the search had not begun.

``Jacques is a candidate,'' Caron said. ``He's been successful. We just have to kick it around.''

Demers, a scout for Montreal, was at last night's Islanders-Flyers game at the CoreStates Center. He said he would be interested in coaching the Blues but had not spoken to anyone in the St. Louis organization. The Blues are in Philadelphia to play the Flyers tomorrow afternoon.

Demers won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Canadiens in 1993. He was fired less than two weeks into the 1995-96 season. Demers also coached the Red Wings from 1986 to '90.

When the Canadiens fired Pat Burns - another coach in Keenan's fiery style - it was Demers, the gentlemanly scholar, who succeeded him in 1992.

``I read that Brett Hull told a reporter he liked Jacques Demers,'' Demers said. ``Some players said it would be great [having me]. Pierre Turgeon said I was the best coach he ever had.''

Demers' contract as a scout expires June 30. He said that the Canadiens had told him yesterday that if he was offered the Blues job, they would release him from his contract immediately.

Keenan, who coached the Flyers from 1984 to '88, has a career record of 470-318-99, but this is the fourth time he has left an NHL team on less than amicable terms.

He bolted from the New York Rangers to the Blues over a dispute regarding bonus pay a month after leading the Rangers to a Stanley Cup in 1994, was fired after four seasons with Chicago in 1992, and was dismissed after four seasons with the Flyers.

Flyers general manager Bob Clarke, who fired Keenan in Philadelphia, said he was surprised by the Blues' move.

``What are we, 30 games into the season, and he's two games under .500?'' Clarke said. ``This is a guy with a pretty good track record, too.''

Of his own decision to let Keenan go, Clarke said: ``Mike had done a good job for us. In hindsight, I don't know if I made the correct decision back then. Maybe I should have changed some of the players instead of the coach.''

Last season was something of a spectacular failure for Keenan, who traded three prospects and a first-round draft pick to get Wayne Gretzky in February. Gretzky lasted only a few months with the team, signing with the Rangers this summer.

Keenan also dealt Brendan Shanahan and Curtis Joseph, and only Hull and defenseman Al MacInnis remain from the team he inherited.

The Blues have been floundering in the third season of Keenan's regime, a season marked by clashes with Hull, and the dispute clearly has hurt the club.

But Ritter, who met with Hull after giving the news to Keenan, said the Keenan-Hull spat was less a factor than the Blues' slump at home coupled with plummeting attendance.

``Yes, the continuous feuding had become a distraction,'' Ritter said. ``We told Brett there was no winner in his quarrel with Mike Keenan. We also told Brett we expected more leadership.''

Entering last night's game against Pittsburgh, the Blues had lost five in a row at Kiel Center. They were 15-17-1 overall, third in the Central Division.

The Blues reportedly owe Keenan $7 million for the last four years on his contract. Ritter said any settlement would not affect the new management team's ability to make moves.

Keenan got off to a fast start in St. Louis, guiding the Blues to a tie for the third-best record in the NHL in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. Last year, the Blues were 32-34-16 and fourth in the Central before taking the Detroit Red Wings to double overtime in Game 7 of their second-round series.

``We looked as if we were about to make our move,'' Ritter said. ``Instead, we've had constant unrest. The trust built over 30 years is being strained, and that's absolutely unacceptable.''

``Certainly, it's been a surprising, shocking morning,'' Roberts said.

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