Mike Keenan: Scary Coach Or Just A Jerk?

Jim McIsaac

I know most of us aren't exactly unbiased in our feelings about Iron Mike, but the opinions from other fanbases seem to be pretty close to ours. Is this because Keenan's terrifying ways scared players away, or was it more people just not wanting to deal with him?

Just a disclaimer here: I don't read Bleacher Report. I do, however, subscribe to Google News alerts for both the NHL and for the Blues, and the Bleacher Report slideshow (of course) of "The 20 Scariest Coaches In NHL History" was in the NHL news e-mail, and I clicked on it out of a curiosity. I'm pretty sure most of you guys would have clicked on it for the same reason that I did, frankly.

That reason being, of course, to see if Mike Keenan was listed.

And nope, I wasn't disappointed. There was Iron Mike, on page six, with this description:

"Iron" Mike Keenan was one of the scariest head coaches in NHL history because of his antics, his personality and the way he coached his teams.

Keenan was a vocal coach who never pulled any punches, and he even made Neil Smith trade one of the New York Rangers' best players in Mike Gartner because the two never saw eye to eye.

Keenan was a scary coach to play for even if you were on his good side, so you needed to make sure you didn't do anything to get on his bad side.

Oooh, don't get on his bad side, or else you'll be traded! Yeah, fair enough -- some coaches have that kind of pull with their GMs (or in Keenan's case in St. Louis, were their own GMs) to where they can encourage particular personnel decisions. Usually those moves are done when a coach feels like a player is not meshing with his system, not working with the team, or is generally a lazy/terrible player. But Mike Gartner? Keenan traded him because he disagreed with him?

Is that why Keenan traded Brendan Shanahan over Craig Janney? Strength of personality? Maybe Wayne Gretzky was just terrified of him, and that's why he bolted to New York. Brett Hull, I'm sure, was just quaking in his boots when he left. Curtis Joseph got this treatment from Keenan:

A source from St. Louis said that the Keenan-Joseph relationship was doomed from the moment they met. Keenan called Joseph into his office, according to the source, and said, "I don't care who the **** you are." All told, the meeting lasted about one minute. "Curtis Joseph," said the source. "Maybe the nicest human being you can meet, sensitive and kind -- and Keenan just clobbered him."

Ok, then. Great way to show you're alpha dog - freak out your goaltender. Then trade him. Tales of goaltender abuse followed Keenan around the NHL, presumably because since goalies are generally bat-shit insane Keenan felt the need to just be terrifying to them right off of the bat to get them into line. Goalies respond fantastically to that!

Let's face it: there's a difference between being scary and being a jerk. Scary is someone that you don't want to piss off because you don't know how he'll react, but generally pissing him off equates with doing something wrong. Jerks are people you don't want to piss off because not only do you not know how he'll react, you don't know what he'll react to. THAT'S Mike Keenan. Scary coaches don't run off the greatest player in hockey; coaches who are unpredictable and squirrely and generally a nightmare to work with are what runs off the Great One.

Lots of great players have skated for total jerks and loved it. They recognized that their coach's personality was because he was invested in the game just that much and wanted to win. Keenan? Can anyone make an argument for him being that kind of guy? I know I don't think I can.

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