Despite my noisey protestations about many of Keenan's moves this year, I'm actually fairly ambivalent about the guy: I think I can say firmly that the team looks better under him than Playfair, which means there are probably worse coaches out there. Keenan's in season adjustment after the Sharks debacle turned the club into a strong possession/outshooting team. The Flames ended up with one of the best expected goal differentials in the league at ES and surely Keenan should share some of the accolades for that feat.
In addition, some guys took some healthy steps forward under Iron Mike this season: Glencross, Moss, Nystrom and even Lombardi come to mind. Keenan rated Bourque highly before I did (appropriately so) and he was heavily sheltering Boyd all year which, when I objectively looked at the underlying numbers, was also the right move. He also employed Giordano favorably (once he got over his initial reluctance). I think his preference for Conroy over other, younger options was also vindicated this season.
Those are the positives, many of which are non-trivial. However, there was also a littany of negatives, which I'll run down in no particular order.
- Let's start in the most obvious area. Todd Bertuzzi. We all knew that Keenan played favorites before he got here and we all knew that Bertuzzi was one of those favorites when he was acquired. To watch Keenan trot out sore thumb out for 18+ minutes per night in extremely favorable cirucmstances all season in spite of better options (and then try to explain away his fetish to the press) was, frankly, embarrasing. Especially in light of the manner in which he treated Kristian Huselius during his final 20 regular season games as a Flame (benchings, scracthes, limited ice time), despite the fact that Huselius was probably never a throbbing liability like Bertuzzi.
There's two primary reasons not to re-sign the big guy this off-season: one, because of his rapidly declining play and penchant for injury. Two, and perhaps more relevant if Keenan sticks around, because Iron Mike just can't seem to help himself when Bertuzzi is in the line-up.
"He's a preoccupation for both defenceman. They can't stop him. I watched (the TV feed) again this morning and the commentator said exactly that. When he comes out of the corner with that force, that drive . . . When you're as big as Todd is, can skate like he can, accelerate like he can, with those soft hands, and shoot the way he can, like I said he's a preoccupation.
All NHL coaches pick favorites - they're human afterall. But it's incumbent upon them to either get it right (ie; pick the right favorites - meaning the true difference makers) or be willing to alter their opinions in the face of overwhelming evidence. Neither was true of Keenan in regards to Bertuzzi this year.
- Somewhat related is Keenan's management of Dion Phaneuf all season, especially in light of the fact the kid was apparently battling both knee and hip concerns for a majority of the year. Peter Mahr shared an anecdote after game 6 that kinds sums up this whole situation for me:
According to Mahr, Phaneuf was set to sit out the April 7th game between the Flames and the Canucks in Vancouver due to his various ailments. As the story goes, Dion was determined to play anyways, so he bought his own plane ticket, flew out alone and showed up that night in the dressing room despite being hobbled. The club was already down Robyn Regehr and the game was an important one, so the sentiment to "suck it up and play through the pain" is understandable.
So Keenan dressed Phaneuf that night. And gave him over 30 minutes of ice. Dion ended up being on the ice for 3 of Vancouver's 4 goals against and his play was noticably defective.
Coaches obviously know their players better than we do as fans, and they definitely have access to more information regarding their health and abilities to play with injuries. But I'm not sure there's anything Keenan or anyone else could tell me that would make this sort of player management make sense to me (assuming the story is true, of course).
- Keenan once again proved he knows very little about goaltending this year. In particular, I think he grossly mishandled rookie Curtis McElhinney, from the overplaying of Kipper to putting the kid in less than ideal circumstances to throwing him under the bus even when he played reasonably well. What's more, I have next to no confidence that Keenan will handle the situation any better if the Flames shuffle the back-ups this off-season: this is the guy who traded away both Roberto Luongo and Dominic Hasek (for Todd Bertuzzi and Stephane Beauregard) as an NHL GM.
I have some other minor quibbles with Keenan (the often nonsensical manner in which he chooses to "call out" some players in the media, the lack of PP time for guys like Bourque and Boyd, the PP itself etc) but I think I covered my main beefs here. Feel free to append your own pluses/minuses in the comments...