<
>

Mike Keenan addresses rumors about why he left Russia and more

Mike Keenan was fired by the KHL's Metallurg Magnitogorsk in October. Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

The last we heard of Mike Keenan, the 66-year-old former NHL coach was fired in October as head coach of the Kontinental Hockey League's Metallurg Magnitogorsk under mysterious circumstances.

At the time, reports on the reasons for Keenan's dismissal and his whereabouts were vague.

It was widely reported that Keenan was fired because of a two-game losing streak and a rumored clash with management. At the same time, word spread that Magnitogorsk was promoting Keenan to upper management. This was all while gossip circulated that the well-traveled NHL coach was pursuing Russian citizenship in order to be eligible to coach that country's national team.

In a recent conversation, Keenan cleared the air and addressed his plans for the future.

ESPN.com: It's been about five months since the hockey world has heard from you. What exactly happened in October?

Keenan: I moved to Russia with Mike Pelino, my assistant coach. We won the Gagarin Cup championship of the KHL in my first year [2013-14]. We had a good run in the second year, and in the third year, I guess you can say I was dismissed. I think two-thirds of all the [KHL] coaches were fired. They elevated me to an advisory position, which is what I'm doing this year. Basically, I've been a sounding board for the coaches. The coaches that are in place now were all my assistants.

ESPN.com: What prompted this change?

Keenan: There's been speculation that, I don't know if it's been public, I think it's reasonable to say that it's been confirmed that the Russian faction of the league -- because there are seven, eight other countries involved -- decided they only wanted Russian coaches to coach Russian teams. As a result, there are no more import coaches coaching Russian teams anymore. I think that was part of the rationale.

Editor's note: Twenty-two of the KHL's 28 teams are based in Russia. In 2014-15, five of that 22 had coaches not from Russia or a country in the former Soviet Bloc. All five coaches, including Keenan, were replaced.

ESPN.com: It was rumored that you were becoming a Russian citizen. Does this affect that?

Keenan: This was something that was proposed to me by our team [in Magnitogorsk]. This was not something I was pursuing. I think the rationale at the time was that they must have known or were anticipating that you had to be a Russian to coach a Russian team. I didn't get my Russian citizenship.

ESPN.com: Are you still entirely based in Russia?

Keenan: I was there in Russia for the first part of the year. Since Christmas, I've gone back and forth quite often, probably splitting my time between Russia and North America. That was part of the agreement I made with them. I'm in Canada quite a bit, just north of Toronto, on Lake Huron. I've had this place since 1986 on Georgian Bay. I also have a place in Key West, Florida. And Maine, where my wife is from.

ESPN.com: What types of things have you been doing on the management side?

Keenan: I said that if I was going to be in a consultant role, I prefer to spend some of my time in North America. At the same time, they wanted me to look at players here for them. [Alex] Semin, for example, went from to the Montreal Canadiens to them after my departure [as coach] and a couple other players that they acquired [I recommended]. It became sort of a dual role in that regard. It's been primarily on television, watching games on TV.

ESPN.com: Are you interested in getting back behind the bench again?

Keenan: It would depend on the league and depend on the opportunity and the team itself. I am open and reviewing possibilities right now for next season. I would probably be more interested in a program that would be supported by ownership and gives you the resources to win, as opposed to a developmental team.

ESPN.com: Your name has been linked as a possible coach of the KHL's expansion franchise in Beijing. Is there anything to this? Would this be something that would interest you?

Keenan: I have not spoken to China. Simply rumors. I have an open mind regarding my coaching future.

ESPN.com: On the subject of expansion, the NHL is exploring potential franchises in Quebec City and Las Vegas. What are your thoughts on this?

Keenan: I think Quebec deserves an NHL franchise. They have a new arena to meet the NHL requirements. I know little about Vegas.

ESPN.com: Have you thought about retiring?

Keenan: I read an interview about Elton John. He turned 68 and someone said, 'Why don't you retire?' He says, 'I'm at the pinnacle of my career. I'm at my most creative, I'm creating music and writing music. Because I'm 68, I have to take the piano out of my living room?' If that's what he is as a top musician in the world, then that's what I am as a hockey coach, because that's what my DNA tells me that I am. There's a certain point in time where you have to maybe retire. But I feel like I still have the energy and the passion. As long as I feel that way and am healthy, I feel like I can help some programs.

ESPN.com: Are you open to coaching in a different European country?

Keenan: Probably not. I think that right now, the NHL is the best league in the world and the KHL is second best. My preference would be one of the two.

ESPN.com: Your reputation is as a tough coach. A lot of critics would say that players of today don't respond to tough coaches like they used to because they make more money and have more leverage. How do you feel about this?

Keenan: I think the answer is in respect. I know that the Russian players have a deep level of respect for myself as a coach. It's about getting their respect.

ESPN.com: Can you use the same tactics on KHL players that you used on NHL players?

Keenan: The older players are accustomed to a Soviet style, which is a really hard-nosed approach. The younger players are just like younger players in North America. They all have agents now and have been schooled. There's a cross-section. I was no more firm there than I was in North America. In fact, I wasn't even as firm. But they respond to structured work.

ESPN.com: How much longer do you want to keep working in hockey?

Keenan: From the very beginning of my coaching, I've always had one motivating factor -- to win. That must be in my DNA because even as a youngster, I had an incredible drive. I probably will have it until someday I'm not able to coach because I'm physically not capable. I can't describe it, except it's part of my being. I know there's not too many older coaches. That's one of the differences with Russia. They have a different opinion. If you're an experienced individual, there's a little more of a respect factor in eastern Europe compared to North America. I think I could help an NHL team, but it's not something I'm counting on.