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Monday, January 22, 2001
Updated: January 25, 7:52 AM ET
Highs and lows of coaching the Bruins

By Brian A. Shactman
ESPN.com

What is life like for Bruins coach Mike Keenan these days?

It's a lot like having the racing stub in hand as your horse, the one with a 10-length lead down the homestretch, pulls up just before the finish line to eat some daisies by the infield grass.

Frozen Ponderings
  • In some ways, Chris Pronger's knee injury could be a positive for the Blues. Obviously, they rely heavily on Pronger, their captain and second-leading point producer – tied with fellow defenseman Al MacInnis with 41. But without him, other players must step up and take more responsibility and ice time. Assuming the Blues continue to win, those players will have more confidence and will be better players when Pronger returns. And even though Pronger is just 26, he logs a lot of ice time. If he comes back 100 percent, his body will be fresher for the playoffs. Hey, you can put a positive spin on anything, even when you lose the league MVP for up to six weeks.

  • Brett Hull incessantly whines and complains about the style of play in the NHL. But look at the league leaders, and there is Hull, third in the NHL in goals with 27. The league has changed since the days when Hull scored 86 in 1990-91. But one thing that hasn't changed is Hull, who remains an elite scorer, no matter what he says. At least he's an equal-opportunity complainer: It's constant, even when he's playing well.

  • People are getting so desperate for trades that the rumors get more far-fetched every day. The latest: A Canadian paper reported Tuesday that the Senators might be interested in Marty McSorley to add toughness. The ranks of NHL defensemen are thin and McSorley would be cheap, but is he really the missing piece that will get them over the top?

  • Interesting fact about Florida goalie Roberto Luongo: He earned his fourth win of the season Monday night, but it was his first non-shutout victory.

  • You think the Sharks miss Vincent Damphousse? San Jose is 0-2-2 without him, including the game in which he injured his shoulder (early against Detroit on Jan. 15). In all, the Sharks are winless in their last five, their worst stretch of the season by far.
  • Just a week ago, his Bruins thoroughbreds looked poised to at least compete in the year-end race for the Stanley Cup. Three games later, they're grazing below mediocrity and would have trouble battling for the Calder Cup. If you talk to Keenan, the Memorial Cup could be a reach as well.

    How quickly have things changed for Keenan and his team?

    Tuesday, Jan. 16: The Bruins come from behind to defeat defending-champ New Jersey on the road. They have won four in a row, which places them over .500 and in the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.

    Tuesday, Jan. 23: The Bruins have lost three in a row, including Monday's listless 3-2 loss to the lowly Panthers, who became the last NHL team to hit the double-digit mark in wins. Keenan's team remains just one point out of the eighth spot, but the next four opponents (Toronto, Buffalo, New Jersey and St. Louis) are a trifle more formidable than Florida.

    After Monday's loss, Keenan, never one to mince words, gave every journalist a breakaway empty-netter with his thoughts on the game – which will be quoted, printed and said anywhere that someone cares about the Bruins and/or likes a good quote.

    "I'm lost for words. I can't tell you what the hell's going on," he said. "They play when they feel like it."

    Tell us how you really feel, Mike.

    "This is the most exasperated I've been with this group."

    Mike Keenan knows the lifespan of an NHL coach can be like that of a gnat. Heck, he's been hired and fired almost as much as the late Billy Martin. If Keenan needs a reminder, all he has to do is look at his predecessor in Boston, Pat Burns – a three-time Jack Adams winner – to know how precarious it is to coach an NHL team.

    But even with this recent swoon, Keenan is not in danger of being fired. Though he has a one-year deal with club options for two more, rumors persisted after the win at New Jersey that he might get that extension sooner rather than later.

    The rumor mill left that one next to the daisies on the infield grass.

    Of course, Keenan accepts this unpredictable dynamic as he has throughout his tumultuous career. Yet one thing he doesn't accept is when his team's play is as inconsistent as his career path.

    How do you explain this downturn?

    "Go in and ask the players," he said.

    "Someday, they're going to have to decide on their own when they want to do it," he continued. "When that day is, I have no idea."

    It looks like the kinder, gentler Keenan just went into hiding.

    Mailbag
    During the season, I'll try to answer a question or two from ESPN.com users for every edition of In the Corners. If you want to get a question answered, click here and ask away.

    Question from Greg, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Even though the Rangers have been playing a good defensive game of late, I still think that they need an improvement in that category. I think the perfect fit for them would be a good defensive center like Mike Peca or a big, solid defenseman like Keith Carney instead of giving up all their great prospects for Eric Lindros or Rob Blake. What do you see the Rangers doing trade-wise before the deadline?

    Response: Isn't that the $64,000 question? Or should we say $64 million, since their payroll is at least that much. Rumors abound in the Big Apple, and the names are pretty big. Both Carney and Peca would help, although Carney would be another older blueliner, which might not be the best deal long-term for the Rangers.

    The Rangers want Keith Tkachuk and might even take on goalie Nikolai Khabibulin if the deal's contingent upon it. However, you have to think the Rangers want to dump Valeri Kamensky (25 points, minus-17), so GM Glen Sather might be making more than one deal before March 13. After all, there's no way the cost-conscious Coyotes will take on Kamensky and his bloated contract. Kamensky's kidney injury also could complicate things.

    And don't forget: You have to give to get. That may mean the exit of a valuable young player like Mike York.

    Brian A. Shactman covers the NHL for ESPN.com. He can be reached at brian.shactman@espn.com.