Contract move quells Keenan rumors

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers exercised an option in coach and general manager Rick Dudley's contract for next season, ending speculation about Dudley's future and quelling rumors that former coach Mike Keenan would return.

"I always intended to sign him, and this is as good a time as
any," owner Alan Cohen said Saturday night. "I like what he's
doing. I never really had a doubt that I'd extend him."

By exercising Dudley's option, Cohen is sending the message that
the Panthers will continue in the same direction.

"I think we're a few pieces away from being perennial
contenders, and we're going to stay that way," Cohen said.

While Cohen has not always been happy with Dudley, he said they agree on how to build the team.

There had been speculation that Cohen second-guessed his
decision to fire Keenan in November and considered bringing Keenan
back in some capacity after the season.

Asked if extending Dudley's contract ends any chance of Keenan
returning, Cohen said, "Yeah, absolutely. It's closed."