Panthers hire Keenan, Martin

The Florida Panthers present some unfinished business for Mike Keenan and a new beginning for Jacques Martin.

Keenan rejoined the NHL club on Wednesday, replacing general manager Rick Dudley, who was fired Monday and offered another position within the Panthers organization.

Martin, who was dismissed as Ottawa Senators coach on April 22, becomes the fourth man in less than seven months to step behind the Panthers' bench. He takes over for John Torchetti, who went 10-12-4-1 in an interim role to end the season.

The 54-year-old Keenan was fired as coach on Nov. 9, 2003, after a 5-8-2 start to the season.

"I appreciate a chance for a new career in a position I haven't been in in some time," said Keenan, who was interim GM in Vancouver in the late 1990s. He also served as GM in Chicago (1990-92) and St. Louis (1994-96).

Martin, who also talked with the New York Rangers and Phoenix Coyotes about their coaching vacanies, chose Florida "because of the resources of ownership, the management in place and the core players."

"We're fortunate to have one of the best goalies in the world [in Roberto Luongo]," Martin added during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "You need to have a key stopper to build an elite team."

Luongo set an NHL record for most saves (2,303) this season, while finishing third in save percentage (.931) and becoming a Vezina Trophy finalist.

"I think we have some great young players who are ready to step forward," said Martin.

"I'm really excited about moving [to Florida] and building this team into one of the elite teams in the National Hockey League."

The moves not only bring Keenan, a longtime favourite of Panthers owner Alan Cohen, back to the Panthers, but also reunites a duo with hockey ties for more than three decades.

Keenan and Martin attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., 35 years ago. Keenan was a senior captain, Martin a freshman goaltender.

Later, as coach of the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, Keenan hired his friend to be one of his scouts.

Martin, who becomes the ninth coach in Panthers history, also was Keenan's assistant with the Blackhawks 15 years ago.

"The relationship that I have with Mike is strong," Martin said. "I knew that we're very compatible as far as the philosophy and the plan that we have for this organization."

Keenan won only 45 of the 153 games while coaching Florida, which has missed the playoffs four straight years. This season, the Panthers finished 12th in the Eastern Conference with a 28-35-15-4 record.

Martin, a four-time coach of the year finalist, was 341-255-96 in the regular season as Ottawa's coach, but just 31-38 in the playoffs. His teams failed to get past the opening round in five of their eight post-season trips.

Martin, 51, said he prefers a pressure style of game and a team that is quick and entertaining.

"No doubt this [Panthers] team has speed and quickness," said Martin, "and that's a key for building a team that is going to be successful."

Martin was an associate coach with Team Canada when it won a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and will hold the same post at the World Cup of Hockey in August.

Dudley assumed the dual role of GM-coach after firing Keenan.

Torchetti was named interim coach on Feb. 9 when Dudley decided to focus on his GM duties. The Panthers have not yet announced if Torchetti will stay with the organization.

Prior to his firing, Dudley had lobbied Cohen to hire Torchetti on a permanent basis. Cohen on Wednesday said he pursued Martin heavily.