The AHL is laden with wannabes—players who aspire to be promoted to the NHL — and that's perfectly understandable.
Mike Keane, however, is not your typical AHL player. He's no wannabe. He has no aspirations to move up to the NHL. He's already been there and done that. He was the captain of the Montreal Canadiens, in fact, and he sure had a nice ride in the NHL for a lot of years.
Now, though, it's over and he knows it and he is exactly where he wants to be. He aspires only to stay put, to keep on plugging as the captain of the Manitoba Moose.
"It beats playing beer-league hockey," Keane says matter-of-factly. "I have the greatest life in the world right now."
Indeed, Keane is in an enviable position. Most ex-NHLers in his age group — he'll be 40 in May — no longer play professional hockey. If they have any desire to don the skates, they often do so in beer leagues, for no income, primarily for a bit of fun and for the camaraderie extracted from a night out with the boys. Most don't care much about their conditioning any more. After all, whatever good they do for their bodies on the ice during their games is usually negated by what they do in the bars after their games.
Keane, though, remains in tip-top shape. What's more, he collects $300,000 a season for playing in his post-NHL league. And he gets to play at his home in Winnipeg.
"You really can't beat this," he says. "I play hockey, do the best I can, still make decent money and I get to live with my kids. What else could a guy ask for after his NHL career?"
Keane's contributing to the Moose with his usual two-way contributions, by the way. He entered Thursday night with five goals and six assists and he's been chosen captain of the Canadian team for the AHL all-star game, which will be played in Toronto later this month.
• Keane probably could be playing in the NHL these days if he'd like.
It happens to be a period when older players in first-rate condition are handling themselves more than capably.
It may still be a young man's game, but the creation of the so-called New NHL, with rules designed to produce more wide-open play, has helped the older players soar.
Examples: Teemu Selanne, Mats Sundin, Brendan Shanahan, Joe Sakic, Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya. And there are more. In many cases, these veterans are the premier players on their teams.
Of course, there are other veterans who are struggling conspicuously and sadly. Jeremy Roenick is a case in point.
"I think J.R. would be fine, too," an NHL scout told me yesterday, "if he only took care of himself better."
• Have the Edmonton Oilers lost it?
Despite a victory over the Florida Panthers this week, the Oilers haven't come close lately to resembling the team they were last season, when they ascended to the Stanley Cup final.
In fact, they've been looking very much like a team that won't even qualify for the playoffs this season.
They went into last night with a 3-8 record in their past 11 games, and they've been lamentable in every area. In the 10 games before defeating the Panthers 4-1, the Oilers were held to two goals or fewer six times. They also allowed their opponents to score an average of 4.1 goals a game. The power play was impotent, unable to produce in seven of the 10 games.
"Earlier in the year, there were times we were spending too much time in our zone, but we were in good position and not giving up premium scoring chances," defenceman Jason Smith was saying. "This last group of games we’ve gotten away from that. And if you’re giving up shots from the outside and not premium shots from out front, not five-foot tap-ins, you have a lot better chance to do well. We have to get back to the basics in our end."
They'd better, or this will turn out disastrous for those fervent fans in Edmonton.
First, the Eskimos. And now the Oilers.
•Winnipeg journalist Scott Taylor, who has a brilliant hockey mind, has signed a deal with Studio Publications to write a 288-page, coffee-table book on the defunct Winnipeg Jets.
It'll be called Glory and Tears, A Celebration of the Winnipeg Jets, and it's scheduled to be on the shelves next November.
Taylor already has interviewed about 100 ex-Jets.
It should be a terrific read.
• The Phoenix Coyotes sent centre Mike Comrie to the Ottawa Senators this week, but they're by no means finished dealing and wheeling.
Instead of firing their coach, Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes have decided to clean out the locker room, slowly but surely.
Next in line to be traded is veteran forward Shane Doan. Defenceman Nick Boynton also will be shipped out shortly after he returns from his foot injury.
• Look for goaltender Tomas Vokoun to return to the Nashville Predators' lineup this weekend. He's been out with a thumb injury.
Chris Mason has patrolled the pipes for Nashville since Nov. 25 and has been solid, posting a record of 12-6-1.
Preds coach Barry Trotz won't be handing the first-string job back to Vokoun, explaining that there'll be a competition, if you will, between the veteran and Mason. He said the netminder with the hottest hand will be used in the playoffs.
• Whispers continue that the Philadelphia Flyers will trade star forward Peter Forsberg and his bulky salary, and sources suggest the Atlanta Thrashers are extremely interested in working out a deal.
The trade deadline in the NHL is about eight weeks away.