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Panthers reunite Keenan, Martin

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Published May 27, 2004

SUNRISE - The Panthers have big changes in mind for next season, and to meet those expectations, they hired two big names.

Jacques Martin and Mike Keenan, who have more than three decades of history together, were reunited Wednesday.

Martin, a four-time coach of the year finalist who was fired last month by the Senators, replaces interim coach John Torchetti. Keenan takes over as general manager, replacing Rick Dudley, who fired Keenan 61/2 months ago.

"When I got the call, I had to replay my message again just to make sure I heard it correctly," goalie Roberto Luongo said. "Mike knows what needs to be addressed, who needs to go, who needs to stay and who he's got to bring in. It's a positive for our hockey club."

The Panthers are one of only five teams to have missed the playoffs the past four seasons, and owner Alan Cohen said he has grown impatient with incremental progress.

"I think I've put ourselves in a very, very stable position," he said. "Jacques and Mike are going to take us to the next level."

Martin is the team's fourth coach in less than seven months. Keenan was fired Nov. 9. Dudley replaced Keenan, going 13-15-9-3 before turning the team over to his assistant, Torchetti. He went 10-12-4-1.

The status of coaches and other staff already under contract with the organization, including Torchetti, has not been decided, Martin said.

"There's lots of work to be done here," Martin said. "It's a great challenge for everybody. I'm really excited about this, to build this team to where it should be."

Dudley lobbied Cohen to hire Torchetti. Cohen, instead, fired Dudley on Monday then hired Martin, the 1999 coach of the year who led Ottawa to three division titles in 81/2 seasons.

Martin was 341-255-96 in the regular season with Ottawa but 31-38 in the playoffs.

"He's the best coach in the National Hockey League," Keenan said. "For that reason, I think it's a tremendous future for all of us. It's certainly a challenge and an opportunity that I'll embrace."

Keenan and Martin were part of the hockey program at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York in the early 1970s. Keenan was a senior captain, Martin a freshman goaltender. Later, as coach of the Peterborough Petes in the Ontario Hockey League, Keenan hired Martin as a scout.

Later, Martin worked as an assistant for Keenan in Chicago, the second of Keenan's seven coaching stops. Florida dismissed him in 2003 after winning only 45 of 153 games.

"I didn't want to leave the game that way," Keenan said.

Martin's departure from Ottawa, where he had the league's longest coaching tenure when he was fired, also was brought on by playoff failures. Ottawa lost in the first round this year to Toronto, the fourth time in the past five seasons the Senators' season ended against the Maple Leafs.

"We've got a coach now who had a winning record over eight years," Panthers center Olli Jokinen said. "He built that team over there, and he's well-respected around the league. He's going to help our team a lot."

BLUE JACKETS: Enforcer Jody Shelley, who was fourth in the league in penalty minutes this season, re-signed for two years. Financial terms were not disclosed. The left wing had three goals, three assists and 228 penalty minutes in 76 games last season.

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