Mike Keenan has been a lightning rod for years, from benching top players to aggravating opponents.
Until last week, the Florida Panthers general manager had limited his dealings to the NHL. Now some believe he has made a travesty of the AHL, loaning San Antonio’s top two prospects, forward Stephen Weiss and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (above), to Chicago for cash. Then the Panthers sent standout defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski to St. John’s and loaned former Wolf Pack wing Paul Healey to Edmonton.
Loans are made every year as teams try to improve before finalizing playoff rosters and in-residence lists, which must be submitted by noon today. The Pack loaned John Jakopin to Binghamton last year, but the defenseman had become a spare. Weiss, the Rampage’s leading scorer, and Bouwmeester, a standout for gold medal-winning Canada in the 2003 world championships, were third and fourth overall picks that would be in the NHL if not for the lockout. Can’t imagine West Division teams, especially then first-place Milwaukee, were pleased when they learned of Chicago’s inheritance.
Keenan said he wanted Weiss and Bouwmeester to get playoff experience as pros. The Rampage were 11 points out of the final playoff spot in the West Division but had a quarter of the season left. What Keenan didn’t say is the independently owned Wolves, 5-0 since the deal, reportedly paid Florida $50,000 for the duo and will fork over another $50,000 for each playoff round they win, an AHL source said.
But what about San Antonio fans, especially season ticket holders? Can they get 25 percent of their money back? The Rampage have 11 of their final 15 postloan games at home after being away for 12 games because a rodeo was in town.
“It’s ridiculous, just really bad business,” Lowell coach Tom Rowe said. “I don’t understand how it can happen. I guess I’m a little more sensitive because, on the business side in Lowell, if someone had done that to us I would have been really upset. San Antonio ownership is a class organization and doing everything they can to sell tickets and have a successful franchise. When you see your two best players leave town, it’s kind of demoralizing.
“The other side of it is the poor kids who are still there. I just don’t know how the heck that’s right. I guess Chicago is the New York Yankees of our league.”
The AHL is not to blame for Keenan’s moves, which were legal but sent plenty of bad messages, including to Rampage players, who had to wonder why Bouwmeester earned a promotion after being a team-worst minus-22. They showed how they felt by losing 2-1, 1-0 and 8-0 in the five days following the March 8 deal.