SUNRISE, Fla. Mike Keenan was supposed to change the Florida Panthers' fortunes. When he couldn't, they changed coaches.
Keenan's two-year coaching stint with the Panthers ended Sunday, one day after general manager Rick Dudley told owner Alan Cohen that the move was necessary. Dudley will take over as coach on an interim basis, and said he has already contacted candidates for the permanent job.
''It was done simply because we felt the potential of this team was such that we wanted to play at a maximum or optimal level,'' Dudley said Sunday. ''We did not feel we were doing that at this time.''
Keenan joined the Panthers in December 2001, and last season, his first full campaign with the team, they finished 24-36-13-9.
Only five of the other 29 NHL teams had fewer points this season than the Panthers, who are off to a 5-8-2 start and won just 45 of the 153 games they played under Keenan.
Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said he returned a phone message from Keenan at 4 a.m. Sunday, after his wife said Keenan called to inform him of the firing. Jokinen called it ''the toughest phone call I've ever had to make.''
''It was the players who let him down, because we didn't win the games,'' Jokinen said. ''It's always up to the players. You shouldn't be afraid to play. You shouldn't lose your confidence. But like I said, you have to look at the big picture and hopefully Rick can turn this program around.''
Keenan was fired after the Panthers' 2-0 loss Saturday night in St. Louis. Dudley said that had little impact as changes had been discussed long before the loss.
Keenan was not available for comment Sunday, according to team officials.
Attempts by The Associated Press to reach him by telephone were not successful.
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