WINNIPEG – It was a meeting Manitoba Moose general manager Craig Heisinger wasn’t looking forward to this week.
Heisinger huddled with five-year team captain Mike Keane on Monday to inform him the American Hockey League team wasn’t renewing the 43-year-old forward’s contract.
Keane wanted to play another year, but wasn’t upset with the news and may retire.
“He appreciated and was thankful for his time here,” Heisinger said Tuesday after the club officially announced the move.
“I’m sure he’s disappointed. He indicated to me that retirement was on the horizon.”
The Winnipeg native’s 22-year pro career included 443 AHL games, 1,230 NHL games and Stanley Cup championships with Montreal (1993), Colorado (’96) and Dallas (’99).
“I think it was important that we broaden the base of our leadership group in the dressing room,” Heisinger said of the reasons behind the decision.
“No disrespect to Mike, but that was the strong point of his game, the leadership that he brought. We need to let our younger guys take on a big part of that role.”
Keane had nine goals and 22 assists in 75 games last season, his highest point production since joining the club in 2005-06.
The Moose were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Hamilton. Keane had two points in the six games.
He laced up for 365 games with the Moose, scoring 36 goals and adding 78 assists and 244 penalty minutes.
The move continues a new chapter for the Moose, which hired Claude Noel last month as its head coach after Scott Arniel got the head job with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
“The easy thing I could have done was to let (Keane) play another year, but the responsible and prudent thing was to make this decision now,” Heisinger said.
“I told him we appreciated the five great years he gave us, but it’s time for us to move forward without Mike.”
Keane was unavailable for comment.
“Mike’s Mike, he’s a hockey player,” Heisinger said. “He’s been clear that if it’s over, it’s over, but he’s not commenting on it. That’s for him to decide.”
Keane’s pro career began in 1987 during the playoffs with the AHL Sherbrooke Canadiens. In his 443 AHL games, he recorded 61 goals and 182 points with 314 penalty minutes.
During his NHL career, he played for Montreal, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis, the New York Rangers and Vancouver, the Moose’s parent club. He scored 171 goals and 484 points and logged 947 penalty minutes.
His last NHL stint was in 2003-04 with the Canucks, when he played 64 regular-season games plus seven playoff contests.
“It’s important in Mike’s case that he’s not too disappointed of his career ending here and that it doesn’t spoil all the great memories he’s had over the past 22 years,” Heisinger said.