Who Will Coach the Ottawa Senators in 2011-2012 Season?

It has been a season to forget in Ottawa…

Jason Spezza
Jason Spezza’s Injury Has Hurt Ottawa’s Playoff Chances (Dan4th/Flickr)

A lack of goal scoring from every position, lengthy injuries to several key players, and multiple losing streaks have brought the team from contending for a playoff position to asking, “When will we hit bottom”, as the 2010-2011 edition of the Senators sinks in the standings.

Last week, GM Bryan Murray held meetings with his coaching staff and the players. His message – I am not happy, the organization is not happy and the fans are not happy. On a three-game losing streak at the time, he indicated that their performance over the next few weeks would dictate his moves going forward. The players continue to say all the right things but the result on the ice remains the same. It is safe to assume that changes are coming.

Unfortunately for the Sens, after hearing from Murray they racked up two more losses over the weekend. A tough test in Boston tonight awaits them, leaving their GM and team owner Eugene Melnyk with few options. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported yesterday that the message from Melnyk has arrived – it is time to cut salary and get some contracts off the books. Having said that, Murray has attempted to trade players all season with no success, perhaps as the trade deadline arrives teams will be willing to do business with the Ottawa GM. For now though, mid-round draft picks are all that he can expect in return for his assets – no contending team is willing to give up a roster player or first round pick for Alex Kovalev, Chris Phillips or Jarkko Ruutu (all are set to become UFA’s this summer).

Jarkko Ruutu
A UFA This Summer, Fan Favourite Jarkko Ruutu May Be On The Move

While the discussion of cutting salary and making trades has Ottawa hockey fans wondering what will become of their team, the conversation also includes the question of Cory Clouston. Will he remain the bench boss for the rest of this season? In the final year of his contract, will he return to the team next year? Can he be blamed for the lack of effort or is it Murray’s player acquisitions that have handcuffed his coaching abilities?

Most reports out of Ottawa indicate that if the losing continues, an unhappy Eugene Melnyk will want a coaching change. Considering that the team has already gone through John Paddock and Craig Hartsburg as coaches under Murray’s reign, most expect it is Bryan Murray himself that will step behind the bench again as he has done in the past if Clouston is indeed let go. What better way for a GM to analyze his team’s performance than from behind the bench. It could also be said, if you are a glass half-empty kind of person, this is Murray’s mess and he should be the one to clean it up.

A new coach should have the opportunity to start fresh next season with a revamped roster and there are several high profile candidates ready to step in should a position become available in Ottawa.

Cory Clouston: While it is unlikely that Clouston will return next season, it remains a possibility and so he is on the list of coaching candidates. With injuries to Pascal Leclaire and Jason Spezza, a lacklustre season from Alex Kovalev and several key players, and the failure of management to provide him with a much-needed top-six forward, is he to blame for the rut this team is in? It can be argued that his system does not work, but do not forget, his name was mentioned as a possible Coach of the Year candidate last season after a franchise record 11-game winning streak.

His record behind the bench in Ottawa (79-63-16) indicates he can win – just not this year. He may be offered another season to turn things around if his players can put together a few wins in the second half of the season.

Bob Hartley: The native of Hawkesbury, Ontario (about an hour East of Ottawa) can be considered a “local guy” and he is ready and willing to coach in the NHL again. His last appearance behind the bench was in Atlanta, where he was fired six games into the 2007-2008 season. A Calder Cup winner with the Hershey Bears (1996-97 season) and a Stanley Cup champion with the Colorado Avalanche (2000-01), he knows how to win, which is an attitude desperately needed in Ottawa. He also brought the Atlanta Thrashers to their one and only playoff appearance (2006-07).

His career win/loss record of 329-226-61-34 (W/L/T/OTL) in the NHL is impressive, as are the five division titles he won with Colorado and Atlanta. A real “systems” guy, he is not a player’s coach, but perhaps that is what the Senators need at this time if they cannot improve their roster – a system that can grind out some 2-1 and 3-2 wins as their young stars in Binghamton mature into legitimate NHL players.

Ken Hitchcock: A veteran NHL coach, it is not likely that he will end up in Ottawa, but his name is often mentioned when changes are made behind the bench on any team. Another coach with an impressive resume – Hitchcock has coached 1,042 games in the NHL (534-350-88-70) with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is a big believer in his system of play but players have complained in the past that it is too stifling and complicated.

Is Hitchcock the right fit for Ottawa? Perhaps not, but he does bring a winning attitude and a no-nonsense approach, which could help the under-achieving Sens players. He has a Stanley Cup (1998-99) with Dallas and two Olympic gold medals as an assistant coach with Team Canada in 2002 and 2010. However, as THW’s own Jeff Little pointed out in a recent Blue Jackets article, Hitchcock is a fan of his veteran players; Ottawa will be a younger squad next year, especially on defence. Is Hitchcock ready to let Jared Cowen, Eric Gryba, and Patrick Wiercioch learn from their mistakes on the ice and not from the press box?

Dave Cameron: Perhaps the most popular choice among fans in Ottawa and the most likely scenario if a coaching change occurs; Cameron is already on Melnyk’s payroll as the head coach of the Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors in the Ontario Hockey League. He played 168 games in the NHL with the Colorado Rockies and the New Jersey Devils and coached in the American Hockey League and the OHL. In fact, Cameron was behind the bench with the Binghamton Senators for three seasons, coaching current Ottawa players Jason Spezza, Chris Neil, and Chris Kelly while they were in Bingo.

Cameron recently coached Team Canada at the World Junior Tournament and the St. Mike’s Majors are hosting the CHL’s Memorial Cup this year, so he is certainly not available as a mid-season replacement in Ottawa. If Bryan Murray makes a change soon and steps behind the bench himself, Melnyk would be happy to see Cameron rewarded for his loyalty to his organizations. Another coach with that will put a system in place, one that does not rely on having an abundance of “star power”; Cameron can work to develop the Sens prospects while already having experience with a player like Spezza.

A few of my candidates if a coaching change occurs in Ottawa, what do you think? Leave a comment on these four coaches or make a suggestion of your own. With each loss, it becomes clear that changes are coming in Canada’s capital.

9 thoughts on “Who Will Coach the Ottawa Senators in 2011-2012 Season?”

  1. In my opinion Murray is a cancer to this club. The Heatley deal destroyed this franchise. Milan Michalek is the weakest first liner this team has seen post lock-out(TRADE HIM), and Johnathan Cheechoo is back in San Jose playing for their farm team(shady). Leclaire is the biggest joke in goal tending, I’m honestly starting to miss Ray Emery. Kovalev is being judged to harshly by EVERYONE, the man has incredible talent that said, he has never been a high point player, he’s not being “lazy” he’s being Kovalev, anyone expecting him to put up big numbers should review his career statistics, as for his extremely overpaid salary once again the finger should be pointed at Murray(how many people would be fine with Kovalev if he was making 2-3 million). On the note of high salaries, Jason Spezza. Hands down the best/most skilled player currently in Ottawa, fans need to realize this is Spezza’s career/business, if the man is offered a 7 million dollar a year contract for putting up 90 point seasons he’s going to take it, don’t blame him if he has no one to pass to anymore with Heatleys departure and Alfredssons decline, he’s a set-up man not a goal scorer. My ideal 2011-2012 season would consist of not re-signing/dropping/trading/buying-out Leclaire, Kovalev, Kuba, Campoli, Michalek, Regin, Shannon, Rutuu, Neil. Fill the void however you want but I’d have my eye on (G) Bryzgalov, Anderson, Nabokov. (D) Bieksa, Kaberle, Markov. MOST IMPORTANT! (F) SEMIN, Brad Richards, Justin Williams, Tim Connolly. All/any of these guys can fit/help this team with a solid rebuild……Keep Clouston for 1 more year with a new fresh/younger team see what he can do with maximum potential, if it’s a bust ship him out early. Murray’s in his last year of contract don’t expect to see him return as GM.

    My two cents, apologies for the improper grammar & punctuation…

  2. I think has two problems. One being that he is stuck on the older players who thrived 5-7 years ago. Look at who he has picked up, as we’ve all mentioned. He never seems to pick up younger players (except the soft-headed Leclaire). Since most of the players who are actually worth anything (Alfredsson, Gonchar, Philips) are getting up in age, no one wants to take on their contracts.

    His second problem is his lack of a cut-throat attitude. He grew up in the Ottawa Valley (as I did) and we’re comparable to jolly Maritimers. I think that he tries to see the good in all of his players and the potentials he thinks that they have. Bad idea in the winning industry. If a player isn’t performing well enough, he should be gone if he’s had enough chances (*cough* Kovalev). Furthermore, I bet other GMs can walk on him so he gets terrible trades and shotty contracts. I think Mr. Murray needs to hang-out with Brian Burke (please don’t “Boo” me).

  3. More great comments – thanks everyone!

    There is no doubt that this is Bryan Murray’s mess… He’s having difficulty making trades because he has very few assets another team would actually want…

    Having said that, Eugene Melnyk seems to be a big fan of Murray… With 30 years in the NHL, I can’t help but wonder if he’ll get the same deal as Darryl Sutter in Calgary – the “chance” to “step-down” this summer – and become an advisor to the team…

    After last night’s 6-0 loss in Boston though, I am starting to think a clean sweep is coming – and soon! The game against the Islanders on Thursday could decide everyone’s future with the club…

  4. This is murray’s mess. He gave us kovalev, gonchar, leclaire…all going nowhere fast and all had ‘big promise’ when he brought them here. He knew what he was getting in kovalev. Gonchar is worse than worse, and leclaire…porceline, chocolate whatever…is part of our goalie graveyard. Four coaches in three years…what makes anyone think it’s his fault. Do the players not have any pride in ANYTHING??? Kuba, Lee, Campoli…all for a broken hockey stick and we would get the better end of the trade. Our team, full of veterans and overpaid pima donas is donating a 20 year old kid, who is spending his first full year in the NHL, to the All-Star Game. Get rid of Murray and get someone in there who can get some GOOD players. Then again…who would we trade that anyone would want?

  5. As a severely depressed Ottawa native and die-hard Senators fan I have to say I am sick and tired of seeing AHL level coaches being given their ‘shot’ in Ottawa. I understand that the team is still paying a salary to John Paddock (who?) and Craig Hartsburg. I’m really fed up with Murray and most fans have been asking for him to be fired since the Heatley debacle. My choices would be #1 Ted Nolan because he is passionate and knows how to motivate players and he commands loyalty; #2 Bob Hartley because of his strong track record as an NHL coach and finally #3 wildcard pick would be Mike Keenan who also knows how to win at this level. I want a coach that won’t make excuses to save his own ass!

  6. Good article, I agree that Clouston is not entirely to blame for this mess, I like the guy and part of me wants him to keep his job but it is possible that this team is no longer responding to him and could be doing better under the leadership of somebody else. I have also been a huge Murray supporter since he arrived but he definitely deserves the majority of blame for this debacle. I also envision Murray taking over the coaching of the Sens for the rest of the season, at least then we will see if it was Clouston not being able to rally the troops, or if Murray has just done a poor job putting a hockey team together. On another note, I can’t help but wonder whether Ottawa would be playing better if they had a reliable and consistent goaltender to depend on. We all know how much a reliable goalie can feed a team’s confidence and my Senators are obviously playing with little to no confidence at the moment. I say if we’re not sticking with Clouston, give Dave Cameron a shot at righting this sinking ship next season.

  7. Thanks for leaving a comment Sarah and sharing your thoughts on the Sens!

    There are certainly a few things going on in Ottawa that can’t fall on Clouston completely – he’s working with the team he was given… but it may be better for his career and the team if he moves on. If they keep struggling, I’d expect Bryan Murray to take over the coaching duties for the rest of the season.

    The Gonchar deal didn’t bother me at the time, but it’s clearly not working out… Kovalev – don’t get me started on that signing…

    I like the idea of Cameron coming to town after the Memorial Cup. He has a history with some of the players already here and can work with the young guys in the organization – It would be a good fit.

    Another name I thought about mentioning in the article was Guy Carbonneau… Not sure though if he’s really on the radar in Ottawa…

  8. I think that Clouston’s career should be stopped now. I don’t believe that he is necessarily a bad coach, but his system isn’t working in Ottawa. It isn’t entirely his fault though. The Sens poor performance is a cumulation of the roster, coaching staff, and general manager. Bryan Murray, in my opinion, is a far better coach than GM. Look at some of the deals he’s made… EEK. Although I love Sergei Gonchar, he reached his prime awhile ago, or how about Kovalev. I don’t think I need to go into detail there.

    I personally am a fan of Ken Hitchcock, based on his credentials but favouring older players will be unfortunate for Ottawa.

    Cameron does fit the bill if developing young players if where Ottawa is headed (which hopefully it is). If Cameron can help do in Ottawa what happened in Chicago or Pittsburgh, then I’d be a very happy Sens fan. However, we have to look forward to the draft. Hopefully we can sign someone worthwhile – not another Alex Daigle or Brian Lee.

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