Jacques Martin won't spend too much time dwelling on the past when he visits an old haunt tonight.
For the first time in his coaching career, Martin will be behind the visitors' bench at the Corel Centre as the Florida Panthers take on the Senators (7:30 p.m., A-Channel).
It's Martin's first game at the Corel Centre since being fired by the Senators on April 22, 2004. But he's more concerned about the fortunes of his current club, which is on a nine-game losing skid, including five one-goal setbacks.
"I haven't had time to look forward. I'm just trying to deal with the day-to-day," said Martin, who was all smiles as he met with his harshest Ottawa media critics yesterday at the University of Ottawa. "I've got enough problems to deal with here. I'm trying to figure out a way to get this team back on track."
But Martin couldn't avoid some difficult questions about his past. He had to defend his decision not to play flashy centre Jason Spezza on a regular basis during the 2004 playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs -- a first-round ouster that spelled the end of his tenure in Ottawa.
Spezza entered last night's games tied for third in NHL scoring.
"To me, we did things the right way with Jason and the way we made decisions were done as an organization." said Martin, whose only regret about his time in Ottawa is not winning the Stanley Cup. "I think the success Jason is having this year shows he was developed the right way.
"Whether people think it was right to send him down (to the AHL, or not play him) was right or not doesn't matter. That's in the past. He's obviously a very talented player and I felt we did a good job."
For eight years, Martin guided the young Senators. But losing to the Leafs for the third time in the post-season, GM John Muckler decided he had to make a change.
That meant coach Bryan Murray was brought in to try to help get this club over the hump in the playoffs.
Being on the other side tonight could be a little awkward for Martin.
"It can be a little strange and a little special the first time you go back," said Panthers GM Mike Keenan, who coached seven NHL teams. "I know the first time I went from Philadelphia to Chicago, it was kind of funny that first time back.
'THE RIGHT COACH'
"I told Jacques when he got fired that everybody gets fired and I knew he was going to bounce back. He's the right coach for this situation because he had the experience of developing young players in Ottawa. That's where we're at right now.
"We're asking him to work with our young players and put us in a competitive situation. I can tell you that if you told a coach he was going to have eight years in one place, he'd take it."
The Panthers' payroll, at $27 million US, is the second lowest in the NHL. And they've been hit hard by injuries, which hasn't helped a young team trying to be competitive.
Martin is trying to get his team back into the Eastern Conference playoff race, but he has been levelled by criticism that the style he uses won't work anymore.
"The system will work," said Florida defenceman Sean Hill, who played for Martin in Ottawa. "The Philadelphia Flyers do the same thing and they've had success with it. We just have to start playing within the system.
"The players respect Jacques. We just have to get the job done."