'Coach killers' strike again

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

At 12:36 p.m. yesterday, Cory Clouston blew his whistle, gathered the players around the net in the home end at Scotiabank Place and the latest in a long line of new eras for the Senators officially began.

The Senators players are gaining quite a reputation around the NHL as coach killers.

While Clouston told reporters he was "excited," he might not be sure exactly what he's getting himself into. These players have proven they can outlast their coaches.

Clouston's facing a big challenge as he makes his debut tonight against the Kings.

"I want us to play to our potential," said Clouston, the ninth coach in Senators history. "I don't know what's going to happen as far as math adds up and, for sure, we're still mathematically in (the playoff race). But that's not our focus.

"Our focus is to play at the level that we're capable of playing as a team. Obviously, we have to evaluate some of these players. We still feel that this team can be good and we have to go from there."

It was only appropriate that Hartsburg was fired on Groundhog Day, ushering in the fourth Senators coach in less than a calendar year.

Somewhere in Philadelphia, John Paddock -- whose firing Feb. 27, 2008, gave way to Bryan Murray as coach before Hartsburg was hired for this season -- must feel some redemption. It's clear Paddock, now coaching the AHL's Phantoms, wasn't the problem here.

LOOKING GRIM

Murray said the latest firing puts the onus on the players. The GM has a month to decide if he's going to be a buyer or seller at the trade deadline. While the Senators aren't mathematically eliminated from the post-season, the prospects are grim.

But Murray was emphatic he hasn't determined what direction the club will take. He will spend the next month evaluating the talent and trying to come up with a plan.

There have been many so many players who are having bad seasons, it's difficult to name all the culprits.

Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher, Anton Volchenkov, Chris Phillips and Antoine Vermette are just a few of the underachievers.

"We've made another coaching change. We now have to watch the players for a period of time and then decide who stays and who doesn't stay," said Murray. "There was that gap of a couple of years in the draft and we felt last year was a very good year.

"The problem with giving players away or trading a player for a draft pick ... (People) are worried about my job, I'm just worried about the kids growing up before I pass on.

"I'd like to be a competitive team sooner than later. That's why my intent here is to get as many players as we can in the fold, get them to perform at the level they are (capable of) and then the guys that don't, shuffle them out and hope to bring someone in.

The term "coach killer" was being thrown around pretty loosely in the dressing room. It's up to the players, who don't like that label, to prove they don't deserve it.

So, what are the Senators made of?

Murray has a pretty good idea, but wants to give the players the benefit of the doubt and spend the next three weeks evaluating before giving some of these guys a one-way ticket to teams looking to bulk up for the playoffs.

BOUDREAU EFFECT

"I might have waited two weeks too long," admitted Murray.

The Senators are hopeful this coaching change will turn out like the Bruce Boudreau hiring in Washington, where an AHL bench boss has proven effective at the NHL level.

The worst-case scenario is that Senators history repeats itself; that this change has the same effect as the hiring of Dave Allison, who won just two games behind the Ottawa bench.

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FOR THE RECORD, HARTSBURG JOINS LONG FIRING LINE

RICK BOWNESS

(Coach 1992-95)

RECORD: 39-178-18

DAVE ALLISON

(Coach 1995-96)

RECORD: 2-22-1

JACQUES MARTIN

(Coach 1996-2004)

RECORD: 341-255-96

JOHN PADDOCK

(Coach 2007-2008)

RECORD: 36-23-6

THE OTHERS

Roger Neilson (2002) 1-1-0

Bryan Murray (2005-2007) 100-46-18

*Bryan Murray (2008) 7-9-2

Craig Hartsburg (2008-2009) 17-23-7.

* GM Murray put himself behind the bench for the rest of the season after John Paddock was fired on Feb. 27, 2008.


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