Murray's priority top-flight goalie

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

A friend of mine spent $13,000 on Senators tickets during their run to the Stanley Cup final in 2007.

He was happy to spend it.

"They're not getting any more of my money," he said the other day, tired of the losing, but, more tellingly, tired of what he preceives to be a lack of effort on the part of the Senators players, the lack of accountability in the organization.

There are many other fans who feel the way my friend does judging by the e-mails and comments on the blogs at ottawasun.com.

With the time for renewing season tickets coming upon the Senators, changing my friend's and those other fans' perception of this city's NHL team winds up being Job 1 for Senators GM Bryan Murray. People might put up with losing to a certain extent if they come away from the rink feeling they got an honest effort for their increasingly hard-earned money.

Losing is bad enough. Losing in front of a growing number of empty seats is death for a GM.

The slide started under coach John Paddock, couldn't be reversed by Murray after he replaced Paddock last year and has continued under Craig Hartsburg.

It has resulted in a low-scoring, losing team that more often than not this season has played tepid hockey.

Not a good combination.

Cory Clouston, promoted from the Binghamton Senators of the AHL, will now get a 34-game audition to try and be another Bruce Boudreau if not in approach (Clouson can be a nasty cuss, apparently; Boudreau is a "players' coach") then in results.

The focus going into last night's game against the Kings was how the Senators would respond to the coaching change and how it will play out over the final 34 games.

But make no mistake about it. Murray is auditioning now to keep his job, as well. Monday's move and those he will make heading into the trade deadline a month from now and those that will follow at the draft will determine how this team will start next season. A start like they had this year and Murray will follow Paddock and Hartsburg to that place where people are paid by owner Eugene Melnyk not to do their jobs.

Is Clouston the answer behind the bench?

He deserves a chance to show what he can do. But it's a bold gamble by Murray, whose job is hanging by a thread and there are proven Stanley Cup winners like Bob Hartley and John Tortorella out there, guys who can be sold to a suffering fan base here and are known for being extremely demanding and capable of making underperforming players fearful of coming to the rink.

"I'm not here to be their friend," Clouston said of his relationship with the players, which is likely welcome news to those fans, like my friend, who want to see some accountability in the Senators organization.

Three men (Murray, twice; Paddock and Hartsburg) have had excellent to dreadful results with this group. Murray has failed in picking the right man to coach this team. Now he is also faced with retooling.

It has to start in net.

Forget about that puck-moving defenceman. How about a puck-stopping goaltender, one that can do it consistently for 65 games? That has been the Achilles heel of this franchise, oh, forever. Rookie Brian Elliott shows potential, but, as expected, is clearly some way from being that player.

INTERESTING CHOICES

That has to be Murray's priority either at the trade deadline (unlikely), at the draft (maybe) or through free agency (best bet).

There are going to be some interesting stoppers coming onto the market this summer. Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez of the Bruins both could be unrestricted free agents come July 1, but the B's would be crazy to let that happen and should sign Thomas. Others include Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen, Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom. One notch below are Florida's Craig Anderson and Washington's Brent Johnson.

Meanwhile, the trade deadline is a month from today.

Murray will be working hard to maximize his returns and arm himself with a warchest going into the draft in Montreal in June.

Then again, if there is little change in the way this team goes about its work over the final 30-odd games under Murray and his latest choice to go behind the bench, what's to say Melnyk won't completely clean house?


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