If ever a team was in need of a major shakeup, it is todayís Ottawa Senators.
At the crossroads of their season, they are taking a painfully slow turn south. They have dropped three straight games to non-playoff teams, with the latest easily the greatest embarrassment in a growing line of humiliating defeats at Scotiablank Place.†
Against the leagueís 28th-place team and a goalie making his first-ever NHL start, only narrowly did they avoid their sixth shutout of the season on home ice.
Their bill-paying customers have now witnessed eight losses the last 10 times theyíve trekked out to Kanata. During that steaming heap of manure on the schedule, the Senators have given them very little to cheer about, scoring just 16 goals.
A spanking from the rival Leafs combined with Sundayís results leaves them eight points out of a playoff spot, still two games from the midway point of their season, so no, they are not yet dead. But they arenít breathing very well, either. In fact, they may only have a few gasps left.
The Senators are screaming for an injection of something, and with four full days of practice before their next game, this would appear the right time for it to be administered.
This would seem to be the appropriate moment to put coach Cory Clouston out of his misery.
Clouston is in the final season of his contract, and right now it is unimaginable that he will be coming back for more. Why prolong his agony? He seems like a decent man and by all accounts he gives everything he has to his job.
Either way, he does not deserve the way heís being treated by these players. If they are in fact still listening to his message, if they havenít indeed quit on him ... well, thatís not the impression they are giving.
Is Clouston a good coach? Guess yes. But we donít really know. Is he the problem? There are rumblings some of the players donít like him. But if thatís why theyíre playing like they are, theyíre the problem.†
Likely, this group just isnít good enough no matter who is coaching it. Not helping is that young guys like Peter Regin, Nick Foligno and Milan Michalek have not produced as expected, that veterans like Alex Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba have mostly stunk, that high-priced help like Jason Spezza and Pascal Leclaire are injured, and that the goaltending has been as bad as everyone knew it was.
Generally speaking, Bryan Murrayís moves have not worked out, and for that, he is to take his generous share of the blame. But for those who want owner Eugene Melnyk to dismiss Murray during this, the final year of his contract, forget it. Murray has Melnykís respect and his ear. He also has 30 years of NHL experience and a good birth certificate. Murray has his detractors, but he is a Shawville guy who also has very many friends in this region. For Melnyk to not allow him the dignity of finishing out what might be his last season in the game could turn into a huge public relations mistake.†
Murray is at the world junior tournament in Buffalo until Tuesday, so donít be surprised if Clouston is the guy running practice when the Senators return to work from Sundayís day off. If there is to be a change, it wonít be done over the phone.
Also, it should come not as a shock if the Senators remain with the status quo. Thereís a chance that Melnyk has been convinced this mess is all the playerís doing, and that theyíre simply being pulled down by the injuries and their own self doubts.
ďI donít think anyoneís not trying out there,Ē Foligno said when questioned about an effort level that appears to be nowhere near where it should. ďI think weíre overthinking too much, therefore weíre making mistakes.Ē
Neil blasts teammates
Thatís a slightly different opinion than the one Chris Neil has shared with the media on two of the last three Saturday nights. Neil says that not all the Senators are working hard enough. Against the Leafs, there were probably about 20,000 people in the building who would have agreed.
A couple of years ago the Senators needed a jolt, and they were finally given it when their play cost Craig Hartsburg his job. Hartsburg was replaced by Clouston, who coached the team to a 19-11 finish, and it was widely believed that had Murray made the move a little earlier, Ottawa might have kept intact its run of playoff appearances.
Maybe a coaching switch does save this season. But with former coach John Paddock finally off the books and Hartsburg only due a few more cheques, Melnyk probably isnít going to be too crazy about the idea of paying yet another man to be the coach of the team this season.
If itís somebody other than Clouston behind the bench for the second half of the season, it only makes sense that itís Murray.
Surely, thatís the way Melnyk would want it and, if this is going to be the final year of his long career, itís the way the proud Murray should want it, too. If heís going down, he isnít exactly the type to let somebody else do his fighting.
1. Bryan Murray
2. Bob Hartley
3. Rick Wamsley
4. Guy Carbonneau
5. Craig MacTavish