The next biggest question is one that cannot yet be asked.
Who is the Senators next coach?
With one game to go, owner Eugene Melnyk and “new” GM Bryan Murray can’t even admit the current guy will not be returning.
But make no mistake about it — when Cory Clouston leaves his post behind the Senators bench around 3:40 Saturday afternoon, it will be for the last time. When he walks out of TD Garden in Boston a half hour later, the next time he gets back into the place it’ll be with a ticket. Or as a member of somebody’s else staff.
Murray isn’t bringing him back because Murray doesn’t want him back. That plain, that simple.
And so Murray will get yet another chance to hire the right guy as his replacement. Apparently, three strikes is not an out in Melnyk’s eyes.
Since coaching the Senators to the Cup finals in 2007, Murray has handed the reins to John Paddock, Craig Hartsburg and Clouston. In each case, he’s been forced to admit he made a mistake.
How does Melnyk give him another crack at it? Well, maybe it’s because Murray has convinced his boss that he can get the guy he knows he should have hired instead of Hartsburg — Stanley Cup ring owner Bob Hartley. Or maybe Murray is on board with the idea of hiring Dave Cameron, a loyal employee of Melnyk’s OHL team, the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
Mike Eaves, Kevin Dineen, Randy Cunneyworth, Kirk Muller ... one of the veteran NHL coaches who could fall through thin ice if they don’t win in the playoffs ... all sorts of possibilities. All sorts of candidates to become the fourth coach Murray has to fire as coach of the Senators.
He has struck gold with his hirings before. Mike Babcock is living proof of that. But Murray has had no such good fortune in Ottawa.
For his part, Clouston was supposed to be a stop-gap measure. He was promoted from Binghamton when Hartsburg failed. Murray knew of his shortcomings when it came to dealing with players, but Clouston pushed the right buttons with his system.
This year, he couldn’t quite find them.
“Just the experience of going through a season like this, to me it only makes you a stronger and better coach,” Clouston said — when asked how he’s evolved as a coach since coming into the league two Februarys ago — after his last practice at Scotiabank Place. “The things that we faced this year, I’ve never faced before. I’ve never had to deal with a situation where you’ve had your No. 1 goaltender go down for basically the rest of the season ... your backup goalie struggles ... I’ve never had to go through a season where we’ve had that many key injuries, and that many of your key guys come off of surgery, and had slow starts.
“I’ve never had a situation where we’ve had to not practice with a full roster for a big chunk of the season.
“Those things are all things I haven’t gone through, so in my mind they’ll make me a better coach, just by having those experiences.
“To me, you try to learn every day.”
Murray is a charmer, a great salesman, and a wise hockey man. As far as his scouting staff and the rest of his upper management is concerned, he has put the proper people in place.
Has Murray learned from his trials and errors of hiring a coach?
The Senators only hope so.