Clouston failed when it mattered

JASON YORK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:48 PM ET

Although many would call the campaign that just ended a lost season, there is plenty of reason for hope in Senators Nation.

After Craig Anderson came to the capital in a trade for Brian Elliott two months ago, the Senators looked like a different team with new stability in net. Jason Spezza is emerging as a two-way force and thrived with more ice time and new leadership responsibilities late in the season. The team's many callups from AHL Binghamton generally looked impressive, and the Senators appeared more confident and sure of themselves in the final months. 

Cory Clouston did a nice job making sure his team did not quit on him, but unfortunately for him, he won't be around to continue the rebuilding process after being fired on Saturday.

As far as I'm concerned, you have to give credit where credit is due, and the Senators under Clouston's direction could easily have tanked the last 20 games of the season, just like the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers, and stayed in the hunt for a top-two draft pick. Instead, the Senators played hard and now have something to build on for next season.

Although I give Clouston credit for this late-season push, you can't ignore how badly the team played for the first 60 games when the real pressure of getting into the playoffs was on.

The NHL is a results-oriented business, and when you miss the post-season, someone has to pay the price. When you spend to the cap and play well below expectations, someone has to be held accountable -- and in this case it was Clouston.

The excuses for the Senators' poor play have been well-documented: Injuries to key players such as Pascal Leclaire, various players having off years and just plain bad luck. But the bottom line is every team has to deal with injuries, inconsistent play and various misfortunes.

Under Clouston, the Senators faltered badly and were not able to deal with the ups and downs of a long NHL season. Throughout his tenure, the team played it best hockey when it was out of the playoff hunt -- in other words, when the pressure was off. When  Clouston took over a few years back, the team had hit rock bottom. The players had a nothing-to-lose attitude and performed well for the former AHL bench boss.

Again late this season, with the pressure off, the team out of the race and many of its key players traded away, the Senators once again hit rock bottom. It wasn't until then, when the pressure was completely off, that the team started playing decent hockey.

This season's edition of the Senators should feel proud of its late-season turnaround and fans should be excited about the future. But the rebuilding effort will not happen overnight.

A new coach will likely be hired in the near future. If the last two years have shown anything, it's that the team has to find a way to capture that late-season magic a lot earlier if it wants to avoid another coaching search two years from now.


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