Clouston deserved another shot with Senators

EARL McRAE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 PM ET

Cory Clouston should not have been fired as head coach of the resurgent Ottawa Senators. One wonders if Clouston, at age 31, is aware of the patience a general manager once showed his executioner, Bryan Murray, as a novice head coach in the NHL.

Murray likely would have cried unfair had David Poile bounced him from the Washington Capitals.

In Murray’s first season, the Capitals missed the playoffs. In his second season, the team went out in the first round of the playoffs, three games to one in the best-of-five series to the Islanders.

In Murray’s third season, his team went out four games to one to the Islanders in the second round.

In Murray’s five subsequent seasons, the Caps went out in the first, second, first, second, first rounds of the playoffs. Poile had kept believing in him. Only after the last playoff loss was he fired.

When Clouston took over the hapless Senators from Craig Hartsburg midway through the 2008-09 season, the team impressively turned around under him, but too late for it to make the playoffs. No fault of Clouston’s. The next season under him it made the playoffs, losing in the first round to Pittsburgh.

A team’s effectiveness is relative to that of the players a general manager gives his head coach to work with, and this season there were some acquisitional duds. It’s doubtful the coaching brain of Clouston somehow atrophied from last season to this.

The proof is the team’s last-quarter hot streak under the same Cory Clouston when it dumped players, replaced them with some hot and hungry from Binghamton, and — most significant of all — finally found a solid goaltender to replace the two inferior ones Murray had signed.

If the Senators had continued to stink after these moves, then an argument could have been made against Clouston; and not one that some players just didn’t like him. All teams have players who don’t like their coaches. Players with character rise above personal animosities.

The success of the newly-constructed Ottawa Senators in the last part of the season, coupled with the rebuilding to come, was more than enough high promise for next season for Cory Clouston to have been afforded another shot as head coach.

There is no reason to believe the team will prosper better under a new head coach, even one, if the club brass is thinking this way, with “proven” NHL experience, as if that somehow is the key.

Every head coach in the NHL at one time, like Clouston, didn’t have any NHL experience as a head coach. Dan Bylsma of Pittsburgh won a Stanley Cup his first season, made the conference final the second, this season finished second in the conference.

Guy Boucher, who’d never played in the NHL, and, like Clouston, had head coached in junior and the AHL, has taken Tampa Bay to the playoffs this, his rookie season.

Marc Crawford played in the NHL, has “proven” NHL success as a head coach, which includes a Stanley Cup with Colorado. But in his last four seasons as head coach with four different teams, he’s missed the playoffs.

Barry Trotz had never played in the NHL, only coached junior. His first five seasons as head coach of Nashville, the team missed the playoffs. His general manager didn’t fire him. He didn’t conclude he was over his head, that he couldn’t coach in the NHL.

He believed in him. He showed patience. The GM was, and is, David Poile, the same man who was the boss of Bryan Murray in Washington.

Barry Trotz’s Nashville Predators made the playoffs the next three seasons, missed one, made one again, and this season made the playoffs again. Would Barry Trotz, in his early years with the Predators, have kept his job had Eugene Melnyk and Bryan Murray been his bosses?

Bob Hartley’s name had been thrown up as one who has front-running credentials to head coach the Senators. Why? Because he has a Stanley Cup ring from 11 years ago with Colorado? After that — with Atlanta, his last waltz in the NHL — he missed the playoffs three seasons, got knocked out in round one a fourth season, was fired in mid-season of the next.

The Ottawa Senators didn’t make the playoffs this season. Neither did 13 other teams. Several of them with head coaches who have more “proven” NHL experience than Cory Clouston.

Some with less glittery previous credentials than Cory Clouston: Alberta Junior Hockey League coach of the year (1996); WHL coach of the year twice (2005, 2007); CHL coach of the year (2005).

Cory Clouston: Victim of wrongful assault.

earl.mcrae@sunmedia.ca


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