Sens' coach search almost over

Senators GM Bryan Murray is expected to hire a coach in the next two weeks. (TONY CALDWELL/QMI...

Senators GM Bryan Murray is expected to hire a coach in the next two weeks. (TONY CALDWELL/QMI Agency)

Bruce Garrioch, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:03 PM ET

The wait is nearly over for Bryan Murray.

Almost two months after summoning Cory Clouston to an Ottawa airport lounge following the club’s final regular-season game in April to fire him, the Senators GM’s search for a replacement is now in high gear.

Current assistant coaches Paul MacLean, of the Red Wings, and Kirk Muller, of the Canadiens, have been interviewed, as has former Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish. Junior coaches Dave Cameron and Gerard Gallants have had their face-to-face sitdowns with Murray, too. The GM will talk to Binghamton coach Kurt Kleinendorst after the AHL final.

While fans might feel Murray has been dragging his feet and wondering what is taking so long, that’s not the case.

Instead, he was waiting to see what the talent pool might hold once the dust settled on the NHL playoffs.

“Right now, if you’ve got a good coach, you’d better keep him,” a league executive said recently. “The pool in the coaching ranks is a little thin right now. A lot of the good, proven ones are taken.”

When the search started for Murray, there were four other openings — Dallas, Florida, New Jersey and Minnesota — in the NHL. Longtime NHLer Kevin Dineen, a top prospect, was introduced as Florida’s new coach Wednesday.

The Senators decided to wait because they wanted to see how the playoffs shook down. There was a belief if a few teams took early exits, there could have been good coaches available.

Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault, Boston’s Claude Julien, San Jose’s Todd McLellan and Washington’s Bruce Boudreau were all feeling heat. Of that group, Boudreau felt a little heat after being eliminated in Round 2, but was retained.

McLellan was able to get to the Western Conference final, while Vigneault and Julien are battling it out in the Stanley Cup final. Any of that trio would have been attractive to Murray and he owed it to himself to wait.

The top choice likely would have been Julien. The Senators tried to get him in 2007 before they hired John Paddock, but Julien— who had been fired by the Devils — had already agreed to a contract with the Bruins.

Now, the Senators must turn in a different direction to find the right man to lead them. Interviews will be wrapped up by early next week and then Murray is going to have to decide if he needs to take a second look.

The Senators would like to have a coach in place by the NHL draft June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn.

The choice will difficult, but Murray has to make sure he gets this right.

Especially after a few misses.

 

Here’s a look at the candidates:

 

PAUL MacLEAN

The Detroit assistant coach could be ready to make the next step. He has spent five seasons as an assistant with Wings coach Mike Babcock. MacLean was in the running for the coaching job with the Blue Jackets that went to Scott Arniel last year. MacLean, a former NHLer, has minor-league head-coaching experience. He was also an assistant with Babcock in Anaheim when Bryan Murray was the GM of the Ducks. There is familiarity there. If the Senators decide to go this route, MacLean would be a safe choice.

 

CRAIG MacTAVISH

In seven seasons behind the Oilers bench, he took Edmonton to the Stanley Cup final during a miraculous run in 2006. He had a young team in a small market and wasn’t always blessed with a lot of talent. He’s known in coaching circles as somebody who can communicate and teach. The key for MacTavish in this race: He has NHL head-coaching experience. This is an important choice for GM Bryan Murray. The Senators are going to be selling the future. The guy behind the bench will play a key role in all of this.

 

KURT KLEINENDORST

The Senators owe it to the coach of their AHL affiliate to give him a shot at the job. He has taken Binghamton to the Calder Cup final against the Houston Aeros and was able to get to the playoffs after dealing with numerous callups down the stretch. Pro scouts call the job Kleinendorst, 50, has done remarkable. He is demanding but fair with the players. The Senators are going to be young next season. They’re going to have enough players on the roster who are familiar with Kleinendorst. If the Baby Sens win the title, Kleinendorst is more attractive.

 

DAVE CAMERON

He gets owner Eugene Melnyk’s “vote” for the top job. Yes, that’s strong backing for the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors coach, who has been in Melnyk’s stable for years. Cameron is regarded as a strong coach in a lot of circles, but many wonder if he’s ready to make the jump. He returned to St. Mike’s after a short stint in Binghamton because the Baby Sens weren’t having success and had few prospects. Finishing second for the OHL title, Memorial Cup and winning silver with Team Canada hurts his standing. He might make a good candidate for an assistant’s job.

 

KIRK MULLER

The Canadiens assistant coach has had an interview. He’s highly regarded in coaching circles for the job he’s done working with Jacques Martin and the playoff success the Habs enjoyed last spring. A former NHL captain, Muller certainly has the leadership abilities, but many wonder if he’s really ready for the next step. Has he spent enough time as an NHL assistant? There is no question that Muller is a hot prospect and an easy sell. Murray has to decide if he’s comfortable with this choice.

 

GERARD GALLANT

He has had his interview and has a strong relationship with GM Bryan Murray, for whom he played with the Red Wings. Gallant won the Memorial Cup last Sunday with the Saint John Sea Dogs. His stay behind the Blue Jackets bench from 2003-2006 bench didn’t go so well. He finished with 56 victories in 142 games. Gallant has learned a lot since being fired in 2006. Another guy without a proven track record, but he did work with young players at the junior level this season and won a title. Could be hard sell to owner Eugene Melnyk.

 


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