At first, all that registered was shock. Murray had actually done it.
With Craig Hartsburg it seemed like a harmless game (until today at least) to speculate about the possibility of a coaching change. In just my previous post I talked about the idea but I didn’t really expect it to happen.
I firmly believed that Hartsburg would at least get the year because no GM would have the balls to fire another coach so shortly after dismissing John Paddock late last season.
Forget for a minute that it was abundantly clear that Hartsburg was not the right coach for this team when they were only halfway into that hellish 8 game road trip back in December and early January. The team couldn’t score goals and that was the only strength they seemingly had going into the season.
But right or not, Hartsburg was safe just due to the politics of the situation – ie. Murray would not admit defeat by firing his second hand-picked coach in less than a year.
Turns out Murray has more balls than I thought.
And I think it was the correct decision, albeit an unfortunate one.
Hartsburg seemed to come into this season carrying a chip on his shoulder, probably due to the over reported set of "problem players" he was expected to whip into shape. Instead of giving the players a reprieve from the negative energy generated by last years team, he only seemed to add to it. For him, it was all about “harnessing” the team and giving them a good ass kicking in the media after every game. From the start, it seemed like his role was to bash heads even though Murray had already weeded out who he thought were the troublemakers from last season.
Furthermore, Hartsburg was so intent on fixing the Senators dismal defensive performance from last year that he basically neglected the Senators main strength which is scoring goals.
Cory Clouston said it himself at his press conference - this team doesn’t have a system for getting the puck out of the defensive zone, through the neutral zone and onto the sticks of the best players of this team. A lot of that has to do with Murray not providing Hartsburg with NHL level offensive defenseman but the situation shouldn’t be as bleak as it is now.
It is no coincidence that Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson are all having sub-par years at the same time. It’s because the system played under Hartsburg was not suited to their abilities. It had nothing to do with "working hard" and "accountability". This came down to X's and O's.
And frankly, I don’t think the fans want to hear that. It’s clear, from call-in shows, blogs and message boards, that the fans want a team similar to what Hartsburg was trying to create here. They want a team made up of Mike Fisher’s and they want “skilled” guys like Spezza and Heatley traded.
But Murray is smarter than that. He realizes the assets he has in the Big 3 and that he should be building the team around them, and not marginalizing their skills. Under Hartsburg, this was the direction the team was headed.
And that's why Murray made the change.
What struck me during the broadcast of the Washington game on Sunday was that they showed a clip of the Capitals practicing outdoors and the players were zipping around playing shinny with huge smiles on their faces. Even coach Bruce Boudreau was “guest refereeing” and taking some good natured barbs from Alex Ovechkin.
Could you imagine the Ottawa Senators having a fun practice like that under Craig Hartsburg?
Wouldn’t it have been prudent for Hartsburg to maybe think outside the lines once in a while and allow his team to have a little fun at the rink instead of the daily routine of throwing all his players under the bus to the media and creating a brutally negative atmosphere around the team by trying to embarrass proud veterans like Jason Smith and Dean McAmmond as healthy scratches?
I’m not saying that the players should have been rewarded for poor play but a coach should see that maybe changing things up once in a while and allowing the players to smile occasionally would probably do more for their confidence than constantly hammering them for the scrums of quote hungry reporters after every game and practice.
John Paddock had a similar approach and it didn’t work for him either.
What I said in my post after the Columbus game is inevitably going to come true. Hartsburg will be made the martyr in all this and his shortcomings as a coach will be swept aside.
That’s the way it is in the NHL. When a coach gets fired, the reasons for the dismissal are soon forgotten and a backlash against the players is whipped up by fans and media alike, fair or not.
The fans will turn their anger towards Jason Spezza and it will get ugly. Dany Heatley is in for a rough ride as well. Much like Ray Emery was made out as the villain who got John Paddock fired, Spezza and Heatley will take the majority of blame in this case.
Listening to the Team 1200 in the direct aftermath of the firing, the backlash seemed split evenly between Bryan Murray and the players. Murray knew when he pulled the trigger that fans would be calling for his head and seemed a little combative towards Ottawa Sun scribe Don Brennan when he was asked a fair question about the security of his own job.
The fact is, everyone deserves blame. Murray, the Big 3, the veterans, the rookies and the goalies. But what shouldn't be obscured is that Hartsburg also failed at his job.
I feel terrible for the man but to use the latest buzzword, he's being "held accountable".
First impressions are important and Cory Clouston made a good one today at his first press conference as head coach.
For starters, he’s the most well spoken coach Ottawa has had since Rick Bowness, and perhaps of all-time.
He was clear, direct and seemed to have a real positive message that has been missing in Ottawa for some time.
Of course, that positive vibes may get crushed pretty quickly if the players don’t respond to his coaching but for now, Clouston talks a pretty good game.
What really stood out was Clouston’s remarks about how he’d like to play a more offensive system and that should be just what Murray is looking for in a new coach.
The reports coming out of his first practice with the team were all positive. One of the players, I believe it was Brendan Bell, said it felt like a training camp practice and was more up tempo than anything Hartsburg had provided in a long time.
When Alfredsson was interviewed this morning, Bruce Garrioch asked him if he was worried about the players on this team having the reputation as "coach killers".
Alfie was very forceful in his reply.
Then a moment of awkward silence.
To me, after listening to a few interviews, the players seemed more upset when Paddock was canned last year. At least they were still scoring under Paddock. Alfredsson and Heatley in particular were all business in their interviews and didn't seem to get too sentimental.
I'd wager that there were some conflicts beneath the surface that were not reported. Alfredsson even said that the frustration went both ways. The coaches were upset with the players and the players were upset with the coaches.
I have no idea what will come out in the wash, but hopefully one of the beat writers paints a better picture of what was really going on in that locker room.
Rob Ray had some interesting comments on Off The Record today:
"They made a big mistake in Ottawa when they got rid of John Muckler," Ray told OTR on Monday. “They got rid of a guy who had the respect of the players in the dressing room...there's a lot more going on there than you're seeing."
“[Muckler] made them credible,” Ray said. “He made them accountable for what they did on the ice, and I don't think anybody has done that (since).”