Monday, February 2, 2009

Black Monday


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.

"No."

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).”

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your perspective on this Jeremy.

Fans all of a sudden were throwing EVERYONE under the bus in the Sensd org, as if to say "they had not watched a game all season long".

Hartsburg failed as a coach, and he had Murray convinced he could do the job.

I liken the wrath expressed today by so called "fans" to a public stoning in the medievil ages. Only instaead of hurling stones, they were hurling barbs, and verbal jibes.

What makes this all a joke is not the team really, but the circus the fans and media make of it.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna sit back and give Clouston a chance. I hope that he changes the philosophy around the team. Specifically, I hope that they start playing an aggressive offensive game. Personally, I have a tolerance for turnovers, if it means that I get to see spectacular highlight reel goals.

That being said, I think that Murray will be shown the door at year's end, and a new GM will want to bring in his own coach.

And quite frankly, that's the way it should be. Murray has made a farce of this team. He has earned a good firing. For those who remember, the vibe surrounding this team is similar to back in 1995 when Randy Sexton hired another minor leaguer in Davey Allison. That was also a mid-season hire. Soon after, Sexton and Allison were canned. What followed that disaster was a renaissance of the club. That rise ended in 2007, when Murray took over. Hopefully, history repeats itself.

TSN showed a chart during their SportsCenter broadcast this evening. The chart showed that since Feb. 2 of last year, Paddock, Murray and Hartsburg have all had winning percentages in the .400's as coach of the Sens. Very shoddy journalism. Murray and Hartsburg deserve to be on the list. But including Paddock was only possible if you evaluate his record from Feb. 2 as a start date. Paddock's entire record was actually 36-22-6. TSN was not fair to Paddock.

For all the Muckler bashers and Murray supporters, it's time to face the facts.

In five years as GM of the Sens, Muckler's record was 234-117-59 (.643 winning percentage). In 130 games so far, Murray's record is 60-55-15 (.519 winning percentage).

Murray fans, it's time to stop drinking the Kool-Aid.

Mickey said...

Anyone who bases the failures of a team in the senators on one specific year of a general managers tenure is truly an idiot.

mickey said...

in the senators position*

Blood Red Army said...

Agreed

Anonymous said...

Mickey, it's been more than a year for Murray. In fact, 130 games. They say that "the trend is your friend". If the Sens started off poorly but were getting better, I might be more sympathetic. Rather, the Sens are getting worse and show no signs of improvement.

I just presented the facts. Murray's winning percentage is .519 (60 wins). Fifteen of those wins came during the first seventeen games of his tenure. That means he has 45 wins in his last 115 games. His record is atrocious by any mesure.

The stats don't lie.

The truth hurts if you're a Murray supporter.

Mickey said...

Just because I think its wrong to judge a GM on many things that are out of his hands doesnt mean Murray has my support. Things like an aging Redden, the salary cap, having to sign big name players after they had success in a cup run, the loss of chara... the list goes on. A team's success or failure is not a result of 1 year OR 130 games as GM. Murray made some mistakes and muckler made some mistakes. In this salary cap era you only really have one shot at the cup and frankly, the sens had theirs.

Oman said...

A refreshing take on the situation Mr. Milks.

All hail the new coach! The sacrificial lamb is dead.

Now the trade value of a few guys will go up and Murray (the evil genius) will have the green light for some house cleaning at the deadline and again in the spring.

Tavares or Hedman, here we come!

And a new light shall dawn on the Ottawa Senators in 09/10...

Jalen said...

Anon 7:32pm

It's pretty obvious you know nothing about the responsibilities of a GM.

BM's made several mistakes and deserves criticism but using the team's record over a season and a half as the basis of your argument is absurd and idiotic.

Why don't you give us your insightful thoughts on Muckler and Murray's respective drafts, player signings and trades.

Only a Leaf fan could be dumb enough to think a GM should be evaluated on a team's performance over a season and a half.

- Jalen

Anonymous said...

Jalen, last I checked, the whole league is using "wins and losses" as the barometer of success.

You want to talk about Murray's drafts, the fact is that we do not know how any of those players will turn out. Some look good, but how long before they become impact players. Murray is paid to win now and in the future. He was not hired to rebuild the team.

Bryan Murray must love having guys like you in his corner. You ignore his biggest weakness. His record.

Anonymous said...

Credit to Doc on the Sensforum for pointing this page out, that was a very well written article, and it makes me feel better about Clouston as a choice... maybe now we will score some goals.

Jalen said...

Anon 1:17pm

Yeah everyone measures success by way of wins and losses. But new GMs aren't measured over a season and a half. If you knew anything, you'd understand that.

Not hired to rebuild the team? You know that how? Actually, you don't. Murray was hired, and Muckler moved out a year early, because the organization recognized the key to their success - their draft record - was gone. Muckler wasted away draft picks and talent like Havlat and Chara.

Come on, man up and give us your great insight to Muckler and Murray's respective player moves. I can't wait to read how you explain the team isn't suffering from the net talent exodus during Mucks' reign.

If you think BM's record is so awful, why don't you give us your analyis of his record in Detroit, Florida and Anaheim, too? Do you even know anything about it?

If you think Murray likes having me in his corner, the organization must hate having fans like you that jump on and off the bandwagon like it's a downtown bus and cannot think past today.

- Jalen

Anonymous said...

well said Jalen.

Fact is now, Murray finally has the Gerber Elephant off the books. The next month up to the deadline, and the draft will judge Murray's success in Ottawa's future.

Ottawa wanted the cup so bad, they made some incredibly bad deadline trades in the Muckler era. Saprykin, and Bondra a different year to name a couple. How well did they turn out. Ask Washington about the return for Bondra.

Murray did his best to get Campbell in here, but Chicago upped the anti by offering another year on his term. Murray did not want to overpay. Maybe he should of. But then fans who argue effort vs salary would have been all over that one.

Sens fans have been spoiled completely. The year they went to the cup was their year. No doubt. Ottawa has been hurt by the cap, and free agency. Other teams are going to find out just how painful that is when their young talent become RFA's. You can only sign so many.

Murray has been as surprised as anyone to see his team is last in goals for. In my estimation, he has been to trusting in his coaches, and his players. And that maybe his biggest mistake.

hambown said...

>Murray has been as surprised as anyone >to see his team is last in goals for.

No way. Neither CH nor BM are surprised should be surprised. They ought to have known that the Sens offense depended upon two key situations: a powerplay that created space and options through quick puck movement and effective puck retention, and an ability to quickly initiate a counter-attack. None of our defensemen this year possess the skills needed to do either of these consistently.

Both BM and CH should have known this, and in fact CH showed evidence that he did know this, as he tried to get Ottawa to play a more defensive style. Questionable move? Definitely. But the fact remains that Murray's unwillingness to lose in the short term by taking a lopsided trade(s) for a quality defence has squashed all hopes of the playoffs this year, and has cost the Sens a lot in terms of their reputation (good luck finding an experienced replacement for CH, or attracting good quality FAs). Hopefully they strike gold in the draft.

mickey said...

I think this whole "hartsburgh getting the sens to play a defensive style hurt the team" thing is claptrap. They cant run and gun with Picard, smith phillips and volchenkov, he had no choice.
I really don't think that hartsburgh is the right coach for this team at the moment and i'm not sure if its in the best interest for the players on this team to continue in the same negative spiral. Whether or not this team can win with a new coach is irrelivent, the issue is that hartsburgh continues to pussyfoot around with the accountability thing. Good coach, bad team, wrong approach.
The best possible situation is to have a low key coach like clouston. What is really destroying the teams reputation (imo) is the hartsburgh saga. Clouston isnt going to give them half as much crap to talk about on sportcenter and that is very important. We dont need melnyk all over the news because all that does is feed the 24/7 media frenzy. I think this hockey market just needs to be calmed down and hiring a low key coach like clouston is a great first step.

Anonymous said...

Jalen, How does critisizing the GM make me a bandwagon jumper? I'm a passionate Sens fan, and I think the GM sucks.

Just for the record, Murray did not win in Detroit, Anaheim or Florida. In fact, Detroit and Anaheim won the Cup after he left.

So will we.

Jalen said...

Anon 11:04pm

Consider yourself a passionate fan if you want. Dislike and criticize the GM if you want. But if you do, have the guts to give us your insight into the player moves he's been responsible for. The truth is you're just a fan that isn't smart to realize that GMs cannot be measured by a team's success over a one and a half year period.

The Detroit and Anaheim cup winners were teams BM was largely responsible for building. Even the subsequent management teams acknowledge that. And you'd know that, too, if you had the courage to look at the player movement he was responsible for.

If you want to win a cup here, whether while BM's here or after he leaves, let him build a team that can do it.

Only an idiot thinks it's a good idea to change out the GM after a year and a half and immediately prior to the most important trade deadline, draft and offseason since the team's expansion years.

- Jalen

Anonymous said...

Jalen, the gloves are off. You've called me an idiot three times now, for expressing a point of view.

For the record, I do have some hockey knowledge. And quite frankly, you come across as someone who is very naive about how management works and the effect that it can have in any organization, for that matter.

On balance, I do not like Murray's player moves. But, for the sake of argument, let's say that all his moves have been good. Management's role is to create an environment that brings people together to accomplish a common goal. The Sens are not succeeding at achieving that goal. That failure falls on management.

Say whatever you want about the shortcomings of the team. But, they are better than a 28th place hockey team. We should be higher in the standings than we are. Ultimately, the GM is responsible for that. I cannot think of a single pundit who had us finishing near the bottom of the league.

You can credit Murray all you want about player acquisitions in Detroit and Anaheim. The bottom line is that, during his tenure, he was unable to bring the guys together and sustain success. He had some good drafts, this is true. But, you have to develop the player and get the most out of them as well.

Crediting him for Anaheim's success is not supported by the evidence. His biggest move in Anaheim was signing Fedorov to a 5 year $40M contract. Brian Burke came in and dumped Fedorov. He brought in Selanne, Pronger, Niedermayer, and Beauchemin. You add those four players (talent and character) to the Sens, and we are Stanley Cup contenders. Burke is responsible for the Ducks Cup success.

Bringing players into a hockey team is only part of the equation. You have to get them to work together successfully. He's failed on that account. He still has time.

My bet is that things will not get better. He will be dismissed. When we are more successful next year, you can credit him rather than the new GM, if you want to.

Jalen said...

Anon 3:12pm

You can take off whatever you want, but you should start with the blindfold.

If you think I'm naive about how management works, I've given you too much credit.

I didn't call you an idiot for expressing your point of view, I called you an idiot for your inability to intelligently support your position.

There's much Murray deserves criticism for. But my simple point was that a season and half was insufficient to pass judgement on Murray's relative success/failure as GM. Looking at the team's record over that year and a half was a dumb way to support your argument.

Burke himself credited Murray for much of Anaheim's success. That's on record, but I doubt you care. And it's laughable that you think BM's biggest move in Anaheim was bringing in Fedorov. Your selective sampling of the evidence is bizarre.

I'm a proponent of seeing what Murray does at the deadline and upcoming draft and offseason. If he fails there then he should be turfed.

If you understand even a portion of what you claim about how management works, then you should be smart enough to understand how difficult it would be for a new management team to execute the moves required in the next twelve months.

- Jalen

Anonymous said...

Jalen, just a reality check, but you are defending a guy who has taken us from Finalist to 28th in the league.

Burke did give Murray some credit. I saw the interview when he did. But, the question was not "Did Murray build the Ducks?"

Murray paved the way for Burke because he got rid of Kariya. Kariya was the face of the franchise and the identity of the team. Getting rid of Kariya allowed any new GM to do whatever they wanted with the team. It would be the equivalent of trading Alfie.

It's true Getzlaf and Perry were drafted under his tenure. But people forget that he tried to deal Perry to Edmonton for Comrie. That deal was nixed at the last minute by Kevin Lowe. If Murray had his way, Perry would not be there. Also, during the Cup run, the most important pieces were Selanne, Pronger, Niedermayer, and Beauchemin. These were Burke acquisitions. I think that if you asked Burke directly "Did Murray build the Ducks?", you would get a different answer.

As far as the appropriate amount of time for a new GM, there is no rule. I agree that under normal circumstances, a year and half is not enough. But, it's an art not a science. Is he on plan? Does he have a plan? Are things getting better? Are the players tuned in or out? Do the players respect him? Are the fans engaged, buying tickets? All these things matter.

In spite of your passionate defence, and you insistence that I do not know what I'm talking about, I'll bet you that come June, he's a gonner.

Jalen said...

Anon 1:01pm

I'm not the one "passionate" about his position or my "defence" of Murray. Your obscure view of reality is laughable.

In fact, I haven't defended BM at all, frequently stating he has much to be criticized for. I've simply advocated an intelligent approach to evaluating his performance. And I've criticized Muckler for overseeing the beginning of the talent exodus over the last five years - a fact you seem insistent on denying because of the team's record during his tenure.

The most important pieces of Ottawa's cup run are still here - I guess you think they should've been moved out before now?

Your passion to have him fired may come to pass, but it comes at the expense of common sense. He may well be gone by June, but if he is, fans in this city will have little to rejoice about.

How you can possibly think it's wise to parachute in another GM a month before the trade deadline and five months before our most important draft in a decade is beyond me.

- Jalen

Anonymous said...

Jalen, It's not just about player movement. It's about getting a team by believe in themselves and accomplish something.

The team has tuned out Murray. They don't respect him.

Anyway, he'll be shown the door at year's end. You can credit him for our success next year.