Quite the day in the capital.
First Bryan Murray spoke to the press and refused to stand by Cory Clouston, hinting that the coach's job is on the line this weekend against Chicago and Tampa. Then he let it be known that he talked to Chris Phillips about the "plan" going forward, which sounds an awful like Murray "plans" to deal the veteran defenseman. And finally the GM said he wouldn't hesitate to bring up Robin Lehner to save this team from the clutches of Brian Elliott.
In short, it sounds like everything hinges on the next two games and that's not going to work very well because you can pretty much guarantee the Senators are going to get annihilated by the Lightning on Saturday after playing in Chicago on Friday. Even if the Sens can get motivated enough to beat the Hawks, they're a real longshot to win two games in a row on consecutive nights, but you never really know.
This won't be popular, but I think Clouston should have been let go about a month ago, right around the time that Murray was rumoured to have pitched this idea to Eugene Melnyk, a story that Murray completely shot down today in his press scrum. It may be unfair to a hardworking coach like Clouston and his staff, but it also wasn't fair to the hundreds of coaches who have been let go in the NHL. Firing a coach can sometimes light a fire under a team, like it did to Pittsburgh in 2008-2009, Philadelphia in 2009-2010 and all the way back to New Jersey in 2000. It's possible that Ottawa would be in a better position right now if a change had been made before it was too late. Then again, firing Clouston might have made no difference at all. But we'll never really know now. Even if a change is made, there's no real hope left at this point.
Obviously this lost season rests on the players but you can't move contracts in the NHL anymore. All you can do is change the coach, install a fancy hot tub in the dressing room or do nothing at all. This is a team full of skilled players and yet they can't even execute a cohesive attack or run a respectable power-play. Something is wrong here, and it's not just the players or Bryan Murray's management skills as everyone would love to believe.
Murray has done some very good things during his time as GM, and he's made some mistakes as well. He is on the ropes right now and it will be interesting to see if he can make a bold move that helps the team for this year and next. I wouldn't be surprised if he somehow manages to pull this thing out of the fire and survive the chopping block. He hasn't survived this long in the NHL by being a dummy.
As for Lehner, I think it's a good move to bring him up here for a shot and see what he can do. Murray would never let Lehner get lit up game after game and would have no qualms about sending him back down if it wasn't working out, so no need to worry about "ruining the kid". It would give the young goalie a chance to get a few games under his belt in preparation for next season and possibly give this team some kind of spark.
And lastly, Chris Phillips future with this team probably depends on him signing a contract before the trade deadline. Murray won't let Phillips go for nothing in the summer and Phillips would bring back a good return in a trade. Yet this is not the type of guy you want to see leave the team. With a ton of young defenseman coming into the system, Phillips should be kept around to mentor the rookies while trying to get back on track himself.
Who's going to play the hard 20-plus minutes that Phillips logs every night? Do you really want Filip Kuba stepping into that role? Or a rookie like Jared Cowen? That's a recipe for another missed playoffs next season.
Phillips should be signed to a multi-year deal and Murray should turn his attention to trading Kuba and Sergei Gonchar if there are any takers.
Just my two cents.