Mercifully, the Senators disastrous 2010-2011 season has come to a close after another loss to the playoff bound Boston Bruins, and Cory Clouston's short but tumultuous tenure as coach is over.
The Senators finished out the season strong with a cast of young kids getting their first NHL experience, but the fact that this team missed the playoffs with the loaded roster they had to start the year is a massive letdown for everyone and a huge cash loss for Eugene Melnyk, who was no doubt looking forward to well over a million dollars in pure profit from each playoff home date.
It really should be no surprise to anyone that Clouston and his two main assistants, Greg Carvel and Brad Lauer, were released just hours after the game (Luke Richardson and Rick Wamsley were retained). I've already said my piece about Clouston in the past few days, here and here, so I won't cover the same ground tonight (and my view on the subject is not exactly making me very popular lately).
But what has struck me about Clouston going down the stretch here is his complete inability to publicly take some responsibility for what went wrong this season in Ottawa. He certainly has a point when he constantly refers to the unfortunate goaltending situation that plagued the team all year long, and not many coaches would have been able to overcome the brutal play of Brian Elliott this year. Yet goaltending was just one part of the puzzle and Clouston apparently sees no fault in his system or his manner in dealing with his players. At least not publicly.
Maybe Clouston is right. Maybe his system was perfect and it's everyone else's fault that this team couldn't win any games when it really mattered. Or maybe this is just a glimpse of why many of his players were so unhappy under his leadership.
I can guarantee one thing. Clouston will win the public relations battle the next few days and weeks as the backlash against newly retained GM Bryan Murray and the rest of the players runs its course. The anonymous voices on various social media platforms are already heaping their vicious slander on everyone but Clouston. The vocal segment of fans who are up in arms over Murray's new contract will probably go through the roof the next couple of days in response to the Clouston firing, but eventually, when the screaming stops, it will be clear that this was the only course of action Murray could have taken here.
Truth is, coaches are much more disposable than GM's are. They are much, much lower on the totem pole in experience, pay and responsibility. It's not even close. One is an executive. One is a working stiff. That's why fans tend to identify with coaches so much these days, but bench bosses are easy to change out and the effect is sometimes huge, often in a positive way.
That's life. Businesses don't make sentimental decisions very often. The Senators are no exception despite the emotional investment from fans who tend to view the whole thing as some kind of moral fable where everything is black and white - good guys and bad guys. To many, Clouston is a good guy who is getting unjustly blamed by the bad guy, Bryan Murray. The fans reaction is predictable but it doesn't make it accurate. A lot of players paid the price this season by being dealt away. It's only natural that the coaching staff get blamed as well.
In the long run, the decision not to offer Clouston a new contract will prove to be the right one. There is no doubt that his strong work ethic will get him another job soon and I would not be surprised to see him in the NHL again someday. But there is simply too much baggage for a guy who has only been in this organization for two and a half seasons and not enough wins to justify his unnecessary battles with certain important players who found their roles greatly diminished under Clouston.
Going forward, the Senators have an exciting team full of prospects and a few talented veterans to provide stability through the tough stretches ahead. Jason Spezza has finally arrived as a bona fide leader and is now reaching his full potential. Erik Karlsson is going to be one of the top five best defensemen in this league for the next 10 years. David Rundblad looks like he might not be far behind Karlsson if reports are accurate about his play this year in Sweden.
And, while too late to save Clouston's job, this team now has real goaltending in Craig Anderson. And a good one coming in Robin Lehner.
Today is a bad day for the organization, for Clouston and his departing staff, and for the players who are going home too early.
But tomorrow is a new day.
Bring on the draft.
Now here's a picture of clowns to cheer everyone up.