When a professional sports team struggles, virtually every part of the organization is put under a microscope. That’s certainly the case with the under-performing Ottawa Senators right now.
The Senators have lost nine of their last 12 games and have only scored 17 goals in that stretch. There are a lot of people fans and media can point blame at. While I’m not convinced this isn’t all Spartacat’s fault, one of the more popular people to blame in the Nation’s Capital is Senators coach Cory Clouston.
There are a number of reports that suggest the players have “quit” on Clouston. First of all, that term is so cliché and secondly, I don’t buy it.
When you look at the Senators roster, it looks thin. Thinner than a Michael Bay plot. Obviously that’s not Clouston’s fault. He’s doing all he can with what’s been given to him. Bryan Murray, General Manager of the Senators, is the one giving Clouston the pieces and those pieces don’t fit together. They’re all corner pieces. Clouston is the coach that Murray brought in. He’s the coach with an aggressive style and tight checking systems. Yet several of Murray’s roster moves, or corner pieces, don’t exactly fit with Clouston’s style. Why bring in players that don’t fit into the coach’s system? The players aren’t quitting on the coach, they just aren’t the right guys for the jobs.
Look at the Senators top forwards and ask yourself if they are capable of scoring two or more goals in most hockey games. Then ask yourself if they can outscore opposition on most nights. Saying that group will be effective if 100% healthy (a common explanation for the Senators struggles this year) is like putting lipstick on a pig. Ottawa may have the best bottom six forwards in the league, considering they have around 10-12 players for those roles. Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of their depth.
I like Clouston and what he has accomplished with the Senators during his tenure in the NHL. Posting a career 74 – 57 – 12 record is pretty good when you consider the time he was brought into the organization and the roster he’s been given. Clearly, he has a winning track record. Let’s not forget Clouston isn’t coaching the talented Senators squads Murray, Craig Hartsburg, John Paddock and even Jacques Martin had years ago. He’s got the faded, no-name version of that.
Clouston has been the only coach to bring any kind of stability to the Senators over the last few years. Prior to his arrival, you could argue the Senators chewed through coaches faster than goalies. Clouston’s stabilizing force has gotten things back to normal… the Senators just (still) chew through goalies now. (I couldn’t resist).
If Murray and the Senators fired Clouston tomorrow, would they be any better? Would there be a huge turn around? Probably not… even if Murray himself returned to the bench.
There is no overnight fix for this club in its current state. Although I believe Murray is more to blame than Clouston (read: way more to blame!), a GM change won’t fix the Senators either. The reality is the Senators need a fairly significant overhaul and sooner than later. I think most fans are coming to terms with that, but I doubt the Sens management would agree. Even if the Senators got their act together and found a way into the playoffs this season, would it really be for the better? Can they really make a run and be a contending team year after year with this group of players? Can they compete against the Capitals, Penguins, Flyers and Bruins in the Eastern Conference?
At the end of the day, you can’t fault Clouston for where the Senators are in the standings. If Clouston, a winning coach and the best coach the Senators have had in years, can’t win with this roster, I’m not sure any other coach would fair much better. The Senators aren’t what they used to be and Bryan Murray’s roster changes haven’t helped. The necessary changes are and should be far greater than a coaching change.
At the moment, coaching is one of the few area’s the Senators don’t need to fix.