Cross Checks: Cory Clouston

After Ottawa's 6-0 loss to Boston on Tuesday night, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate the futures of GM Bryan Murray and coach Cory Clouston. (You can also Barry Melrose's take via video at the bottom of the post):

Burnside: Greetings, my friend. Strange that there is snow at both ends of this conversation. Almost as strange as what continues to unfold in the Canadian capitol.

The Ottawa Senators, once the pride of the Canadian NHL contingent, were pounded 6-0 in Boston on Tuesday night, prompting more questions about the futures of everyone from GM Bryan Murray to embattled coach Cory Clouston to everyone in the Sens' lineup. I must admit, I remain surprised owner Eugene Melnyk (never the most stable and conservative of owners) hasn't demanded someone's head on a platter. Given the coaching carousel in Ottawa the past three years, the assumption has been that Murray would be forced back behind the bench if only to save a few dimes as the Sens play out the second half.

[+] EnlargeClouston
Phillip MacCallum/Getty ImagesCory Clouston and the Sens are 16-21-6 so far this season.

LeBrun: Was it just four seasons ago the Sens were in the Stanley Cup finals? Mercy. And yes, Toronto got pounded by snow today. Best purchase of the year: buying a new snowblower. But, back to the Senators. They have joined the Maple Leafs, Oilers and Flames as Canada's miserable quartet of stinky hockey.

"It's disappointing, obviously the way we are, the position we're in," Murray told me this morning. "We thought going into the season we were a competitive hockey club. With [Jason] Spezza, [Alexei] Kovalev and [Pascal] Leclaire out, that's a disadvantage. But overall this season, we haven't played to the level we expect. I'm disappointed, that's all I can say.'"

While Murray wouldn't say it, I have the distinct impression he's getting himself ready to make a few trades between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline. Time to look to the future.

And honestly Scotty, when I left Scotiabank Place in early December after Dany Heatley's triumphant return to Ottawa with the Sharks, I was sure big changes were coming, possibly behind the bench. But nothing happened. No one wishes for a coach to lose his job, but I don't think Clouston and his players have been on the same page at all this season.

Burnside: I think the Sens' fall is a cautionary tale about how quickly the window can close on a Cup contender. It seems like a million years ago when Ottawa was battling Anaheim in the 2007 Cup finals. Remember how good that Sens team was, rolling through the Eastern Conference?

But their fall is a reminder that it's difficult to fill holes on the run. The Sens' goaltending remains a black hole, and the additions of Alexei Kovalev and Gonchar have been unmitigated disasters and continue to hamper the club's evolution. As much as Clouston looks to be the first sacrificial lamb, this simply isn't a very well-constructed team. Throw in injuries to guys like Spezza, and the results aren't all that surprising.

LeBrun: Choosing Wade Redden over Zdeno Chara following the 2005-06 season was perhaps the first big domino. Yes, Redden was still playing great at the time, and yes, the Sens reached the Cup finals the following season. But, looking at the big picture, Chara's loss (for nothing as a UFA to Boston) was a crippling blow and is still being felt today.

Heatley's forced trade to San Jose for a bag of pucks was the second-most damaging move. As for goaltending, that's been the Achilles' heel of this franchise ever since it came back into the NHL. I thought Murray made a brilliant move when he traded Antoine Vermette to Columbus a few years ago for Leclaire and thought the Sens had finally found their goalie. Boy, was I wrong. Leclaire has been inconsistent and injury-prone, and the Sens still can't get goaltending. Is young Swede Robin Lehner the answer? He was called up this morning.

Maybe Lehner is the answer over the long haul, and that's the view Murray must take now. Time to blow this up. Chris Phillips is UFA on July 1, and while he has a no-trade clause, I would approach him about returning an asset in a trade.

"I'm not sure they need to blow this up, but they need changes," Ottawa Sun hockey columnist Bruce Garrioch told me via e-mail this morning. "The first thing that has to happen is Melnyk needs to make some sort of announcement here. He needs to let people know what the plan is going forward.

"If Bryan Murray is going to be the guy, then what action is he going to take? They really need a goalie in a bad way and they have to get another forward. They should house-clean at the deadline and try to get draft picks."

Burnside: To me, things can't start to move forward until the management/coaching structure is clarified. If you don't think Clouston is the man (does anyone think he is?), fire him and move on. If Murray isn't the guy, then move quickly in the offseason to find a replacement. The failed efforts to find a coach that fits the team Murray has assembled suggests the Sens will have a new GM and coach next season.

I'd like to see Bob Hartley get a shot with this team. He was in the mix when Craig Hartsburg was hired to begin the 2008-09 season and his name came up again when Clouston was promoted from the minors. Either way, the road ahead looks long and bumpy for the once-mighty Sens.

LeBrun: In the short term, I would suspect Murray would once again go behind the bench if Clouston is fired. There have been rumors Murray tried to make a coaching change earlier this season and Melnyk balked, but the Sens GM vehemently denied that last week. Regardless, whether it's a trade or a firing or both, something has to give in Ottawa, sooner rather than later. Until tomorrow, my friend.


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