Monday, February 2, 2009

Thoughts on the Hartsburg firing from the pundits

With the news that the Senators have fired Craig Hartsburg, making him their second first-year coach canned at the mid-way point of the season in as many seasons (following in John Paddock's footsteps), seems to have all the media and blogosphere pundits decrying the Senators' decision (be sure to check out Ben's thoughts on the issue here).

Here's a few excerpts from the bigger websites, starting with Stu Hackell's Slapshot blog:
What’s that popular definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? For the second year in a row, Senators G.M. Bryan Murray has axed his first-year coach in February. Craig Hartsburg was dismissed Monday morning after the Caps and Alex Ovechkin dismantled the Sens 7-4 the day before.


Hartsburg, who signed a three-year deal in June, is replaced by Cory Clouston, coach of the Sens’ A.H.L. team, the Binghamton Senators.


This doesn’t look good for Murray and his long-term future as manager of the club. Jeez, that couldn’t mean that Eugene Melnyk is going to be, uh, blowing up the organization, could it?
... and James Mirtle, from his From the Rink blog:
I personally don't see any way you stick with Murray after all of the failures since that run to the finals in 2007. The team has essentially been dismantled, save for the big three, and has a long road of rebuilding ahead.

There are no free-agent solutions for what ails Ottawa.

Scapegoating is a good description of what's gone on, and it's something that's plagued both the coaches and goalies in the organization. Ray Emery and John Paddock were run out of town last season only to watch this current group of underachievers (including the GM) continue to underachieve to an even greater extent. Gerber wasn't good this season, but he was also the backup netminder, making only 14 starts and posting an .899 save percentage that is miles better than what netminders like Chris Osgood, Vesa Toskala, Mathieu Garon and Manny Legace have managed this season.
... and Greg Wyshynski from his Puck Daddy blog:
It's said every coach is hired to one day be fired; that was never more evident than when Craig Hartsburg was given the Ottawa Senators' bench last summer.

He was a completely pedestrian choice, hired because he was a disciplinarian for an egomaniacal roster; or because of his Canadian junior hockey fame; or because Florida Panthers Coach Peter DeBoer wanted too much job-security and money as the frontrunner.

So while DeBoer is being touted as a Jack Adams candidate while turning the Panthers into playoff contenders, Hartsburg was fired today by the Senators after going 17-27-7 for 41 points -- third-worst in the NHL. If his job was to light a fire under every player not named Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson or Jason Spezza, he failed; hell, according to one Columbus Blue Jackets player, Spezza basically quit, too. The team was an unmitigated disaster, and when Hartsburg wasn't exacerbating its problems he was also helpless to fix them.
... and Adam Proteau of The Hockey News on his aptly-titled Adam Proteau Blog:
The move was less than a shock, considering Ottawa has been languishing at the bottom of the NHL standings for months. But it doesn’t speak to the real problem with the Sens – namely, the holy trinity of salary cap killers that is Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.


If owner Eugene Melnyk and Ottawa GM Bryan Murray need to see an example of cap management done right, they ought to look to the Calgary Flames, who, like the Sens, pay out big bucks to three of their players. The big difference is that in Calgary, one of those three (Jarome Iginla) plays forward, one (Dion Phaneuf) plays defense, and one (Miikka Kiprusoff) plays in net.

In other words, the Flames have a balance and symmetry to their on-ice and financial plans that serves the overall needs of the organization well.

The Sens have nothing of the sort – and that pronounced imbalance played a major role in costing Hartsburg his job.
... and Jeff Marek's blog on
After 48 games the Ottawa Senators’ brass decided they had seen enough, lost enough and needed to do something to shake up the organization. The solution? Fire head coach Craig Hartsburg.

As Scott Morrison said on Hockey Night Online Monday … it’s Groundhog Day, indeed.


Prediction: Ottawa rides out the rest of the season, win lose or shootout and come July 1 completely overhauls this once-mighty squad. One of the best never to have won the Stanley Cup is about to get a complete makeover. Who coaches and who manages? There has been talk going back to the world junior tournament that Pat Quinn and Bob Nicholson could come in as a combo package. We’ll have to wait and see about that one.
... and Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber's Inside the NHL blog:
Instead of getting ahead of the market, Murray locked himself into talents who are not bedrock players despite their offensive numbers (Heatley and Spezza) and left the Senators with a defense that is not adept at moving the puck or joining the rush. He also has too many players, including Fisher (seven goals) and Antoine Vermette (six), who'd be more attractive if they were making at least $1 million less per year than they are now. Like Paddock, an admirable man and former Ottawa assistant coach who was favored by the players, and Hartsburg, previously a moderately successful NHL head coach, Murray simply backed the wrong people.

Maybe Clouston can provide the good housecleaning the Senators need in his first NHL job, but it's a long shot. A better bet last summer might have been the one man seemingly capable of shoveling these Augean Stables -- John Tortorella -- but, according to sources, the former coach of the 2004 Cup champion Lightning never received an interview. Now, the abrasive Tortorella can be a pebble in the shoe of his players, which might have made for a stylistic mismatch, but Murray should have at least heard some of his ideas before anointing Hartsburg.

Would Ottawa have taken to an American as a coach? If he won, guaranteed.

For a team that has been an annual playoff participant for more than a decade, the coaching switch probably comes too late. Unless Murray can change the culture of the team -- or Melnyk identifies a GM he thinks can do it -- the foundering Senators will continue to fade.
... and The Hockey News' Ken Campbell's Campbell's Cuts blog:
Pretty tough to argue with that logic when it comes to the Ottawa Senators firing Craig Hartsburg just 48 games into his tenure in Canada’s capital. If there were a coaches’ union, you can bet it would be processing the paperwork right now for a grievance against the Senators for firing their coach without just cause.

What the Senators did today is what drives coaches bonkers and it should. But what it will also do is drive any prime coaching candidates away from Ottawa if they have a choice between the Senators and almost any other organization in the league.

Is there anyone out there who believes that any of the stink from this mess in Ottawa should be sticking to Hartsburg at the moment? Hartsburg is a quality coach who has succeeded at every level of hockey and it’s amazing that over the course of 48 games, he somehow worked in a way that merited him being fired.
... and me, personally? Thank you for asking.

Bryan Murray, once again, made the wrong choice when deciding who should coach this team. That much is clear. And he's made some highly suspect personnel decisions, obviously, with the albatross-contracts to Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher, and even Chris Kelly. Can he fix it? Shit, I hope so, or else this rebuilding will be pretty damned long. Should he be given the chance to fix his own mistakes? I certainly think so, but many people have different opinions of that--and their opinions are certainly valid.

And, with regards to the Cory Clouston hiring: I say we give the guy at least one game, maybe a few, to prove just what he can do in the NHL. The Sens are pretty much a write-off this season, anyway, so let's give it some time.
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