The New Year has barely begun, but there’s already talk about major changes in Ottawa. Hot on the heels of a story that Bryan Murray tried to fire head coach Cory Clouston, the GM hosted a press conference in which he denied the story, but then refused to confirm that Clouston would remain. With the deftness of a seasoned politician, Murray would neither confirm nor deny that Clouston would keep his job, but when it came to players, he was more than willing to start naming names: Phillips, Ruutu, Kovalev and even Fisher were put on the line, if an appropriate offer was made. These could be fighting words.
First, Clouston’s safe and he should be. Those out there who say that it’s up to a coach to inspire his players and that he handled Heatley all wrong, should take the two following points into consideration: 1) the players are playing like crap and 2) Heatley’s entitlement made him act like crap. No matter how many times you give people the “go out there and get ‘em” speech or a day off to throw snowballs at each other at close range, ultimately, the players have to want to be there. And right now, nobody on the Senators bench looks like they want to be there and nobody’s playing like something’s at stake.
And this is common across the board in the NHL. Bruce Boudreau’s hot-headed tirade in the HBO series which graced every sports show in the country is a case in point. Coaches are losing it with their teams and teams are slumping big time, even the rosters that most of us would consider dreams. These dreams are turning into nightmares for them and Boudreau is not alone. The Edmonton Oilers have had their share of demons to fight this season and the Calgary Flames also inspired some ire and confusion for their fanbase, even putting Iginla in a precarious position. The old warhorse Detroit took some slack, but bounced back without too much pain. The same cannot be said for others.
Coaches are taking a lot of heat these days and the media isn’t making it any easier. And there was a time when no NHL team was complete without firing one coach to replace them with their AHL affiliate; hence, the promotion of Dan Bylsma for the Pittsburgh Penguins and even Cory Clouston himself. They’re constantly being asked to defend themselves, defend their players, defend their decisions. In most respects, this is fair. But when it comes to a lacklustre lineup that seems to have given up on this season, blaming the coach isn’t the answer.
On the other hand, the roster in place was decided by someone other than Cory, and maybe their jobs should be reconsidered. Ottawa’s management has made some pretty bad decisions lately; they let Cullen and Sutton walk, they signed players past their prime (Kovalev and Gonchar, that’s you), they let their best shot blocker cry his way to the bank (the A-train who hasn’t been as effective with the do-nothing Devils), and they got NOTHING for Heatley in the trade that he forced. Picking up Leclaire? That was pretty much taking a puck in the collective face.
The list of gripes is miles long and every fan in the city knows it. So it’s pretty obvious to us who should go.
In terms of players? Drop Kovalev like a hot rock. Phillips, for all that his play has improved lately, is still mind-boggling, not just for his up and down play, but for the inordinate amount of influence he seems to have in the locker room. It’s unclear what he’s done to deserve that influence. It’s obviously not his level of play. Alfredsson leads by example and most people would follow him to war; what exactly does Phillips do? It’s a mystery.
And something untowards has happened with Ruutu. He seems to have fallen out of favour and has been a healthy scratch for the past few games in favour of called up players from Binghampton. This appears to be more than just giving a few minor guys a chance; this looks like there’s a problem going on with Ruutu and the team that nobody’s talking to the media about. While the other two can easily go, why has Ruutu been singled out when he plays on one of the team’s most effective lines alongside Kelly and Neil? Doesn’t anyone remember the day he was accused of biting the opposition? At least he was a player who was interested. And interesting.
Finally, a note on the goaltending. While there’s been talk of sending up Robin Lehner, his recent performance at the World Juniors may make a good argument for calling up Mike Brodeur instead. Not his on-ice performance, which was shakey, but his off-ice trash talk about officiating in Sweden’s loss which smacked of sour grapes. He may be a great athlete in training, but he’s got to work on his sportsmanship, which was lacking for the Swedish team this year, right up to their coach. Hope they like that bronze.
Who do I feel invested in as a fan and would be sorry to see go? Clouston. Who among the players? Nobody. Change it up, Ottawa.
About the Author
Written by Mika Oehling
Office worker and sports nerd. Cannot play a professional sport to save my life, but love to write. Prone to rants, raves, snarky humour and caustic commentary. My team's the Ottawa Senators. Author of Armchair Hockey, a work of humourous fiction released this year and available for sale online at Chapters and Amazon.