Let me start off by saying that I wasn’t a huge fan of the Hartsburg hiring as I don’t think Hartsburg had done anything at the NHL level to show that he is a true top level coach, something that the Senators definititely should have been looking for. But he was available and relatively inexpensive and maybe that is why Murray hired him. But this is seemingly Murray’s second bad coach hiring after John Paddock failed a season ago and was fired less than 12 months ago.
But Murray’s bad decisions go beyond coaching. Some of his player personnel decision have been poor as well, particularly when it comes to his defense. Bryan Murray took over for John Muckler just after the Senators lost to the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup final. That Cup Final team defense consisted of:
That was a pretty solid defense group with a mix of offensive and defensive defensemen. This years defense crew consists of:
One season ago Jason Smith was seeing his ice time diminish in Philadelphia (yet he earned a sizable contract in Ottawa), Picard couldn’t play as a regular in Tampa last year, Bell couldn’t make the Phoenix Coyotes and Brian Lee played mostly in the AHL. And to top it off, Chris Phillips has started to look old and slow this year and sports a teams worse +/- at -20. To make matters worse, Joe Corvo is playing quite well in Carolina and Mike Commodore, who Murray acquired for Corvo and then let go as a UFA, is playing his best hockey ever in Columbus.
Prior to the recent collapse of the team on the ice, the Senators were primarily an offensive oriented team who utilized an excellent transition game and power play to dominate opponents. They would pressure the opposition with speed and quickness, force turnovers, and then mount a quick counter attack. But with much less speed and skill on the back end, that quick counter attack game plan fails before it can even get started.
Craig Hartsburg attempted to convert the Senators into more of a defensive oriented team and to some extent he succeeded as the Senators have given up far fewer goals this year than last, but the problem has been that the defensive focus combined with the lack of skill on the back end means they just can’t score enough goals.
In under a calendar year the Senators have fired John Paddock, seen Bryan Murray take over as interim coach, replaced Murray with Hartsburg and have now fired Hartsburg. That is three coaches, and three coaching failures, in under a calendar year. When will the time come when owner Eugene Melnyk realizes that the problem isn’t coaching but rather player personnel and the management group that brings in that player personnel. But maybe he is still in denial.