Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome To The Gong Show

The big news of the day, other than the fact that Cory Clouston didn't get fired, was the bombshell that reporter Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun dropped on us from the rumour mill at the World Juniors in Buffalo.

Simmons wrote that the story going around about the Senators is that GM Bryan Murray tried to fire Clouston about a month ago but that owner Eugene Melnyk scotched the move and said Murray "might as well go" if Clouston had to be fired. This story is presented as a rumour, but obviously it's gotten around to the point that Simmons felt safe enough to print it.

It's questionable whether Bryan Murray will even address this story (although he's been brutally honest in the past) but if this is indeed true, then the problems in Ottawa are much, much worse than we originally thought.

The embarrassing loss to the Leafs on Saturday was enough for the Sun to devote a front page to Clouston's imminent firing and for Don Brennan to suggest that the players had possibly quit on Clouston.

But that kind of situation is pretty normal in the NHL. Coaches lose their players and then get fired. Happens a handful of times a year.

But an owner taking the power away from his GM to hire and fire in his own department? And threatening to sack the GM over it? Now that's unusual and, sadly, a sign that the whole organization is stumbling badly right now with no real direction and no hope left for this season.

Even if this story is completely false, Bryan Murray is hanging out in Buffalo right now, away from his team, looking completely neutered. The powers of the GM are pretty much sacrosanct in the NHL. Sure, they have a budget and a salary cap to deal with, but usually they have the power to run the hockey department as they see fit. And obviously that includes dismissing coaches when it needs to be done.

Clearly, this needs to be done in Ottawa. Whether it gets done right now or at the end of the season, Clouston has had his run and he hasn't gotten the results expected out of this roster. That's not being unfair. That's just the facts.

And it's likely that Murray has played all his cards as well, but it's hard to believe Melnyk would stand in Murray's way if he wanted to dismiss Clouston and take over the bench for the rest of the season. It would be understandable for Melnyk to say no if Murray wanted to fire Clouston and hire Ken Hitchcock or somebody else. But Clouston doesn't have a contract, so if Murray takes over behind the bench, it's not really costing Melnyk any extra money. In fact, it could make him money if Murray was somehow able to spark this team to a better record. Certainly, Clouston is not going to do that.

And what kind of message does this send to the players? If the GM doesn't believe in the coach, the players certainly aren't going to. This is basically the worst thing that could happen during the course of a season. Losses are one thing, but for an organization to fall apart in the executive offices is another.

In fact, this story is just so weird that I don't really believe it after writing about it for ten minutes.

Even if there is a smidgen of truth about it, Murray needs to come out immediately and give his support to Clouston. There's no other choice.

If he doesn't, it's going to be a gong show for the next few weeks.

Talk about bizarre.


Sens said...

I back the owner on this one.

Come on, a new coach every year ? Really? There is something tremendously wrong with this core group if they were able to go through 5-6 years of Martin, two to three years of Murray then...a new coach is needed every year.

This is a gong show? Imagine if they can Clouston. The coach killer labels resurface and they will stick this time. No, I may disagree with the big guy in some cases but he is right on here.

Murray has had three coaches in three years . Enough is enough. Let the year play out and clean house top to bottom during the spring/summer.

Peter Raaymakers said...

Yeah... the story's just a rumour, but if it's true, then Melnyk's got every right to insist that Murray not burn through yet another head coach. Murray's already gone through two, and this one is a promising young one with a future in pro hockey.

It seems pretty obvious what is happening: Melnyk respects Murray and likes Clouston. He wants to give Murray the opportunity to finish up his final season, and transition him into some ceremonial position within the organization--like president, as he's partially doing now, or some scouting role. Then Melnyk wants to give the incoming GM his pick of coaches, including the choice to stick with Clouston should the new GM so decide.

Murray will likely finish out the season. He will not likely be signing any new contracts, unless given the go-ahead by the owner. He will likely be instructed to trade away almost anything he can, including Kovalev, Ruutu, perhaps Phillips, and maybe some of the RFAs like Campoli and Foligno. But nothing that can be construed as part of this organization's future.

I think you overstate the independence most GMs have in this league, to be honest. The owner can be expected to defer most decisions to his appointed GM, but at the end of the day it's his money, and when he's seen decisions by the GM end up costing him so much extra--the coach hirings and firings, the Emery and Cheechoo buyouts, the Gerber and Schubert waivers--you can't really blame him for using his veto power moving forward.

Sens said...

Murray to speak tomorrow, apparently.

We'll know something more then, while Murray is a master politician (IE knife at the ready, to be buried in the back of an unsuspecting player or fellow head office) he is pretty let's wait and see I guess.

My fondest wish? An anvil falls from the heavens, Looney Tunes style, and drops on him and Tim.

Where's Wile E. Coyote when you could use his slapstick skills?

Anonymous said...

Once a rumor like this gets out it's hard to get it to go away, everyone starts looking for signs of issues between the Clouston and Murray. Such as after Clouston moved Kovy to the 4th line with sitting the next step. Murray met with Kovy then had a long meeting with Clouston & wow Kovy was soon back on the top line.
Personally, I hope it is true because maybe Melnyk is finally wising up to Murray's faults. I do feel sorry for Clouton's family can't be easy on them.

terry k said...

A published rumor from Simmons is absolutely useless. One cannot believe a direct quote with a cited source from Simmons let alone something overheard in a lineup at the bar.

Sens said...

It does tie in to previous Murray behaviour though. HE routinely pulls the chute on players and coaches, so this isn't hard to believe.

Murray conference today:

"I don't make mistakes."
"We're going to fire Clouston, or not."
"Look how great our drafts are"
(Obliquely) "Tim Murray is your next GM"
"Laugh while I make a quip."
"The rumor wasn't true about my asking for Clouston's head, but he's only got two games."