OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators are seeking accountability and Craig Hartsburg is the man charged with bringing it to them.
The Senators introduced the 48-year-old as their new head coach on Friday. Hartsburg, who signed a three-year deal, takes over from general manager Bryan Murray, who replaced John Paddock more than midway through the team’s tumultuous last season.
The first order of business for Hartsburg, a native of Stratford, Ont., is to restore structure to a team that was dogged by off-ice controversies during an underachieving campaign that ended with a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins in April.
“Early in this whole thing, the players will see that there’s a plan and we’re certainly here as coaches to motivate the players to follow the plan. And then if the plan is not followed, there will certainly be accountability,” Hartsburg said in a news conference at Scotiabank Place, where he was introduced by Murray and Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.
“I don’t want to get into specifics, but trust me, there will be accountability. It’ll be black and white. They’ll know what’s right and what’s wrong and they’ll know there’s a line not to cross.”
It was a year ago, following the team’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2006-07 Stanley Cup final, that Paddock was promoted from an assistant’s role after Murray assumed the GM duties from the fired John Muckler.
After a quick start to the season, the team’s performance went south and the poor play was punctuated by Paddock enduring a series of practice incidents involving goaltender Ray Emery.
Amid media speculation that all wasn’t well in the Senators’ dressing room and with the team struggling in late February, Paddock was fired with 18 games to go in the regular season.
Paddock later said he would have handled his dealings with Emery differently and Senators management made it clear they were looking for a coach to rein things in and who could handle the scrutiny of coaching in Ottawa, where there are no other professional sports to share the headlines.
“I just thought we have to get back to the work ethic and structure that we had here for a number of years,” said Murray, who feels Hartsburg compares favourably with Mike Babcock, who just led the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup.
Despite reports earlier in the week that Pete DeBoer of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers would be given the job after meeting with Melnyk in Barbados, Murray insisted that Hartsburg was the No. 1 choice from a shortlist that also included former Atlanta Thrashers coach Bob Hartley.
“It appeared to me that one guy thrived on the scrutiny, thrived on the pressure and wanted to be in Ottawa,” Murray said.
“I had a comfort level and, at the end of the day, I thought that was the way to go.”
Hartsburg added: “We want this group to take great pride and passion in being a team. To me, that is one of the utmost important things right from the start that we’ll stress.
“We certainly want to be a team that goes on the attack with lots of structure and that will allow skilled players to play, but to me, none of this will matter unless it’s accountable.
“I will push, I will challenge our players everyday to be their best. If you do that and the players accept being pushed and challenged, by the end of the year, we will be our best. I know it’s a great challenge and I can’t wait. I love challenges.”
Hartsburg, who played 10 NHL seasons as a defenceman with the since-relocated Minnesota North Stars franchise, spent the past four behind the bench with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Greyhounds.
He also has experience as a head coach at the NHL level with the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks in addition to being an assistant with Minnesota and the Philadelphia Flyers, most recently in 2003-04. In fact, Murray would later follow Hartsburg as coach in Anaheim after the latter was fired in 2000-01.
Hartsburg’s coaching record at the NHL level is 184-190-69.
It’s with Canada’s national junior team where he’s achieved his greatest success, winning the gold medal the past two years as head coach as well as a third as an assistant with the 2006 team.
For a team that is desperate to win the first Stanley Cup in its modern history, Murray felt Hartsburg’s world junior experience was a strong selling point.
“We tried to be very detailed in the type of person we want,” Murray said. “(He’s) a guy that’s been through the mill in many ways at the NHL level, the international level.
“I don’t think anybody’s more scrutinized in international than the coach of the world junior team and I think you know the results of Craig’s involvement with that.”
With Emery likely to be bought out of his contract, Hartsburg, who in an earlier stint with the Greyhounds coached the goaltender, won’t have to deal with him and reserved comment on last season’s stories.
“It’s not up to me to rehash them. I’m moving forward,” he said.
Instead, Hartsburg, who recently underwent hip surgery and was still using a crutch Friday to help him get around, said he’ll immediately go to work on naming his assistants and meeting with Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson to discuss his plan of action.
“To me, it’s not about being fixed,” Hartsburg said. “It’s about me coming in with a program and getting the players to buy into it.”