OTTAWA – While Cory Clouston introduced the newest member of his staff Thursday, talk turned to what’s becoming an old story for the Ottawa Senators coach: what to do about Dany Heatley.
Clouston, speaking on a conference call after the Senators announced the hiring of former NHLer Brad Lauer as an assistant coach, said he’s yet to speak with his disgruntled star. It’s Heatley’s unhappiness over his diminished role and ice time since Clouston took over as head coach that’s been cited as the reason for the left-winger requesting a trade out of Ottawa this spring.
“I’m more than willing to listen and talk to anybody, but nothing’s changed at all,” said Clouston, who was “surprised” at Heatley’s request.
Clouston, who took over after Craig Hartsburg was fired on Feb. 2 and led the Senators to a 19-11-4 record down the stretch, has previously only spoken briefly with reporters at the NHL draft in June about the situation. Since then, the Senators have seen a proposed deal that would have sent Heatley to the Edmonton Oilers vetoed by the player. Clouston remains disappointed with the development.
“I really don’t know what else to say,” he continued. “(But) whatever cards we’re dealt, I’ll work with them. That’s with or without Dany.”
Earlier this week, the Senators welcomed talented-but-enigmatic forward Alex Kovalev to Ottawa for the first time since he signed a two-year, US $10-million deal as a free agent earlier this month.
Despite a reputation as not necessarily being the easiest player to work with for a coach – a label the Senators and Kovalev himself don’t feel is fair – Clouston is thrilled about the addition of a player with talent to burn, especially if forced to enter the season without Heatley’s offence.
“My first reaction was I was just very excited for the organization,” Clouston said. “Alex brings something into the mix who can change a game in and of itself.
“Obviously, there’s been a lot of negativity surrounding the organization (over Heatley). It’s like a breath of fresh air.”
The addition of Lauer, a native of Humboldt, Sask., is also a welcome addition to Clouston. Lauer, 42, served as Clouston’s assistant for five seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice from 2002-03 to 2006-07.
“I relied on Brad’s experience as a player over the five years we worked together,” said Clouston, who never played in the NHL. “This is another step forward for the organization.”
Lauer was a second-round pick of the New York Islanders (34th overall) in 1985 and the hard-working forward went on to play 16 professional seasons. In 323 career NHL games that included stops on Long Island, in Ottawa, Chicago and Pittsburgh, he recorded 44 goals and 67 assists for 111 points.
He played 30 games with the Senators during the 1993-94 season when Ottawa was a team still struggling to get away from its expansion days.
“It was a young organization and obviously going through some growing pains in terms of wins and losses,” said Lauer, who joins Greg Carvel as the team’s other assistant.
Meanwhile, former blue-liner Luke Richardson, who retired early last season to become an assistant coach, will remain with the club on a part-time basis, working with the team’s defencemen in Ottawa and with the Senators’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. Clouston said Richardson wasn’t able to fully commit as a family/personal decision.
Lauer moved into coaching after finishing his playing career with the Sheffield Steelers of the British Super League in 2001-02. The past two seasons, he’s been an assistant with the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals.
“I appreciate the opportunity that (Clouston) has given me here,” Lauer said. “I’m excited about it and I feel very comfortable making this next step.
“I’ve got to get to know the guys from the team. I know from watching the Senators play the last couple of years that they’re an exciting team, they bring a lot of work ethic.”