The future of the Ottawa Senators might be murkier than ever and they have their new coach Cory Clouston to thank for that.
Hear me out now. Since Clouston has come behind the bench, the Senators have looked like their customary selves rather than the Keystone Cops version that has horrified its fans for the previous 18 months. Going into tomorrow night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, the Senators are playing at a 12-6-3 clip under Clouston, which translates into a .643 winning percentage and a comfortable playoff spot if pro-rated over an entire season.
The only mid-season replacement who has done better is fellow former American League coach Dan Bylsma, who is 11-1-3 since taking over behind the bench of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Clouston’s impact on the Senators now begs the question: Is this a talented, playoff-caliber group that simply needed better coaching or is it just an also-ran that is playing its best when the games mean nothing and a major reconstruction is still in order?
It certainly would have been a lot easier to determine had the Senators continued their bumbling ways. But there’s little doubt the Senators brain-trust will be faced with that question this summer and will be tempted to keep things status quo, particularly if the Senators keep playing good hockey through the end of the season.
With a presumably healthy Pascal Leclaire being the answer to the goaltending problems that have plagued the Senators for the better part of two seasons, who’s to say the Senators can’t return to the status of contender as early as next season?
But on the other hand, this is also a team that, even if it played to its full capabilities and had a healthy and productive Leclaire, would still be a fair distance away from legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Even if everything falls into place, what the Senators lack is an all-round defenseman who can create offence and play a physical game in his own end. They had that in Zdeno Chara, you say? That’s true, but at the time the notion of choosing Wade Redden over him didn’t seem as outlandish as it does now. The fact they lost both of them and have yet to replace their offensive abilities is the most glaring hole the Senators now face the prospect of filling.
And since Erik Karlsson is a couple of years away, that’s not going to happen overnight without some major moves – like, say, trading Jason Spezza – instead of minor tweaks.
This column also appears in the Ottawa Metro newspaper.
Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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