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Speculation rises that Quinn will replace Hartsburg with slumping Senators

The warning signs suggest that something is about to explode on the slumping Ottawa Senators.

The team that reached the Stanley Cup final in 2007 is 12th in the NHL Eastern Conference at 13-19-6 and has just one victory in its last seven games.

Speculation that coach Craig Hartsburg and/or general manager Bryan Murray will be fired has risen to a fever pitch since the world junior championship in Ottawa - which partly cloaked the NHL's club's recent woes - ended Monday.

On Wednesday, Le Journal de Montreal joined the Ottawa newspapers and other media outlets in suggesting that Pat Quinn, who led the Canadian juniors to gold, would take over as coach and that Bob Nicholson, president of Hockey Canada, would become the new GM.

Much was made of a big hug the Senators' unpredictable owner Eugene Melnyk gave the 65-year-old Quinn at the bench after Canada's 8-1 thrashing of the Czech Republic at the world juniors, where all three men spent the last few weeks.

There has also been talk of a trade, mostly centring on talented but defensively challenged Jason Spezza.

Melnyk issued a statement Wednesday denying reports a major shake-up was imminent.

"Contrary to what is being reported by the media, I have made no decisions with respect to any personnel changes within the Senators organization," Melnyk said. "Winning remains our No. 1 priority and there is a collective focus by our management, our coaching staff and our players to deliver this to our fans.

"I, along with our fans, will do nothing but continue to remain fully committed to our Senators and enthusiastically cheer them on to a successful second half of the season."

Hartsburg signed a three-year contract in June to replace Murray, who had taken over behind the bench after John Paddock was fired last Feb. 27. If Quinn moves in, he will be their third head coach in just over 10 months.

While the juniors took over Scotiabank Place, the Senators went on an eight-game road trip that only compounded their concerns. The team is 1-5-1 on the trip, which ends Thursday night against the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins in Boston. The only win was a 3-2 decision in Edmonton on Dec. 30.

For the season, the Senators are 4-13-2 away from home, the worst road record in the league. Ottawa has won at least 20 games on the road in each of the last five seasons.

"This hasn't been a fun trip," Spezza said after the game in Buffalo.

More bad news came Wednesday when pesky forward Jarkko Ruutu was suspended two games for biting the thumb of Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters during a tussle in a 4-2 loss in Buffalo on Tuesday night.

There has been much debate about what has gone wrong for Ottawa.

After the Sens' Stanley Cup loss to Anaheim in 2007, they started the following season by winning 15 of 17 games, but are a sub-.500 team since then.

The problem this season is not only that their top three on attack - Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley - are a little off their normal scoring pace, but that there is almost no production from anyone beyond them.

Mike Fisher got more ink from his reported romantic link to American Idol singer Carrie Underwood than from scoring goals, which he has done only three times this season.

Antoine Vermette has three goals and seven assists. Chris Kelly has four goals and five assists. Chris Neil has only three points for the season. Dean McAmmond and Shean Donovan are nowhere.

The big three have been broken up in a bid to spread out scoring and then reunited with little effect.

The Senators have looked their old selves in spurts of a period or two at a time, but even then they struggle to score. They are the lowest-scoring club in the 30-team league.

Some say it stems from the lack of an attack-oriented defenceman to start the transition game.

It hurt that Ottawa let veteran blue-liner Wade Redden go to the New York Rangers as a free agent last summer, then traded Andrej Meszaros to Tampa Bay for defencemen Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard. Kuba is their top scoring defenceman with one goal and 21 assists, but most of the points came early in the season.

Goaltenders Martin Gerber and Alex Auld have been inconsistent.

What matters is if Melnyk believes he has a good team that is underperforming and could benefit from a coaching or management change, or as it is beginning to appear, a so-so team that needs better players.

The players have said they can get the job done with the team and coach they have now, but as of Wednesday, they were 13 points out of a playoff spot with the season approaching the midway point.


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