How's your summer going? Are you enjoying your time away from the rink and out of the headlines? Oh wait, you were dragged through the mud by your star player, weren't you? Yes, we're also still scratching our heads trying to figure out what you did wrong or what you were supposed to have done.
But I'm not writing to you just to figure out the Heatley situation and why he blamed you in his trade request. I wanted to focus instead of encouraging you for the upcoming season in the face of immense pressure.
When you took over this team last year, it was struggling along to a 17-24-7 record. The city and its fans were preparing for its first season sans playoffs in over a decade. The first order of business for you was to teach all of us how to pronounce your name and tell us where the hell you came from. Second, you were tasked with getting us through the season while keeping in tact what little pride we had left. You certainly accomplished this and went a step further by actually getting us excited about our potential going forward. Finishing the season at 19-11-4, you gave us hope that we weren't as bad as we were growing accustomed to being.
But while we're impressed with the work ethic and effort you instilled in these players, I'm here to tell you that last season was easy for you. This Fall is when you will truly be tested. Think about it for a moment - for starters, you are the fourth coach in three years and we're expecting you to do something that three other very strong coaches couldn't accomplish. We're expecting you to get these professional hockey players to show up every night and play as hard as they can as a team for 60 minutes. If you think these players will just do this on their own, ask John Paddock and Craig Hartsburg how things went when leaving the accountability up to the players?
But you aren't like those other coaches, right? You are not a player's coach. You aren't friends with your players and you don't have favourites. Some players actually talk about what a hard ass you have been in practices. Keep it up! Listen, it isn't your job to be buddies with these players; leave that to Carvel. You have a responsibility to the organization to get the most out of these players and to win games, no matter what it takes. You're off to a solid start, but don't let up!
Then there's the issue of pressure. You took over a team in shambles. Every win was one more than what we were expecting. Besides the fact that those wins cost us a better draft pick, you really didn't have a single ounce of pressure on your shoulders. John Paddock? He took over a team that was fresh off the Stanley Cup Finals and he let it get away. Craig Hartsburg? He was the man with the plan to save the team and limit the down seasons to one. Those guys faced pressure in their very first game. You haven't faced one single game with that kind of pressure yet. I'm not trying to be confrontational here, but that's the truth. You did an admirable job, no question, but you did it with the whole city cheering you on. You were like a hockey coach version of Barack Obama, taking over a team in the tank and knowing that every action you made was going to be applauded. Does that mean Hartsburg is President Bush? I digress...
Your success at the end of last season has opened you up for the pressure cooker of this season. Each loss will be unexpected now and the radio call-in shows will quickly find your deficiencies. By the end of October, you'll either be continuing from where you left off last year, or you'll be getting compared to your predecessors. This isn't fair of us, of course, but don't forget that we have gotten used to coaches leaving before season's end. You've built up expectations for this franchise and we're expecting you to deliver us wins on a regular basis. The honeymoon is over. We want those wins.
And then there is the Dany Heatley issue. If he ends up being traded, which I still expect will happen soon, then you're record will be matched to his. So now you have to deal with the comparisons to Paddock, Murray, Hartsburg, AND Dany Heatley's new team. Think about it - Bryan Murray extended your contract and a short while later, Heatley asked for a trade. Murray has made the right move by standing by his coach, but at the same time, he's choosing you over Heatley. Again, this is the right move, but think about the added pressure of outperforming Heatley now. What if he moves to Edmonton and rattles off a series of multi-goal games while you stumble out of the gate in Ottawa? Regardless of how much we despise Heatley now, we're certainly going to start questioning Murray's choice, no? This is completely unfair of us, but that is life in a Canadian hockey city.
Wow, I've certainly painted a bleak picture for you here. Sorry about that. My point is to remind you that while last season's finish was exciting and fun, the real work starts this Fall when we're expecting to get back to the playoffs. You've got the history of coaching changes in Ottawa, and you've got the rift with our top goal scorer working against you, but the city wants you to succeed. We want wins and we want you behind the bench leading this team. You are in the business of winning and if you meet that objective, you'll be a hero in this town. Keep grinding these players and keep expecting more. Learn from the mistakes of the past coaches and understand this is a very hard job. And don't back down to the pressure. If we didn't have expectations of you, it would mean that we didn't care about you. I said the same thing to Spezza last week - expectations and pressure are good for you, Cory!
Best of luck this Fall.