Here's round two. In the first installment, Pynch showered Kovalev with hugs and kisses while Duff questioned the alleged negative impact he might have on an already volatile dressing room. Here, we tackle the question of whether or not Clouston is cut out for the big time in his first full season.
Duff: Here's one thing I'm not certain about - who is Cory Clouston? Pardon me if I didn't jump aboard his bandwagon last year after 34 games. There is no doubt that the team started to perform better and the aggressive style was far more suitable to our personnel. That being said, he took over a team in a lost season. Every win was a surprise for this group. Pressure was at a minimum. For the first time in a decade, the players were out there with nothing to play for but pride. This is not much different than the recent Maple Leafs seasons when they were a non-playoff team but not 'mathematically' eliminated until early April. I'm just not prepared to blanket Clouston with love and admiration because he won a few more than he lost in games that nobody cared about. He is still a rookie coach with a mediocre roster. The difference this season is that the fans are about to throw boatloads of expectations his way. I don't see this working out well.
Pynch: First off, I believe pressure last year was not as minimal as you think. The players may have had it easy with knowing when they would start their summer, but there was certainly a lot of pressure on upper management, including Clouston. Despite the interim tag, if Clouston had failed miserably he would have met the same fate as Murray in the unemployment line. So, there was pressure to turn things around and deliver, at minimum, a .500 season – which we barely did. Cory handled his intro into the show with composure and got the short-sighted job done. Is there more pressure this year? Yep, but he’s more capable to deal with half a season under his belt.
So, who is he? Geez, who’s Dan Bylsma? Ok, this is a dangerous comparison so I won’t go down this road… What I like about Clouston’s history is his fairly consistent success and the way he’s managed to climb the ranks. He’s been coaching for 15 years or so, starting the lowly junior ranks before climbing his way into the WHL as an Assistant Coach. From there he moved to Head Coach and won the WHL’s Coach of the Year award – twice! Of course, his success warranted an opportunity in the pros, albeit in the AHL before breaking through last year – when we all started asking who this Clouston guy is? Thank goodness for Wikipedia…
What’s common over Clouston’s career is his ability to adjust and elevate to the next level as a coach. He never played in the NHL, I think his top level of playing experience was the U of A Golden Bears. My point is that he didn’t get a coaching job because of his playing experience – which is more and more common these days. It wasn’t gift wrapped or even gift bagged – it was earned and deserved. He’s new to the NHL and a market like Ottawa, but he’s not new to coaching. His experience, ahem, winning experience, should allow us to get excited about the baby-faced drill sargaent.
Duff: I do find it interesting and a bit comforting that he’s climbed the ranks so fast and had success at each level. But another concern for me is his style and approach to the players. Is he a no-nonsense guy that gets the best out of his players? Or is he a Tortorella or Keenan that belittles his players to the point that they stop playing for him? From what we’ve seen so far of Clouston, he isn’t buddies with his players and I think that is great. Be hard on them, get more out of them, and make them understand who calls the shots. But this is his first taste of the big leagues and will he know where that line is or will he cross it and alienate himself from his players?
In the junior leagues and even in the AHL, the players need that type of coach. An authoritative figure that teaches them how to play the game and identifies their mistakes and shortcomings so they can improve. Besides, these players need all the help they can get in order to make the jump to the NHL, right? But players at the NHL level are far different – they’ve MADE it. I’m not saying that they need to be coddled and massaged or anything like that, but there are far different motivators at this level. Can Clouston’s approach of being an asshole work with these millionaires? On one hand, Keenan and Torts have won a Cup with their style and so it can work with an experienced coach like that; on the other hand, they find it tougher and tougher to get jobs because their style doesn’t suit most teams and most organizations. Can Clouston fit into ours? Can he change our culture? I think he’s still a minor league guy playing in the bigs with the old boys and his bark might fall on deaf ears.
Pynch: Good points. It's hard to know how a coach's style will mesh with the team. A big problem with the Sens over the last year or so has been scoring goals. From a team who led the league, to one who's struggled to fill the net. That said, I'm writing off this recent failure to our struggling stars. Are Spez, Alfie, Heatley (gotta leave him in here, for now), and now Kovalev, gonna continue to stuggle to fill the net? It's possible, but I'd be surprised. Clouston's offensive style has the ability to make these guys shine. However, I don't believe this is our biggest problem.
While our stars have sputtered, it's our 2nd, 3rd and 4th liners who we keep waiting to produce. When will Fisher become a true second liner? Will Foligno develop into a 20 goal scorer? Can Kelly produce? It's not only that, but we need our energy guys - Neil, Ruutu, Donovan, the list goes on - to bring up their game. Not only on the scoreboard, but their games need to be elevated all around. We need to be hard to play against. We want the league to have their hands full with these lines, and shake their heads after every shift. If that happens, I think some offence will come. But offence aside, all-around results for these guys are needed and I think Clouston's lunch pail style will help. Sure these guys have 'made it', but do you think they're stars? Do they think they're stars? Unlikely. They're crucial, but they need to work to keep their jobs and their respect. Clouston's expectations of work ethic and hard hockey will be heard by these guys. I fully expect them to respond.
Ottawa's depth has something to prove. Being tested by Clouston should inspire them further. And for their top guys, I don't believe they are prima donnas (with the exception of Kovalev, where that applies to 40% of games). They need strong expectations and zero tolerance for calling it in. Call Clouston an asshole, but these players are not in need of a soft coach who just hopes they play hard and have fun. Clouston is exactly what we need.
Duff: Yeah, he did get more out of Fisher and Foligno, which was great to see. And so I get the last word since I know you're out of the office today. Clouston filled out his staff with Brad Lauer and said he uses him for experience since Lauer played in the NHL. I know you don't have to play in the NHL to know what you're doing up there as a coach (see Ken Hitchcock), but everything has seemed upside down since Clouston took over. Our most aggressive line included Ryan Shannon, our top scorer asked for a trade, and our off-ice staff is filled with no-namers. We all know that this is Bryan Murray's last stand after the coaching carousel and the whole 'we missed the playoffs' bit. Is he worried that he's hanging his hat on Clouston to carry the season? I know he said he's too old and been around too long to worry about that, but think of where this organization has gone in Murray's tenure as GM and how his contract will depend on what an unexperienced Cory Clouston can do this year. I'm pulling for him, obviously, because I have blind loyalty to this team. I just haven't felt good about our coaching staff since Murray was back there in the Finals and this season doesn't change that.