|Binghamton Senators head coach Cory Clouston, shown during Senators development camp last summer, has been elevated to the same position with the Ottawa Senators. Clouston, who replaces Craig Hartsburg, makes his NHL coaching debut on Tuesday night when the Sens face the Los Angeles Kings.
Now it's Cory Clouston's turn to steer the Ottawa Senators ship.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray announced this morning that Clouston, the second-year coach of the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., has been elevated to the head coaching position in Ottawa. Clouston replaces Craig Hartsburg, who was relieved of his duties on Sunday night, hours after a dispiriting 7-4 loss to the Washington Capitals.
Clouston, 39, will make his National Hockey League coaching debut on Tuesday night, when the Senators face the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
He'll guide the Senators for the balance of this season, Murray said.
"I'm obviously very excited," said Clouston. "We just finished playing three games in three nights in Binghamton. Yesterday was supposed to be a relaxing day watching the Super Bowl and the phone rang and here I am.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity. It's a big challenge but as I told the guys this morning, they're a good team. They've got to remember what it felt like when they were a good team."
While Senators owner Eugene Melnyk gave him free rein to pursue a veteran coach with NHL experience, Murray insisted that Clouston is the right man for the job.
"He knows our players, he knows our prospects and I know he gets the maximum performance out of his players in the American Hockey League," he said. "I think he earned this job, I think he deserved this job and I want to give him a chance to be the guy here. I'm hoping he can help us and that's all I'm asking him to do. Help us make this franchise be what we thought it should be from the start of the year and that is a competitive team on a daily basis."
Hartsburg posted a 17-24-7 record during his first season behind the Senators bench. But with the team showing few signs of turning around a poor start that has left Ottawa sitting in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, 14 points shy of a playoff position, Murray felt he had to make a coaching change.
"It's sad," Murray said of his decision, which was "based on the record, the team performance lately and the competitive level of our team over a period of time."
"We had fairly high expectations this season," he added. "We also believed that we would rebound from a shaky start. We kept hoping there would be some change in our performance, which didn't seem to be taking place.
"To have to do it was very, very difficult. I have to say (Hartsburg) understood. He was apologetic a little bit that he didn't get the team to play the way he thought he would when he came here."
With the move, Murray hopes to get a clearer idea about "the level of performance this group is capable of. Is it what we're playing like now or is it what we've seen out of some of these players in the past?"
He added what happens over the next month will go a long way toward making some "big decisions" on certain personnel before the March 4 NHL trade deadline.
"I believe we have a core here – we don't have 20 complete players – but we have a core of players here that should be much more competitive than they've shown lately," he said. "This is why we didn't wait. Maybe I waited a couple of weeks too long but this is why I didn't wait any longer. I felt it was time to make a change, find out and see what we have to do before the year ends."
Clouston believes he's here to keep the Senators pushing hard to the finish line.
"He knows our players, he knows our prospects and I know he gets the maximum performance out of his players in the American Hockey League. I think he earned this job, I think he deserved this job and I want to give him a chance to be the guy here." - Bryan Murray
"The biggest thing is, I believe in the guys in this dressing room," he said. "It was only two years ago that this team was in the Stanley Cup final. There have been some guys that have gone in and out of the lineup but for the most part, that nucleus is still there.
"They've shown they can do it and now it's a matter of getting back to that point."
Last season, the Senators fired John Paddock at the 64-game mark of his first season as the team's head coach. Murray, who went behind the bench for the final 18 games and the Sens' first-round playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, didn't consider putting on his coaching hat again this time.
Murray has offered the Binghamton Senators' coaching job to Curtis Hunt, an assistant on Hartsburg's staff, but Hunt asked for a few days to consider the decision. Clouston indicated he'll retain current assistants Greg Carvel and Luke Richardson.
Clouston compiled a 59-48-12-8 record in Binghamton after spending five seasons as head coach of the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice. The native of Viking, Alta., went 209-111-24-15 with the ice, guiding them to five straight playoff berths, including a run to the conference final in 2004-05. He was the WHL's coach of the year in 2006-07 prior to joining the B-Sens.