The search for a new bench boss for the Ottawa Senators is officially under way.
General manager Bryan Murray said today his first order of business, in the wake of the team’s early dismissal from the Stanley Cup playoffs, is to find a new head coach to direct Ottawa’s fortunes into the 2008-09 season.
“My plan is to start looking for a coach immediately,” Murray said today at a season-ending news conference at Scotiabank Place. “We will find out if there are candidates that are available and willing. We’ll do as much as we can to find the right guy for the job this time. That is the plan at this point in time.”
So who’s the right guy?
“We need someone that will demand accountability, discipline and obviously good direction,” said Murray, who finished the season behind the Senators bench after firing John Paddock on Feb. 27. “A guy with good technical skills that’s willing to do the right thing with the players at the right time, which simply means if you’re not playing well, you’ll have to sit on the sidelines for a day or two at least.”
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said the decision rests entirely with Murray and that it isn’t a matter of bringing in a big-name coach.
“I want whoever can bring this team to a Stanley Cup,” he said.
The off-season also figures to be a busy one for Murray in terms of player personnel. The Senators have a number of free agents who need contracts this summer – most notably forwards Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly and Shean Donovan, and defenceman Andej Meszaros. Three players obtained via the trade route this season – forwards Cory Stillman and Martin Lapointe and defenceman Mike Commodore – are all unrestricted free agents.
“I’ve talked to the players already. They have decisions to make,” said Murray. “They’ve waited this far into their careers to be unrestricted (free agents). We have a couple of guys we’d like to keep and I’ve indicated that to them and their agents.
“They have a decision to make. Can they make more money elsewhere? Do they want to go elsewhere? Do they like it here? Do they think we made an adequate offer to them? We will continue discussions with their agents about keeping them.”
There have been no recent talks, he added, with blueliner Wade Redden, an 11-year Senators veteran whose contract expires June 30.
“Earlier on, I met with Don Meehan, his agent,” said Murray. “I talked about going forward with Wade. I talked about what they might be looking for. They didn’t respond to me at this point in time.
“I assume, that if they’re interested in being in Ottawa, there will be a request of a contract of some sort and then we will say yes or no. But at this point in time, that hasn’t happened.”
Regardless of what happens with his free agents, Murray said the team has two major needs: "A skilled defenceman that can help us get the puck going a little better" and "a second-line type of player." He's willing to acquire either via trade or free agency.
Today’s news conference came much sooner than anyone in the organization had ever expected, especially given the Senators’ 15-2-0 start to the season. But Melnyk said team management is “finally going to accept (the end result) and move on.”
“The best way to wrap up this season is to look at it as a fan,” he said. “It’s devastating. As an owner, it’s very, very disappointing.”
But Melnyk was heartened by the support of the team’s fans, who produced a record 40 sellouts in 43 games (including playoffs) at Scotiabank Place this season and an all-time total attendance high of 812,665 during the regular season.
“I can’t say enough about the fan base that has built up here in Ottawa,” he said. “When I showed up in 2003, there were so many empty seats it was scary. But I always believed in one thing and that is if you give the sense of continuity, the sense of commitment, of ownership, of management and you tell the fans you’re here for a long time, they will embrace the team.
“There’s a whole new generation of fans that we never had here that are growing up as Sens fans … At the end of the day, they really are the best fans in the NHL and I want to thank them all for their support right up to the end.”
The Senators finished the season No. 3 in the National Hockey League in attendance, which president and CEO Roy Mlakar said “is remarkable when you’re the 26th market in the league.”
“I think we’ve proven that we are Hockey Country in this community,” he said. “People (here) are passionate about the game.
“I look at the business of the Ottawa Senators and it’s never been better … We’re very positive about going forward.”