|Head coach Cory Clouston was all smiles earlier today as he discussed the new two-year contract he received from the Ottawa Senators. He had been the team's interim coach since Feb. 2.
Remove the interim tag from Cory Clouston's job description.
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk announced this morning that Clouston has been signed to a two-year deal to continue directing the turnaround he's been able to generate over the second half of this season.
General manager Bryan Murray said little time was needed to hammer out the deal over the weekend with the coach he feels has done "a remarkable job" during his short tenure in Ottawa. Murray had Melnyk's full backing to keep Clouston on board.
"I think it took 22 seconds, probably in that range. There wasn't a lot of debating back and forth," said Murray with a nod toward Clouston.
"I'm very happy that we're able to announce that Cory will continue on as the head coach here," said Murray. "I think we're watching a team now that, going forward, will make it very entertaining for the fans."
Said Clouston: "I just wanted the opportunity to continue what we've started here. I trust Bryan and Mr. Melnyk and that was really all there was to it."
Since taking over from the fired Craig Hartsburg on Feb. 2, the former Binghamton Senators coach has guided the big club to a 19-10-3 record. Ottawa has run off a franchise-record nine straight victories at home, further buoying optimism for the future. While the Senators will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96, Clouston has management and the team's players believing that it's an absence that won't last beyond this season.
"Think about what (GM Bryan Murray) did when he hired a rookie coach into the NHL. That is a gutsy move. I think he put his career with the Senators on the line. Think about it. But he signed up Cory and look at where we are today." - Eugene Melnyk
"We've given ourselves a reason to believe for next season," said Clouston. "We have a lot of optimism. We know there's still a lot of work to be done, but we've also identified those areas that need to be worked on. I'm just fortunate and lucky to work again with this group of guys for a couple more years.
"The true colours of this team have shown in the last 30-plus games and I think the future is very bright... What we've accomplished here in the last couple of months is going to give us a real good indication of what to expect next year."
The atmopshere surrounding the team today is surely a stark contrast from the winter night when the coaching change was made. The Senators were floundering at 17-24-7 and Murray decided to entrust his team to a 39-year-old coach with no previous National Hockey League experience, believing he could revive things in a hockey-mad market.
Looking back now, Melnyk termed it an extremely bold move.
"Think about what (Murray) did when he hired a rookie coach into the NHL," said Melnyk. "That is a gutsy move. I think he put his career with the Senators on the line. Think about it. But he signed up Cory and look at where we are today.
"Should we have done it earlier? It was a tough call. It was a tough call when we made it. A lot of times, you can just simply let the season go and make the change. But to do it when we did and to have these kind of results, it's encouraging for next year."
Given what has transpired over the past two months, Melnyk clearly believes the move to hire Clouston was worthy of any perceived risk.
"It's not traditional," said Melnyk. "But to me, I like doing things not traditional. If you don't take risks, then you're never going to succeed. Anybody in business that takes the traditional route will ultimately be mediocre.
"The true colours of this team have shown in the last 30-plus games and I think the future is very bright ... What we've accomplished here in the last couple of months is going to give us a real good indication of what to expect next year." - Cory Clouston
"We could be mediocre. We could have hired somebody that has a nice resume and has done this and that. But we needed a change and a fresh mind. It didn't take long for Cory to come in and prove exactly that. Going outside the box is something that I'm used to. This was outside the box and this was one of the times that it does work."
While the interim label is gone and his future is now secure, Clouston won't allow himself to breathe a little easier. His desire to see the Senators improve will remain as fierce as ever.
"My expectations on myself never change," he said. "We're trying to win as many hockey games (as we can). It may sound strange, but (his status) was never my focus and never my concern. I was brought in here to win games and to help this team get back on track and that's no different.
"We want to win as many games as we can and that's my focus, to get a win tomorrow night (against the New Jersey Devils) and make sure that our plan for the summer and going into next year will get us where we want to be."