Breaking Down Ottawa’s Coaching Candidates


As your Ottawa Senators continue their search for their next head coach, General Manager Byran Murray has narrowed his list of potential coaches to six. Having already gone through three head coaches in the last four seasons, Murray will get his last chance to decide who the right man is for the job.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch recently reported that the six potential coaches are Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Paul Maclean, Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller, former Edmonton Oilers coach and current TSN analyst Craig MacTavish, junior coach Dave Cameron of the Mississauga Majors, junior coach Gerard Gallant of the Memorial Cup championship team the Saint John Ice Dogs, and head coach of Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators Kurt Kleinendorst.

Garrioch proceeds to breakdown the chances of each candidate and the likely hood of them manning the Ottawa bench in the fall of 2011. Here’s the link to his story. Let’s take a look at each candidate and gauge whether or not they are the right man for the job:


"The Detroit assistant coach could be ready to make the next step. He has spent five seasons as an assistant with Wings coach Mike Babcock. MacLean was in the running for the coaching job with the Blue Jackets that went to Scott Arniel last year. MacLean, a former NHLer, has minor-league head-coaching experience. He was also an assistant with Babcock in Anaheim when Bryan Murray was the GM of the Ducks. There is familiarity there. If the Senators decide to go this route, MacLean would be a safe choice."

Murray has longed to turn Ottawa into Detroit-East and make the Sens a puck possession team. Mike Babcock is not going anywhere, so the next best thing may be the man who has been his understudy for the last five seasons. Armed with a Stanley Cup ring, Maclean has the prerequisite NHL experience and the knowledge of how to deal with NHL stars. Considered the front runner for the Ottawa bench, Maclean will have other suitors. Even though he has his doubters, Ottawa will need to decide if Maclean is the right man for the job quickly before he is snatched up by the other teams also looking for a new head coach.


"In seven seasons behind the Oilers bench, he took Edmonton to the Stanley Cup final during a miraculous run in 2006. He had a young team in a small market and wasn’t always blessed with a lot of talent. He’s known in coaching circles as somebody who can communicate and teach. The key for MacTavish in this race: He has NHL head-coaching experience. This is an important choice for GM Bryan Murray. The Senators are going to be selling the future. The guy behind the bench will play a key role in all of this."

MacTavish does bring with him NHL head coaching experience and a trip to the finals, but his overall record leaves more to be desired. In his eight seasons behind the Edmonton bench, MacTavish failed to make the playoffs five times, and only won more than 40 games twice. I think MacTavish has kept himself relevant with his TSN analyst gig, but it would be a huge risk to hand over the coaching reins to him.


"The Senators owe it to the coach of their AHL affiliate to give him a shot at the job. He has taken Binghamton to the Calder Cup final against the Houston Aeros and was able to get to the playoffs after dealing with numerous call-ups down the stretch. Pro scouts call the job Kleinendorst, 50, has done remarkable. He is demanding but fair with the players. The Senators are going to be young next season. They’re going to have enough players on the roster who are familiar with Kleinendorst. If the Baby Sens win the title, Kleinendorst is more attractive."

When a team gets hit with injuries or call-ups (in the case of the B-Sens), excuses can be made for the poor results of a team. But when a team perseveres despite injuries or call-up such as the B-Sens in this season and playoffs, most of the credit can deservedly go to the coach. Kleinendorst has taken the B-Sens that is full of first year pros all the way to one win of the Calder Cup. If he wins the Calder Cup, Kleinendorst will not only be looked at for the Sens vacant coaching position, but also for other openings from around the league.

With one year left on his current deal to coach the Binghamton Senators, Ottawa may have to protect their asset and include him as part of the coaching staff in Ottawa. Ideally, Ottawa would love to have Kleinendorst finish out his contract in Bingo and help all of their young prospects develop more. But with two solid years in a row that featured a gold medal with team USA at the 2010 IIHF Under-18 World Hockey Championship and a trip to the AHL Calder Cup Finals, Kleinendorst may have other more attractive options than returning for another year in the AHL.


"He gets owner Eugene Melnyk’s “vote” for the top job. Yes, that’s strong backing for the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors coach, who has been in Melnyk’s stable for years. Cameron is regarded as a strong coach in a lot of circles, but many wonder if he’s ready to make the jump. He returned to St. Mike’s after a short stint in Binghamton because the Baby Sens weren’t having success and had few prospects. Finishing second for the OHL title, Memorial Cup and winning silver with Team Canada hurts his standing. He might make a good candidate for an assistant’s job."

Considered to have the inside track to Ottawa’s bench due to his relationship with Sens owner Eugene Melnyk, Cameron lacks the track record to be widely accepted as the savior behind the bench. I think Cameron will be part of the coaching decision as his long-term loyalty will be rewarded in some way. With his last year seeing three major defeats in championship games, Cameron may be better suited for the AHL at this point in his career to build on his coaching abilities.


"The Canadiens assistant coach has had an interview. He’s highly regarded in coaching circles for the job he’s done working with Jacques Martin and the playoff success the Habs enjoyed last spring. A former NHL captain, Muller certainly has the leadership abilities, but many wonder if he’s really ready for the next step. Has he spent enough time as an NHL assistant? There is no question that Muller is a hot prospect and an easy sell. Murray has to decide if he’s comfortable with this choice."

Widely seen as the next big thing in the coaching world, Muller has been an assistant for the last five years with the Canadiens. Mentored by former Sens coach Jaques Martin, Muller has learned how to lead and be successful within a defensive system. The big question with Muller is can he run an offensive system after being in a defensive system his whole coaching career? I don’t see Murray going this route as Muller probably will get better offers from other teams searching for a new coach.


"He has had his interview and has a strong relationship with GM Bryan Murray, for whom he played with the Red Wings. Gallant won the Memorial Cup last Sunday with the Saint John Sea Dogs. His stay behind the Blue Jackets bench from 2003-2006 bench didn’t go so well. He finished with 56 victories in 142 games. Gallant has learned a lot since being fired in 2006. Another guy without a proven track record, but he did work with young players at the junior level this season and won a title. Could be hard sell to owner Eugene Melnyk."

Fresh off his Memorial Cup win, Gallant is the hottest coach in junior hockey right now. Winning with the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs, is Gallant the right man to bring in during the rebuild in Ottawa. Having shown what he can do with a poor roster before in Columbus, Gallant may be better suited to a more established team like Dallas or New Jersey.

In the end, out of the six candidates listed here, I think Maclean is the best available coach to help this team regain its contender status. The kink in the decision will be Cameron and Kleinendorst and what their futures are within the organization. Have your say, who will man Ottawa’s bench next season?


Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.

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