With his number four hanging from the rafters in Sault Ste. Marie, Craig Hartsburg has moved back to the NHL coaching ranks. Departing the Greyhounds and taking over the coveted Head Coaching position with the Senators.
Hartsburg was a star defenceman with the Minnesota North Stars and represented Canada in the 1981 and 1987 Canada Cup tournament. After NHL coaching jobs in Chicago and Anaheim, he returned to the Greyhounds during the 2004 NHL work stoppage. Leaving an assistant coaching position with the Flyers at the time. While his win - loss record of 184 - 190 - 69 is not stellar, the three consecutive gold medals at the World Junior Championships has cemented his reputation as a quality coach and not just a former player who is coaching.
Many observers believed that Kitchener Rangers coach Peter DeBoer had the job when he travelled to Barbados to meet Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. As it turns out, Hartsburg also made the trip south. Which, according to Melnyk, was for " a couple of beers and a pizza" and a chance to sell Hartsburg on the beauty of Ottawa. It has been mentioned here in Ottawa that DeBoer, who was coincidentally named Panthers coach today, wanted a four year deal. Melnyk was not prepared to offer that kind of contract to a coach with no NHL experience. It has been rumoured DeBoer may have been using one offer against another but I have not seen that confirmed, nor will we. The NHL community is usually tight lipped about these things.
In today's press conference, Hartsburg appeared composed and focused on the tasks ahead. The Senators have a huge problem at the goaltender position with Emery out and Gerber going in to the final year of his contract that he has not lived up to. There will most likely be at least three new faces on the blue line with only Phillips, Volchenkov and rookie Brian Lee under contract and Meszaros a restricted free agent. Redden and the others won't be back.
Then there are the questions at forward. With Heatley and Spezza's new contracts kicking in July 1st, a lot of money is already tied up. Will this team become the Tampa of the north? Too much money tied up in too few players? Will there be enough money to bring in the top six forward GM Brian Murray has been searching for the last two seasons? Hartsburg plans to bring in a new system and will hold the players more accountable.
"I will push, I will challenge our players every day to be their best. If you do that and the players accept being pushed and challenged, by the end of the year, we will be our best. I know it's a great challenge and I can't wait. I love challenges." - Team 1200 - Hartsburg press conference
Perhaps coach Hartsburg should call Pat Burns. Jason Spezza's defensive play at this Springs World Championship can be directly attributed to Burns' no ice time if you give the puck away at the other teams blue line. Spezza's style is exciting but he needs a system that allows him to pick his creative spots a little better.
The pressure to win in Ottawa is intense. This is a team that has had tremendous regular season accomplishments only to come up short in the post season. The trip to the Cup Final in '07 has turned the pressure up another notch as the team owner and Senator fans want to see the team competing for the Stanley Cup soon, very soon. With a strong Head Coach now in place, all eyes turn to Brian Murray to see what kind of roster he can assemble for Hartsburg.