Friday, April 23, 2004

Tying the Can to Jacques

Nine years he served as a loyal soldier in the cause of hockey in the Capital. Taking a lost and dysfunctional group and turning them into one of the most offensive scoring machines in recent NHL History. Yet unable to take the next step in the progression, Jacques Martin bade farewell to his troops on Thursday as the Senators began the process of cleaning house and rebuilding the foundation for another run at the Stanley Cup.

Martin's parting gift from the bank account of Eugene Melnyk is a 750,000 dollar buyout, having just signed a two year extension in January. Whether he finds alternate work or not, (the smart betting is he does), he'll be able to take his time and consider just where the right spot in the NHL universe is for him.

General Manager John Muckler and team President Roy Mlakar came to the conclusion that Martin had "lost the dressing room" and that a change had to be made. Muckler explaining that you can't fire 29 players so someone has to go. Muckler went on to state that it was time for a new voice, new ideas. The goal is to find someone to take this team to the next level.

The Senators have been a conundrum for years now, every year they pile on the points in the regular season only to shut down in the playoffs, rarely making it to the second round and most times leaving after the first. Confounding their fans and hockey observers alike, there seems to be no answer to the failure of this team to succeed in the season that counts. Martin's fate was probably put in the danger zone after game five, when John Muckler went into the Sens dressing room and challenged his players to perform. If Muckler felt the need to step in and provide the incentive to win, he probably had already begun the process of dismissing his coach.

The removal of Martin and his staff is probably just the start of some changes to the make up of this team. Young players such as Jason Spezza and Martin Havlat need some guidance to develop; a new coach will have to find the best way to put their talents to work. Goaltending was another concern, the usually reliable Patrick Lalime, had a horrid game seven effectively sealing his coach's fate, it remains to be seen if he has also put himself on the trading block. The Sens Defence which in the regular season was possibly the best starting four in the NHL, were not effective in the recent Leafs series. With the exception of Zdeno Chara who dominated his ice time, the rest of the defence gave up too much of the ice and couldn't shut down the Leaf attack. Considering that many people think of Martin as a defensive coach, it is a telling point that it was his defence that couldn't get the job done. Combine that with a total failure of the high octane offense put together for this run and something wasn't working. The Sens decided that it was the coaching.

For his part Martin handled the events with nothing but class, as is to be expected from the quiet scholarly like former head coach. In a press conference following the announcement of his dismissal, Martin expressed regret that he won't be there to share in a Stanley Cup win from the team he used to coach. Saying that he is convinced the current roster is capable of winning a Cup, he's disappointed that things haven't worked out to enable him to be a part of it.

And so the search begins, names already being bounced around include Joel Quenneville, Larry Robinson, Paul Maurice and of all people Mike Keenan (God Save us Sens fans!). The best fit might be Robinson, who hails from nearby Winchester, his success in New Jersey and Los Angeles; his days with the fabled Canadiens would give Sens fans a bit of hope for a dismal off season.

But regardless of who replaces Martin, Senator Fans should remember fondly the man who rebuilt a team that was a sad joke 9 years ago. 9 years of steadily improving play, a meshing of young raw talent into an NHL powerhouse all done on his watch. A fairer world would have given Martin a Stanley Cup ring this year; instead he becomes a trivia question for the future.

The final word on the Martin firing belongs to Pat Quinn, no stranger to corporate purges Quinn quickly came to the side of Martin. He was the first to offer his support and praise, he won't be the last. Martin did an excellent job in Ottawa, but just ran out of time to finish the project. It is sad he won't be there on that day the Sens finally hoist the Cup, for that his players can share in the blame. You may not be able to fire all 29, but you can certainly ask them some pretty pointed questions. Just because the coach is gone, doesn't mean the players should not be held accountable, Mr. Muckler should save some time in his day timer to address that concern as well.

No comments: