Accountability is in
Craig Hartsburg, like most everyone else, wasn’t sure who would coach the Senators, but now that he has the job, he says, ‘Players will know it’s black and white.’
For the longest time, Craig Hartsburg was like everyone else in the Ottawa area, completely in the dark about the Ottawa Senators’ coaching plans.
But when general manager Bryan Murray finally broke the suspense early Thursday afternoon, calling Hartsburg to tell him he was his choice to become the sixth head coach in franchise history, it didn’t take long for the Senators to roll out the red carpet.
Or, more appropriately, the flying carpet.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, anxious to meet and greet Hartsburg before yesterday’s official announcement, flew to Sault Ste. Marie from Barbados on his private jet. The two then flew back to Ottawa together Thursday night and the details of the three-year contract were completed with Murray.
You could forgive Hartsburg, who has served as head coach of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League for the past four seasons, if he clicked his heels and muttered something about not being in junior hockey anymore.
“We were sitting down, my wife (Peggy) and I, we were having lunch, and Bryan (Murray) called,” Hartsburg said, responding to questions about the rampant speculation earlier in the week that Kitchener Rangers coach and general manager Peter DeBoer was in line to be named head coach in Ottawa.
“With all the stories that were going around, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I really didn’t want to overreact, but it just seemed like … well, there’s not much you can do. Just wait and see what happens. When Bryan called, I was certainly excited, and my wife was excited.”
Hartsburg, who turns 49 on June 29, was a junior hockey star, playing alongside Wayne Gretzky in Sault Ste. Marie. After his NHL career with the Minnesota North Stars was cut short — he played 10 years — due to a hip injury, he spent 19 seasons coaching, either in the NHL or the OHL.
He served as head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks from 199598 and coached the Anaheim Mighty Ducks from 1998-2001.
The highlight of his coaching career has been the consecutive gold medals he captured as head coach of Canada’s national junior team the past two seasons. He also won a gold as an assistant to Brent Sutter.
Hartsburg has established a reputation for making his players disciplined to a fault, and he isn’t afraid to make a scene to establish his point. Accordingly, while there was an element of surprise for Hartsburg upon finally hearing the news and being given the royal treatment by Melnyk, there shouldn’t be much surprise about his approach to the Senators’ job.
Estimating conservatively, he mentioned the words “accountability” and “responsibility” a dozen times during his introductory news conference and interviews yesterday. He also wants an attacking team everywhere on the ice, a squad that helps create scoring opportunities for his most talented offensive players, and he’s interested in players who are anxious to push themselves to either keep their roles or expand them.
“I think, early on, players will see that there is a plan,” he said. “I’m certainly here, as a coach, to motivate players to follow the plan. If the plan is not followed, there certainly will be some accountability. I don’t want to get into specifics, but there will be accountability. Players will know it’s black and white. They will know what’s right and wrong. They will know the line not to cross.”
Perhaps that means Jason Spezza will see fourth-line minutes if he insists on blind drop passes at the blue-line. Maybe Andrej Meszaros will becomes a healthy scratch if he’s not physical enough around the net. Don’t be surprised if a player is called out in the dressing room for arriving two seconds late for practice.
Whatever the issue, Hartsburg is prepared to deal with it as soon as it arises.
Spezza, for one, says he’s encouraged by what he has heard about Hartsburg. He also says he wants to be challenged.
“A little bit of emotion in a coach is always good, but from what I’ve heard he can be emotional and forceful, but also up front and level headed,” Spezza said. “I think he will be a good fit for us.
“Any time you get a new coach, you always want to make a good impression and show you’re committed. Personally, I’ve always liked a coach that gets on you a bit. I’m looking forward to it. He could be a good guy to help me out.”
But Spezza also believes all the talk about the Senators being a dysfunctional squad without direction and discipline has been exaggerated.
“We expected a lot of criticism with the way the season ended, but it wasn’t all that long ago we were in the Stanley Cup final, and we still have a pretty strong team. But it will probably help to bring in a different style of coach.”
Hartsburg says there are obviously differences between coaching junior hockey players and NHL players, but he also says there is a similar process to finding answers, regardless of the level of hockey.
“To me, coaching is about problem solving,” he said. “In junior hockey, you’re trying to get players to act like pros and treat them like pros. Obviously, in the National Hockey League they are pros, but there are still problems you have to deal with. Again, players have to know there’s a plan. We have to do our best to motivate them to follow the plan, and, again, there’s accountability. Whether that’s junior hockey or the NHL, it doesn’t change.”
Murray says the hunt for a coach developed into a threeman race that also involved DeBoer and Hawkesbury native Bob Hartley, the former head coach of the Colorado Avalanche and Atlanta Thrashers.
It was reduced to a two-man competition between Hartsburg and DeBoer earlier this week. In the end, Murray says he opted for Hartsburg because of his wide-ranging experience and because of his attitude toward the position.
“I just felt that, at the end of the day, after talking to the last couple of candidates, there was Craig’s history in the game,” said Murray. “I remember him as a player — I’ve been around a little bit in the game — he was a great player. He has been a coach in the (NHL). He has gone back to junior. There’s the stage of the world championships, where every game is considered by the people of this country as the most important game at that time, and going through that pressure cooker.
“I really felt that he wanted this job badly. He sent that message to me and, at the end of the day, I felt he was the right person. That’s the kind of person we want here. The guy who wants to be here and that wants the opportunity to lead this team to where we want to be.” NOTES:
At the top of Hartsburg’s to-do list is rounding out a coaching staff. When the 2007-08 season ended, the club had assistant coach Greg Carvel and goaltending coach Eli Wilson on staff, but Murray says the decisions on assistants are Hartsburg’s to make.
“I’ve already talked about Greg, who is under contract, and they’ve worked together before (in Anaheim), and (Hartsburg) gets along and respects Greg a lot,” said Murray. “I believe he’s going to keep him and I also talked about Eli Wilson, as far as his credibility and the camps he runs, and the goaltenders he knows, and (Hartsburg) will decide.
“There’s also another assistant coaching job. He threw a name at me, a very credible name. If that’s who he wants, I know the guy quite well, I would be very happy with him.”