Year End Reviews – Hartsburg

I know he’s gone, thus rendering a review somewhat meaningless, but I think it is only fair to include Hartsburg in this review for 2 reasons;

1. He played a major role in the outcome of the season,

2. He has been scapegoated for all of the bad that has taken place this past season, by myself included, and I believe it is only fair to set the record straight, as I see it at least.

It has become pretty evident that, despite the early statement otherwise, Craig Hartsburg was the second choice as head coach, second to Peter Deboer, who instead accepted a job offer from the Florida Panthers.

There are no “facts” to prove this, but it goes beyond reasonable to believe a GM would send their 2nd choice to meet with the club owner, in Barbados, before sending their #1 choice.  Now, maybe it came down to scheduling, but that still seems unlikely, when put to the test of simple logic.  According to Hartsburg himself, he was not invited to meet with Melnyk before Deboer, as he heard about Deboers face to face, and figured he was out of the running, and was surprised when offered the job.  How secure would that make you feel?  Maybe this helps explain some of the decisions, and actions, that followed.

At the end of the day, by whatever reasoning, or priority, Hartsburg’s hiring was announced on June 13th, 2008…yes folks, it was a Friday.  How fitting, for all involved.

Players get a pre-view of an impending nightmare on Palladium Drive?

Even before meeting with his team, Hartsburg cracked the whip, saying;

“I think, early on, players will see that there is a plan, 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.”

So was it the plan, the coach, or the players that failed?

I’m not sure, because honestly, I’m not entirely sure what the “plan” was.  Hartsburg spoke of a system in which the team would play an attack game all over the ice…sound familiar?  It’s the system used, to great success, but Cory Clouston.  Does anyone think the team under Hartsburg was playing the same system as under Clouston?  Not me.  It looked to me that, as under Paddock, the team lacked cohesiveness.  Unlike under Paddock however, the focus appeared to be entirely on defense, not offense.  While playing under Paddock, the Sens played a wide open, free-wheeling run and gun offense, with little or no defensive accountability from the forwards.  This made for some very entertaining hockey, at times, but all too often resulted in high scoring losses, as Ottawa simply did not have the goaltending to contend with the nightly onslaught of scoring opportunities.  As the losses began to pile up, the more the team focused on offense, until it finally fell apart, with the wearing down of the over-played top line.

Under Hartsburg, it was almost the exact opposite.  The offense was completely stiffled, as he appeared to demand a system of Kitty Bar The Door hockey.  The defense backed off almost to the goal line whenever challanged.  The puck was dumped out as soon as possible, with no forwards up high to put pressure on the trapping opposition.  Watching the Sens under Hartsburg was like rooting for Custer at the Alamo, they put up a brave fight, but the odds were stacked against them from the drop of the puck.

Safe was death.

The team looked anemic, frustrated and, eventually, downright defeated.  Watching the Sens come out for a game was like watching the Napoleonic deathmarch from Russia.

But, from a macro perspective, it wasn’t all bad.  Where Paddock, statistically speaking, produced from his team great offensive numbers, Hartsburg produced some great defensive numbers.  As they say, for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction.  Hartsburg was the Yin, to Paddocks Yang.  I do believe, in all of this, the Senators young core learned some very valuable lessons.  You can’t win relying solely on offense, and you can’t win relying solely on defense.  The middle way, is the winning way.  Maybe it was toward the middle way that Hartsburg was headed, but he killed the teams spirit in getting there, and lost his authority to lead as well.  Much of this blame must be shouldered by the players in having to be pushed to either extreme to see the light of playing complete hockey, not just Hartsburg and Paddock.  If Hartsburgs legacy as a Sens head coach is the increased hockey wisdon of the team, then he can feel proud of this accomplishment, and the hockey world needs to admit that he stepped into a miserable situation, and maybe just ran out of time in turning the ship completely around…or maybe he couldn’t…I don’t know, and that doubt, unfortunately, will follow him for quite some time.

Hartsburg – F (sometimes life ain’t fair)



7 Responses to “Year End Reviews – Hartsburg”

  1. Well said. Can’t add much to that, other than why the hell does a coach have to go visit the Owner on his island?! That alone could have scared Deboer off. I’m no hockey insider, but should the coach really have to deal with the owner, other than the odd meet and greet?

    • Very true, but ownership interference is hardly anything new in sports. I always loved the story, from an ex-Capital player, about Leonsis coming into the dressing room to give OV the latest high tech toy/gadget…in front of the rest of the team…but only for OV. How’s that for interfering with the chemistry of a dressing room!
      As for Big Mel, I think he means well, he’s so passionate, and hands on, in everything hie does. It’s a learning curve for him, like anybody else, I guess.

  2. At the risk of repeating myself .. I think Hartsburgh was nuts as was paddock .. Where, in any coaching manual, does it say that you should not have tough and demanding practices. On many nights the players from other teams skated circles around the sens.

    • I agree Sam, there’s no excuse, if this was the case, and judgeing by the fitness of the team later in the season, it sure seems it was the case. In elite sport, the diference between you and the next guy is so slim, even a slight conditioning advantage will show over time.

  3. One thing that is worth checking out in your evaluations is Tim Murray. He is the one who found Clouston. Obviously he has a keen eye for talent. He will be the natural GM past Brian.

    • Tim has certainly done a good job as AGM. His background in scouting and P.E. is very strong, and no doubt he is being groomed for the next step. Look no further than Shannon (the kid he scouted out of the NCAA for ANA, to see his reach and breadth of player knowledge. I also love his no BS attitude, hearing him talk hockey makes you feel like an insider, it is very refreshing in todays world of cliched double speak.

  4. I just love all sports, so found your blog informative. Your blog has been bookmarked, keep up the good work.

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