Monday, February 2, 2009

Stable or Stagnant?

A big win yesterday afternoon in Edmonton. The first step is a good one in this critical month for the Predators.

The Ottawa Senators today announced the firing of head coach Craig Hartsburg. Cory Clouston from the team's AHL affiliate in Binghamton has been named as interim head coach. This is the Sens fourth head coach since their Cup final appearance in 2007.

I mention the situation with the Senators because there was some grumbling prior to the All Star break that it was time to get rid of the Predator coaching staff and start anew. The question becomes one of when the staff becomes ineffective, or worse yet loses the team. When does a franchise cross over from being stable to being stagnant? And most importantly, have the Predators crossed that line?

Any answer to that question is subjective, whether it the fan sitting in 111, the GM, or the owner making that call. So what metrics do we use to determine that answer. Again, it is subjective, but I would offer three for your consideration:


Is this a team that demonstrates that sometimes ephemeral quality that we call "chemistry"? Is the locker room solid; is there cohesiveness on and off the ice; do the players care for one another? This season has shown us that chemistry can be a fragile thing- witness the start to the season for the Dallas Stars with Sean Avery in their locker room. Good chemistry can carry a team through the tough times that inevitably emerge in each 82 game season. Bad chemistry rips apart a team when they encounter those stretches. Good chemistry manifests itself in grit, effort, and perseverance.


Coaches coach and players play the game, but it becomes very apparent when the players have tuned out the coach. The recent past is littered with successful coaches that have lost their team- Hartley in Atlanta; Tortorella in Tampa Bay; Paddock in Ottawa. Regardless of the talent the coaches had on their roster, the on-ice product was woefully lacking. A coaching staff that is stable adapts to the talent on the roster. More importantly, they take that talent and produce results. One can look at the Senators roster today and see the talent and look at the standings and realize that there was a disconnect between the players and the coaches. A great staff can and will squeeze every drop of talent possible out of a squad.


Now it gets tricky. There are numerous questions to ask: will ownership open the check book to sign talent; does the front office properly evaluate the players on the roster as well as the potential players that could be added; is the farm system deep with talent; and are the coaches allowed to coach? There are other questions, I'm sure, but these come to the fore when asking if your franchise, your team, is stable or stagnant. And for this fan sitting in 111 and not privy to the inner workings of the front office, I can't answer those questions. Much like the chemistry in the locker room and the adaptability and skill of the coaching staff, the front office is critical to stability, and an incompetent front office can destabilize a team. I would submit that management can do this more quickly than any other component of a franchise. From a Cup final in 2007 to a team in shambles in 2009, Ottawa is a case study for management ineptitude.

There is a fine line between a stable, successful franchise and one that has become stagnant and in disarray. Right now, it is my belief that the Preds are a franchise that is stable and solid. This is a fragile condition that has to be continually nurtured. The players have to realize the opportunity they have been afforded; the coaches have to continue to get the most out of their talent; and, most importantly, the front office has to continue to provide the tools and the environment for success.

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