Ducks' Hartsburg latest coach to fall under axe

Craig Hartsburg is the latest casualty in what has become open season on coaches of underachieving NHL teams. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks dismissed Hartsburg on Thursday, replacing him with Guy Charron.

Just last May, Anaheim general manager Pierre Gauthier awarded Hartsburg with a two-year contract extension and has vowed that he wouldn't let his players off the hook for disappointing results by firing the coach.

But although Anaheim had won two of its last three games, Gauthier had no more patience for the Ducks' early-season stumbles and had Hartsburg in his sights.

"As the tension and frustrations on the club mounted, you get to start thinking about it," Gauthier said in a conference call from Anaheim. "This is not something I really wanted to do, no disrespect to Guy. But you come to feel you have to do something to jump-start your club.

"I believe at this time, having a very qualified person like Guy around who knows the team very well, it was the right thing to do."

The Ducks are sitting in a tie for 10th in the powerful Western Conference. They're already dangerously close to putting themselves out of the playoff picture with a grim 11-15-4-3 record in a conference where a .500 record may well leave a team out of the playoffs.

Worse, the Ducks are a dismal 5-12-3-1 in their last 21 games, relegating them to last place in the Pacific Division.

The Ducks' problems have been legion at both ends of the rink this season. Goalies Guy Hebert and Dominic Roussel have been so-so behind a porous defence. Meanwhile, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne have so far been unable to turn the Duck Pond into the Magic Kingdom they've dazzled with in past seasons, and they don't have the supporting cast to pick up the slack when they're not firing.

"We have a club that, in one way, is built around a couple of top-end players who have a lot of skill and scoring ability and it's complimented by a variety of people, especially a lot of young people who are just entering their prime," said Gauthier.

"We need to relax things, rebuild our confidence and go forward with our young people, who can only get better in a comfortable environment."

Despite his marquee players, Hartsburg only managed a record of 80-85-29-3 record since becoming the Ducks coach on July 21, 1998. A 41-year-old native of Stratford, Ont., Hartsburg previously coached the Chicago Blackhawks, another team mired in an extended stretch of futility, from 1995 to 1998.

But in his first season as Anaheim coach, Hartsburg guided the team to the playoffs, only to be swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.

Charron, 51, joined the Ducks last June and will assume the helm through the end of the season and possibly beyond.

Charron spent the last two seasons coaching Grand Rapids of the International Hockey League, compiling a record of 85-62-17. He was named the IHL's coach of the year in 1999-2000 after taking Grand Rapids to the Turner Cup final.

The Verdun, Que., native apprenticed as assistant coach with the Calgary Flames from 1990 to 1995 and then with the New York Islanders from 1995 to 1997. Charron also took over as head coach of the Flames for the last 16 games of the 1991-92 season with a record of 6-7-3.

Prior to his tenure with Calgary, Charron coached the Canadian national junior team to the world junior hockey championship in 1990, the culmination of five years serving in various capacities with Hockey Canada.

After his appointment, Charron put a damper on any speculation that he would depart from Hartsburg's defensive-minded style, which never sat well with Kariya and Selanne.

"I don't think there is anything definitely wrong (with the Ducks)," said Charron. "Obviously, there has been some tension, the team hasn't generated the type of success that was expected. Everybody was really anxious to get some wins and get things going and it hasn't happened.

"To say we should change a lot of things to generate the offence from our elite players, I'm not sure that is necessarily the case. ... I'm one to believe our talent will prevail on offence but we are going to have to minimize the amount of goals against."