New Senators coach up front, honest
Hartsburg's handling of junior star stands out for Hockey Canada chief
Bob Nicholson isn't about to guarantee a Stanley Cup parade in Ottawa next summer, but he's certain there will be accountability and passion behind the Senators' bench.
The president and chief executive officer of Hockey Canada has a solid relationship with Craig Hartsburg, who was named the sixth head coach in Ottawa Senators' history on Friday.
Nicholson hired Hartsburg to serve under Canadian national junior head coach Brent Sutter for the 2006 world championship in Vancouver and was sold on the former's willingness to want to win and work with a group that shared the same goal.
"The key with Craig is he's up front, he's honest and he gives a real clear picture of what he wants his players to do," Nicholson — who watched Hartsburg lead Canada to back-to-back world titles as head coach in 2007 and this year — told CBCSports.ca.
"The last two years as the head coach of the world team, he's done an outstanding job with top-end players and with the role players and I think that's because his message is clear and he doesn't play games with anybody."
Nicholson added Hartsburg works effectively with his assistant coaches, delivering his message and giving them responsibility.
"Craig Hartsburg's coaching staff is going to be a big part of who Craig is," he said. "I think that's one thing he's learned [in the junior ranks]. Make sure you have real good people and a good organization around you."
Hartsburg's handling of Ontario Hockey League standout forward John Tavares at this year's world juniors convinced Nicholson the 48-year-old coach was ready to return to the National Hockey League.
Tavares joined Team Canada as the leading scorer of the OHL's Oshawa Generals, leading some to believe he was a shoo-in to play on the No. 1 line. Others weren't as convinced.
"No one could have handled that situation better than Craig Hartsburg," said Nicholson. "I just think for the Dany Heatleys and Jason Spezzas [in Ottawa], they've got a guy that's going to come in and be pretty good to those guys. I think he'll fit in easier [behind an NHL bench] than he ever has.
"I think he's very confident in his own abilities and I think it was a great, great move by [Senators general manager] Bryan [Murray] and [team owner] Eugene [Melnyk] to bring him in. I don't think they could have got a better fit."
Hartsburg, who signed a three-year contract with Ottawa, had spent the past four seasons as head coach of the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
But the former Minnesota North Stars defenceman arrives in Ottawa with 13 years of NHL coaching experience, six as a head coach.
Hartsburg was bench boss of the Chicago Blackhawks from 1995-98, and the-then Anaheim Mighty Ducks from 1998-2000.
He also had two stints as an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers and spent one year as an assistant with the North Stars, with whom he played his entire 10-year NHL career after being drafted sixth overall in 1979.
Hartsburg takes over a Senators outfit that won 15 of its first 17 games this season and held a commanding lead atop the Eastern Conference standings in January before fading down the stretch.
Ottawa won just 18 of its final 48 games — coping with a rash of injuries and a goalie controversy that disrupted the team's chemistry — to finish seventh in the East before suffering a four-game sweep at the hands of Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs.
"To me, it's not about being fixed, it's about a program and getting the players to buy into it," Hartsburg said at Friday's news conference. "A scorer's not just a scorer, he needs to do more. A checker's more than just a checker, he needs to do more."
Much talk about the Senators' late-season collapse centred on a lack of discipline and low morale, and the inability of John Paddock to improve either. Paddock was fired in February.
During his five years with the Greyhounds, Hartsburg drew praise for his emphasis on discipline and for demanding a strong work ethic from his players.
"He's very consistent in his approach. Everybody's held to the same standard. There's no grey area," Greyhounds GM Dave Torrie told CBCSports.ca.
"Craig is very demanding and very much a stickler for details, but he's also very fair. If you've followed through on what is expected of you and have a strong work ethic, you'll enjoy playing for Craig Hartsburg."
The Stratford, Ont., native said his top priority with the Senators will be accountability.
"Accountability to me is just about making sure things are done right and if they're not done right, there has to be a message sent," Hartsburg said.
Hartsburg scored 98 goals and 413 points in 570 NHL regular-season games while adding 42 points in 61 playoff contests.
Before his second stint with Philadelphia, Hartsburg spent a season coaching the Guelph (Ont.) Storm and is a two-time OHL coach of the year.
"We're proud of him. We feel a lot of pride in helping him get back to [the NHL] level," Torrie said. "We know the quality person he is. We know the quality coach he is.
"It's certainly no surprise to us that people of the NHL, particularly in Ottawa, have recognized those values."