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Hockey·Analysis

After Senators clean house, who's left to lead — and who will stay?

First Matt Duchene was out the door. Then it was Ryan Dzingel. Finally, Mark Stone left the building. Before that, it was Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris. Now that head coach Guy Boucher has been shown the door, Tim Wharnsby writes that it's up to team management to keep their young talent from also moving on.

Departures of key players and head coach has Ottawa banking on the next generation

Former Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson sits between team owner Eugene Melnyk, right, and Senators GM Pierre Dorion, left, as they take part in the annual team photo in Ottawa in March of 2018. Karlsson's departure in a trade to the Sharks is just one of many to happen to the club that game within a goal of the Stanley Cup final in 2017. (File/The Canadian Press)

In the days, hours and minutes leading up to the trade deadline last week, the dismantling of the Ottawa Senators was completed.

First Matt Duchene was out the door. Then it was Ryan Dzingel. Finally, Mark Stone left the building. Before that, it was Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris. Poof, gone.

The Senators were a team to be reckoned with after their trip to the East final 22-and-a-half months ago. They came within a whisker of advancing to the 2016-17 Stanley Cup championship series, that was until Pittsburgh Penguins clutch left wing Chris Kunitz scored in double overtime on that long Thursday evening in late May at the PPG Paints Arena.

Head coach Guy Boucher had worked his first-year magic once again, just like he did in steering the Tampa Bay Lightning to the East final in his first year with the club in 2010-11.

But now even Boucher has been jettisoned. In another puzzling act, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion Jr. fired Boucher the morning after a 4-2 loss at home to the Edmonton Oilers.

"Our play recently wasn't acceptable, no more excuses," said Dorion, who replaced Boucher with his associate coach Marc Crawford as interim head coach.

WATCH | Why was Guy Boucher fired now?

Rob Pizzo has three thoughts on the timing of Boucher getting his pink slip. 1:11

Dorion's "no more excuses" remark was laughable because of the roster he left behind. How did Dorion expect the Senators to carry on without their top three point producers?

Crawford, however, is a proud man, a capable coach. He won the 1995 Jack Adams Award as coach of the year with the Quebec Nordiques and celebrated a Stanley Cup championship when the franchise moved to Colorado the following year.

The 58-year-old Belleville, Ont., native has been itching to get another shot at being an NHL head coach since his last stop with the Dallas Stars in 2010-11. Despite his depleted lineup, he notched a win on the road against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, a shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday after a predictable 5-1 defeat to the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning last Saturday.

Leadership gaps

The Senators fall from grace is easy to explain. This used to be a team with strong leadership with players like Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and even Chris Neil. Stone did his darnedest to keep the players together in the dressing room.

But you also need leadership at the top. There was no faith in owner Eugene Melnyk. There hasn't been for some time now. That's why Alfredsson made tracks to play his final season with the Detroit Red Wings five years ago.

Dorion's predecessor, the late Bryan Murray, was a strong leader. He had good relationships with the players and, for the most part, kept their spirits up despite the presence of Melnyk.

But a few months after their trip to the East final, Murray passed away after a courageous 37-month fight with Stage 4 colon cancer. Look at what has happened since his death:

  • Senators former assistant GM Randy Lee pleaded guilty to a second-degree harassment charge from an incident at the NHL's pre-draft scouting combine last May.
  • There was the Uber ride in Arizona in which several players were caught in a secretly recorded episode dissing assistant coach Martin Raymond among other remarks.
  • Melnyk's plan for a downtown rink fell through after an impasse and legal threats back and forth between the Senators owner and his business partner John Ruddy to redevelop the location of the new venue on LeBreton Flats.

Melnyk and Dorion cannot be blamed for Karlsson's left foot injury that required offseason surgery after their trip to the East final and slowed his play, nor the drop off in veteran goalie Craig Anderson last season. Both were so important in the Senators playoff run two years ago.

But Melnyk and Dorion also couldn't seem to keep anybody happy nor convince anybody to stay, whether it was Turris last year, Karlsson last summer or Duchene, Dzingel and Stone this season.

There are some key components left with teenager Brady Tkachuk, defencemen Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom, the main asset acquired in the Stone trade with the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Veteran forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Zack Smith are solid citizens. Youngsters like forwards Colin White, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton as well as defencemen Max Lajoie and Christian Wolanin may pan out.

But can the new head coach and those in the front office and owners' suite keep this talent around? That certainly hasn't been the story for the Senators lately.

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