Senators search for head coach will ramp up once the season ends

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Steve Staios has his work cut out for him with the start of another important off-season for the Ottawa Senators less than a week away.

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As the Senators prepare to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at the Amalie Arena, the final 240 or so minutes of the season are merely a formality and already the talk has turned to what the changes that will be made here to try to help this club take the next step.

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Once the final buzzer sounds Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden and Jacques Martin completes his second stint behind the bench, Staois, the club’s president of hockey operations and general manager, will ramp up his search for the club’s next head coach.

As Postmedia has reported, four of the top candidates for the post include John Gruden, head coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, along with Todd McLellan (former Los Angeles Kings coach), Craig Berube (St. Louis Blues) and Dean Evason (Minnesota Wild).

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We believe Philadelphia Flyers associate coach Brad Shaw also is a person of interest.

Other names will surface and the belief is the club will also wait until the first round of the playoffs is over to see if anybody else becomes available.

For example, if the Boston Bruins get bounced in Round 1 again, will Cam Neely blow a gasket and fire Jim Montgomery? You never know.

League executives believe it’s important for the Senators to cast their net far and wide when they begin a search in earnest for a new head coach. They haven’t sought permission to speak with any candidates yet, but that process likely will begin in the next 10 days or so.

The club wants to have a coach in place by the draft in June and the Senators aren’t the only ones looking for a new face behind the bench.

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The St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils have both missed the playoffs with their interim head coaches so there’s a good chance they’ll be hiring as well.

That means the candidates for the Ottawa job will have options elsewhere.

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The Calgary Flames interviewed 15-20 candidates for their GM position last summer before giving Craig Conroy the job full-time. Why? They wanted to get a good idea what people thought of their team, how they evaluated the talent and where changes need to be made.

This is an incredibly important hire for owner Michael Andlauer, Staios, senior vice-president Dave Poulin and associate GM Ryan Bowness. The Senators need to get this right after missing the playoffs for seven straight springs and the club also has to put the right pieces in place on the ice.

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“(The Senators) should be looking to get as much information about this team in their coaching search as they can,” a league executive said Wednesday. “They should talk to every coach available. Yes, this group has experience in the league, but they’re all new people.

“If they decide in the end that John Gruden is the best coach for them, then that’s their prerogative, but this is a good chance to find out what you’ve got.”

The core of this group is in place with captain Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Shane Pinto, Jake Sanderson, Ridly Greig and alternate captain Thomas Chabot. It’s paramount that the next coach is one that will help push this group to the next level with assistance from Staios.

Discussions have been taking place internally for months on what the right fit might be for this group.

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If that’s the case, the Senators need to take a long, hard look at Evason. He had strong success behind the Minnesota Wild bench for five seasons and, though he can be emotional at times, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a little fire behind the bench.

The decision by Staios to part ways with Rob Murphy and Jim Clark, the club’s long-time pro scouts, on Saturday wasn’t a surprise because they were both hired by former GM Pierre Dorion. But it added another a piece of business that has to be taken care of during the off-season.

Free agency opens on July 1 and it’s important to have someone in the role as chief pro scout before then to make sure you have all the information you need to help improve a roster that has severely underwhelmed everyone.

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After assistant GM Trent Mann was shown the door last July, the club also needs to find a new chief amateur scout. He was in charge of the NHL draft and long-time scout Don Boyd has been filling in on an interim basis to prepare this club for the annual crapshoot in June.

There hasn’t been a whole lot to write home about with the Senators on the ice this season, but the next few months are going to be intriguing.

Staios’ plate is full and it’s paramount the moves he makes in the next six months are the right ones.

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