Cory Clouston has proved beyond any doubt he can coach in the NHL. Next year we’ll find out how good a coach he is when the burden of expectation is placed upon him.

For all of Clouston’s tenure as the coach of the Ottawa Senators, very little has been expected of him and his team. When the Senators fired Craig Hartsburg in January, the team was a complete mess and had essentially already played itself out of a chance for the playoffs.

Clouston came in and breathed new life into the organization and the players responded with a much more committed effort and a renewed sense of purpose.

As GM Bryan Murray said in Wednesday’s news conference in which Clouston had the “interim” tag removed and was signed to a two-year deal, he made the players accountable.

But here’s where it gets tricky.

The team and this group of players in particular, has something of an attitude of entitlement and has been known around the league for quite some time as a group that relies far more on talent than character and work ethic to win games.

It historically has also been a fragile group that seems to crack to pieces at the first sign of adversity.

And that’s where Clouston’s biggest challenge comes in. He has to somehow make the players accountable long-term and convince them that in today’s NHL, there’s not a team in the league that can simply lay its sticks out on the ice and expect to win.

The current group of Senators should in no way be confused with the powerhouse team of the turn of the century, or even the group that made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2007, and Clouston must instill from the first day of training camp next season that this team will forge an identity based on hard work and being difficult to play against.

The Senators have exhibited that since Clouston took over. Even former Senators defenceman Zdeno Chara took notice of how aggressively the Senators play the game under the guiding hand of Clouston. Now it’s up to the coach to keep his foot on the pedal and keep players accountable for 82 games in 2009-10.

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