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Paul MacLean fired by Senators; first head coach to get axed this season

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray pauses during a press conference announcing the dismissal of head coach Paul MacLean in Ottawa on Monday December 8, 2014 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
December 08, 2014 - 4:19 PM

OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators just wanted the old Paul MacLean back.

The head coach made a name for himself leading an injury-plagued but scrappy Senators team to the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He was named the NHL's coach of the year for his efforts and received a three-year contract extension in the off-season.

MacLean, with his distinctive bushy moustache, was popular with players and fans in Ottawa, and could get under the skin of the opposition. Montreal winger Brandon Prust once famously called him a "bug-eyed, fat walrus" after a heated playoff game between the rival teams.

What seemed like the start of a long relationship quickly unravelled. Less than 18 months after winning the Jack Adams Trophy, after a change in attitude that didn't sit well with Senators executives or players, MacLean became the first coach to be fired this season. The team relieved MacLean of his duties Monday morning after an 11-11-5 start to the season.

Dave Cameron, who had been working as an assistant coach in Ottawa, was named the Senators head coach, the tenth in franchise history.

MacLean made a conscious decision heading into the 2013-14 season to do things differently and be more demanding of his players.

The change in attitude didn't go over well with players, and general manager Bryan Murray said he put MacLean on notice at the end of last season after the Senators missed the playoffs.

Despite the unrest Murray chose to leave things status quo, as he believed MacLean might have just had a bad year and was hopeful his head coach would revert to his old ways.

"At the end of last year none of us were very happy, including the coaching staff, with what happened and that's why I said 'the old Paul MacLean'," said Murray. "I think we sort of set a target date and said let's talk after 20 games and see where we're headed and what do we need to do if anything different."

It appears the old MacLean never came back. The Senators sit 10th in the Eastern Conference and are routinely getting outshot by their opponents.

Through 27 games, Ottawa has given up the second-most shots in the league behind only the Buffalo Sabres.

Murray, who broke the news to MacLean at 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, said he had grown frustrated watching the Senators struggle with turnovers night after night.

In parts of four seasons Ottawa went 114-90-35 under MacLean, making the playoffs in his first two seasons. Murray said it wasn't an easy decision to fire MacLean, but it was a necessary one.

"Watching the team play and continue to play the same way as we did at the end of last year where we were giving up way too many scoring chances, too many goals, too many breakdowns in the defensive part of our game ... I guess from that point on the last four, five games certainly we examined each and every performance as best we could, had discussions and it just came to a point where I felt something had to be done," Murray said.

It appears MacLean's own words played a role in his dismissal. Saturday morning prior to facing the Pittsburgh Penguins MacLean said "…I'm just scared to death every day who we are playing and sometimes I'm scared to death of who I'm playing."

The words didn't sit well with Murray.

"That sent a loud message to me, whether it was in jest or otherwise, that maybe he didn't believe in the group the way we thought we believed in the group when we started the year," said Murray. "I'm not sure beyond that."

It was no secret that MacLean's relationship with a number of players had soured over the past 16 months, and Murray said after speaking with players on Sunday it was clear things hadn't improved.

"There was an uneasiness in our room without a doubt that some of the better players felt they were singled out a little too often maybe and that's today's athlete," Murray said. "They want to be corrected, coached, given a chance to play without being the centre point of discussion in a room."

It appears the decision came down to choosing between Cameron and Luke Richardson, who is currently coaching the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators. Richardson has a daughter studying at Cornell and said he preferred to remain where he was.

Murray believes Cameron will be a good fit with the players, and having been through the current state of affairs will understand what needs to be done differently.

"I think seeing and going through what we've gone through now for a year and a half, year and a quarter he will recognize that we need communication. We need players to be empowered," said Murray. "We need a system and a work ethic that will benefit our players and that's forecheck more aggressively to me, get the puck going quicker, get the defence a little more help in our own end, don't turn the puck over as often. That's all easy to say, but to get it in the ice and to get it into action will take a little time."

Cameron, a native of Kildare Capes, P.E.I., had been one of five candidates considered for the head coaching position in 2011, but the job ultimately went to MacLean.

The 56-year-old Cameron has coached in the AHL, the Ontario Hockey League and served as both head coach and assistant coach for Canada's world junior team.

Murray believes there's a lot to like about Cameron, who has two years remaining on his current contract.

"He's a former teacher. He's got a hockey IQ. He's played in the league," Murray said. "He's got some people skills that are very necessary to be a coach. He'll relate a little bit to what we need here with some of our youth here and our veterans.

"We don't have a lot of older players so I think they'll certainly like Dave. I don't know that he's a player's coach or demanding. I do know that he's a teacher and I do know watching his team play his last year of junior hockey and being here with Paul's staff I see a man that will step up and will allow players to play, but one-on-one able to relate."

At the end of the day, Murray says everyone needs to remember hockey is supposed to be enjoyable.

"We have so many rules sometimes that we take the fun away from it, " said Murray. "Maybe now we'll play a little different style, a little more aggressive style, we'll try to chase the puck more often and I think that will play to the strengths of the young people on our hockey team and that's what I would like to see happen."

Cameron will have two days of practice before the Senators host the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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