If you ask around, it was only a matter of time before the Senators fired coach Paul MacLean. He merely expedited the process over the weekend.
Ottawa confirmed its decision to send MacLean packing after three-plus seasons via Twitter on Monday. Current Senators assistant Dave Cameron was named as MacLean’s replacement.
It’s been whispered for some time that MacLean had lost the faith of owner Eugene Melnyk and general manager Bryan Murray, and that they might have let the coach go sooner if not for the distraction that his firing would have caused ahead of Daniel Alfredsson's big retirement celebration last week. With that in mind, MacLean pretty much showed himself out the door with his strange comment to TSN's Chris Cuthbert before Ottawa’s game against the Penguins on Saturday.
“All I know is I’m scared to death no matter who we’re playing,” MacLean said. “Whether it’s Sidney Crosby or John Tavares or the Sedins, I go day-by-day and I’m just scared to death every day of who we’re playing.
“And sometimes,” he added. “I’m scared to death of who I’m playing.”
Even if he was just whistling past the graveyard, it was a curious thing to say. It probably cost him some respect in the room and certainly ticked off Murray, the man who provided him with his roster. If Murray had any doubts about terminating MacLean, the coach’s unmistakable jab at the GM removed them.
MacLean deserved his share of the blame for a Senators team that had lost five in a row before getting an OT win over the Canucks on Sunday night. He was criticized for his constant line juggling and for his prickly attitude, which rubbed some star players the wrong way.
Still, though, you have to wonder what exactly Murray and Melnyk were expecting from this team.
Ottawa is 11-11-5, four points out of a playoff spot. That seems about right for a roster that was weakened last summer when Murray dealt Jason Spezza to the Stars. The trade gutted the team of its No. 1 center and left it with a payroll of a little more than $56 million, the lowest in the league—a miserly amount that had been dictated by Melnyk himself.
Teams can cut corners financially and still make the playoffs. It happens all the time. But no team since the 2007–08 Predators has made it to the postseason with the league’s lightest payroll. And the Senators are in no shape to break the streak.
You want to lay some of that blame on MacLean? Fine. A guy has to get along with his best players if he wants to get the best out of them. But this team has problems that won’t be solved simply by changing out the guy behind the bench. And both Melnyk and Murray should know that.