In 2007, John Paddock was handed a gift of a team. A Cup finalist team. And for 17 games, it appeared he coached that team about as well as possible, with a 15-2 record. Yet, only a few months after that, he was fired. And in my mind, there's only one reason for his firing: He was not a very good coach. Why was Paddock not a very good coach? He was not adaptable. His plan of attack worked well for a month and a half, but eventually stopped working. Why? Like Dikembe Mutombo, John Paddock had one solution for every problem: Not "Dunk on them!", but Dany Heatley - Jason Spezza - Daniel Alfredsson.
On the power play? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
On the penalty kill? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
Need a goal to get your team going? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
Need to extend the lead? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
Trying to protect a lead? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
Last minute of the game? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
Your goalie isn't feeling confident? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
Their goalie looks shaky? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
Didn't pack your lunch that day and need a free slice of pizza? Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson.
Of course, the flaw in this plan was obvious: Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and even Daniel Alfredsson are merely men, and hockey is an extremely intense game. Men have limits, and Paddock was pushing his best players beyond theirs.
Why he chose to do this is not a question that I can answer. Perhaps he didn't feel his other players were capable of carrying the load. Perhaps he thought it was simply logical to play the players that gave him the best chance of winning--after all, the line had been dominant since its creation.
But it also resulted in Ottawa becoming a one-line team. Shut down that top line and the team lost. As the three players on that line wore down due to overuse, shutting them down became easier and easier. This, of course, necessitated playing them more and more, creating a vicious circle that could only end in one way: Paddock's termination.
Of course, Paddock's replacement, Cory Clouston, [Author's note: Forgot about Craig Hartsburg in there.Just pretend it reads "eventual successor" instead of "replacement" or something. Thanks.] seemed determined to avoid the same mistakes of his predecessor--diminishing Dany Heatley's role enough that Heatley wanted out, or so the story goes. Either way, Heatley's replacement, Milan Michalek, doesn't change the equation enough for it to matter.
Clouston's system was heavily defensively-focused, and he frequently found himself having to put his top three players on the same line for a spark despite specifically trying not to. He was eventually fired after two and a half seasons as head coach--despite taking the team back to the playoffs in his first full year as head coach.
Now, in Paul MacLean's first year, it looks like the Senators will return to the playoffs. That parallel means it's worth noting when asked about creating a line of Michalek-Spezza-Alfredsson, he says:
"Usually we just use it as a jump during the game. [...] Usually it works pretty good when we can do it during the game."
So, when MacLean needs a spark in a losing game, he puts his three best players on the same line. That should worry Sens fans.
Now, of course, MacLean is not the only coach to put his best players on a line to try and spark a team. It's probably been done by every single team in the NHL this year. And it's not MacLean's fault that Michalek, Spezza, and Alfredsson are his only true top-six players.
But as head coach, he needs to find more than one way to get his team going. The team's record when Spezza and Erik Karlsson don't score is abysmal. Michalek-Spezza-Alfredsson can't be the only thing to try when Karlsson and Spezza aren't going. If MacLean isn't able to find some other method of changing a game when it's not going according to plan, he might not just see a quick playoff exit, he might follow his fellow head coaches out the door sooner than we would like to see.