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Email Hot Stove: Paul MacLean's Firing

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A Silver Seven staff discussion about today's firing of Paul MacLean

I really hope this is a Point-Off with Chris Phillips
I really hope this is a Point-Off with Chris Phillips
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Q: What do you think of Paul MacLean being fired?

Sheer Craziness: So I'm a little torn. MacLean was not the biggest issue with this roster. I would say the issues were, in order
1) lack of spending

2) Lack of wise spending (Michalek, Greening, Borowiecki, Phillips, Neil...)

3) Lack of quality defencemen

4) Deployment

1) and 2) aren't on the coach at all. 3) is mostly on management, though playing Borowiecki over Wiercioch and Cowen 3.0 aren't great decisions. 4) is on coach. Playing Chiasson on the top line, playing Phillips on the top pairing, giving Zibanejad terrible wingers, these are all small decisions that lead to big problems.

I'm not convinced that a new coach will fix these problems. Most NHL coaches value experience over youth, and value grit over finesse. Most coaches hate giveaways a lot more than poor positioning or badly-timed hits. So I'm not sure changing the coach fixes that.

I also don't like Cameron. I think he'll be a pretty awful head coach. On the bright side, maybe he'll do even worse as interim coach and get canned at the end of the year?

Looking through lists of available coaches, I'd be happy to take a flyer on Bylsma. After that, I don't want Torts or Wilson or Keenan or Boucher or anyone else available. Maybe if they ride out the season, they'll consider Richardson. I'd be happy to try him at the NHL level, even though I doubt it'll be amazing. On the bright side, he'd have experience coaching guys like Stone, Hoffman, Puempel, and Pageau who figure to be a big part of the Sens' plans next year.

Amelia: I think this is a somewhat stupid move in the sense that it's not the best use of limited money and a new coach is unlikely to rescue a team this far out of the playoff picture, with the lack of talent they have, almost halfway through the season.

There were times MacLean didn't help things with his lineup decisions, but I think those kind of problems (relying on veterans, rewarding "hard workers") are pretty common with all coaches. I think his biggest problem was that the team greatly overachieved in year 1 and 2 of the rebuild and expectations got way too high for a lineup with this kind of talent. Same goes for MacLean, two straight Jack Adams nominations and winning in the second year put the heat on him.

His dry wit, while entertaining, probably didn't do him any favours.

I'd be ok with Bylsma, doubt he'd come. Suspect they'll do something conservative or safe like just stick with Cameron or promote Richardson.

Peter: I'm confused by the timing of the firing, but pretty indifferent overall. MacLean made some weird coaching decisions, but they were probably a moot point because the roster isn't good enough anyway.

It's frustrating that the team seems to think a new coach will get better results with the same group of blueliners, but failures to address that obvious flaw over the last few seasons make it abundantly clear that the Senators aren't willing to pay for top defensive talent, but instead want to continue rolling the dice on internal development. In general, I'm pretty pessimistic about the team's prospects for success this season. I'm hopeful, but that's just my fandom speaking; I don't actually expect positive results from this group of players, under MacLean or Cameron or even Dan Bylsma.

Mrs. O: I'm a bit shocked with it myself. I think if they were going to do it, then last year would have been better timing or the end of this year. I agree that Mac wasn't the Senators biggest problem. It's by far the roster. I do think, however, that Mac made a lot of questionable choices and, perhaps, may have lost the room. I also think that Mac could have adapted his systems more optimally so as to suit what he was given. Nonetheless, the Senators shortcomings are certainly not all on Mac.

Amelia: yeah, you mentioned his systems adaptations (or lack thereof) in your posts on the weekend. The defensive stuff was definitely part of the problem.

Mrs. O: Absolutely. You have to make the most of the players you're given and I don't think that was Mac's strong suit. ​

Sheer Craziness: Question for all of you: is it a good idea to have an interim coach? Lots of people say that players either don't respect the guy with the interim label, or they don't really adapt because they figure he'll be out the door by the end of the season anyway and will have to adapt again. I remember hearing this a lot with Hunter in Washington.

Mrs. O: Given that it's Cameron, I don't really like it. I find interim can also be a fancy word for try-out. They could be seeing if Cameron fits the bill a la Nolan in Buffalo.

I think since Cameron has been there long enough, the Sens will try and respond to him and give him respect, even if he's not the one who management/ownership decides will be the next head coach.

Something else to consider, they may not be hiring a new coach until they have a new GM. They know Murray won't be there much longer, so perhaps they are waiting to let a new GM hire who he wants...just something to think about.

Peter: Tough to say, regarding the interim coach thing... they're sort of lame-duck coaches in a way, but there's always the possibility that they will get the full-time job--and players always need to play well, because their next contract negotiation is never too far off (Bobby Ryan excepted).

On the other hand, what's the alternative (other than not firing the existing head coach)? You don't want to see the team rush into hiring someone when there might be a better option out there in the off-season or later in the year.

Michaela: I'm definitely shocked. Sure, the team has been struggling lately, and MacLean's decisions have been called into question on a few occasions. But I agree that MacLean was not the biggest problem. His firing won't fix the roster problems (defensive struggles, lack of production up front) and will most likely prove to be a band-aid solution that will only hold for so long.

Since he joined the team, the Sens have made the playoffs 2 out of 3 seasons and had an 11-11-5 record so far this season. On paper, it's pretty hard to blame coaching. There must have been something behind the scenes, like communication issues with players or loss of trust from them that ultimately motivated this decision.

I think bringing in an interim coach is certainly a risk, but can provide a good opportunity for a try out. If it works out and the guy gets the job, great. If it doesn't and the team lets him go at the end of the season, at least management would then have the time to hire someone new, and not rush that decision in the middle of the season.

Amelia: I don't think they'll necessarily wait until the end of the season to hire someone else, I think if Cameron's around in April, it's more likely he doesn't have the interim label.

Michaela: That's true; it's pretty early in the season. I still think it buys the organization some time to find the right coach. That being said, doing something like that in the middle of the season isn't ideal, in my opinion.

Sheer Craziness: I wonder if the Sens are holding out for a firing of an underperforming team. A guy like Ruff or McLellan could become available after a week of poor showings.

Adnan: I am very pleased. Paul MacLean wasn't the only problem but given that Melnyk isn't going to blame himself, it is one of the most easily fixed problems.

Maybe the replacement won't be any better, but if Cameron is just an interim coach you can move on pretty easily at the end of the season.

And if things don't improve, well tank baby tank.

Amelia: I could see both of those guys being appealing to the Sens, Ross.

Nkb: Here's the thing about firing MacLean: it's the last bullet that Bryan Murray, in theory, would have to save his own job. After all, despite his weird line-up decisions, this team's shortcomings are a lot more on Bryan than they are on MacLean. However, I can't imagine a world in which Eugene Melnyk fires Bryan Murray. It just won't happen. So that leaves us with two options: 1) Murray really thought the team could be saved by firing MacLean and got Melnyk's permission to do it or 2) Melnyk thinks the season can be saved with a new coach and made Bryan do it. Given what we know about both men, my inclination is to go with 2). Murray himself has been on record bemoaning the poor defensive zone play, and he's a smart hockey mind; I doubt he doesn't see the problems. Personally, I think firing MacLean won't change much unless there's a substantial upgrade on the back end that comes with it, so I'm not particularly concerned about the effect on the on-ice product, but if this is a missive from Melnyk himself then I'm worried for a whole other set of reasons.

Ian: It was only a matter of time before it was time to pull the plug on Maclean. His systems relied too much upon unsustainable goaltending numbers. Coaches can't win games, but they need to employ successful systems to give the players the opportunity to win the game. I fear that handing Dave Cameron the reins may not revamp their systems enough.

Hopefully they will be able to bring in someone that would stress communication on the ice as it doesn't look like they are talking out there. That led to too many missed assignments and failed adjustments, which is definitely not a recipe for success. They need to get back to the basics of supporting the puck carrier and covering for each other in the defensive zone.

We are far from being one of the most skilled teams in the league, so we have to make sure that our strategies and systems put us in the right position to get the win. Hopefully a new coach would help to remedy that.

Sheer Craziness: Well it's official, Cameron is the head coach. Not interim. Based on his coaching of the power play, I think we can start to expect Legwand on the first line.

B_T: I'll agree with those saying it was just a matter of time, but I'm a little surprised by the timing. I figured his Jack Adams would have given him a bit more rope.  Maybe to give Cameron enough time to sink or swim this season?

This doesn't fix the team, but I don't think Mac was helping things at this point.  Too many other issues.

My gut feeling is that Cameron is not going to go well.  Just a hunch, really, and I hope I'm wrong.

I also think MacLean lands somewhere relatively quickly, at least as assistant.

Ian: Bryan Murray mentioned that he spoke with some of the better players about Paul Maclean, you would hope/expect that he also asked them what they thought about Dave Cameron coming in as a replacement.

Sheer Craziness: I don't know. Despite the lack of interim tag, I doubt Cameron makes it to next season. Unless the Sens somehow make top-four in their division, it's not happening.

B_T: Yeah. I think it's still basically a rest-of-the-season tryout, with or without the interim label.  And I agree - I don't think Cameron makes it to next season.

Anybody want to go out on a limb and guess who we'll have behind the bench come training camp?

Peter: Just an update on that: Bryan Murray revealed that Cameron is the head coach and there's nothing interim about it.

Which, of course, raises a whole other slate of questions about why the Senators limited their options for a new head coach to those already under contract with the team. Not to take anything away from Cameron, but it's probably fair to assume that money is the major reason for that--at least while MacLean still draws his salary.

B_T: I think that just waves away the lame-duck coach image that comes with the tag.  Don't doubt for a second that if he sinks, he won't be gone at the end of the season.

Sheer Craziness: But I said in my answer the lack of interim label means nothing to me. Cameron's the head coach, but that doesn't mean he's untouchable. I'm sure having his salary still on the books isn't as big a deal.

Also, like B_T said, MacLean probably lands somewhere else soon. If another team hires him, Ottawa's off the hook, right? And that opens up the Sens to pursue an option that costs money.

Amelia: Yeah, if another team hires him they're off the hook, they won't be paying most of the rest of that money.

Cameron won't be the coach for the next GM, he'll bring in his own guys, so doubt he last past this season.

Peter: I think you guys are underestimating the role that Eugene Melnyk has played in bringing Dave Cameron into the fold in Ottawa, and what he may insist the incoming GM do. He's his guy; he was his guy during the 2011 hiring process, he was his guy when he was named an assistant, and he remains his guy.

Obviously if Cameron does poorly his rope will be short, but he has a built-in excuse as the mid-season replacement this year. On the other hand, he'll probably benefit from a bit of a dead-cat bounce in the short term, and there may be a myopic trade or two in the offing--combined; those two things could definitely power the Senators into the last wild card spot and get a bit of playoff revenue. That is, by all indications, the goal of this organization; they're not willing to spend enough to actually compete in the post-season, but missing the playoffs entirely is not an option either.

Amelia: But didn't Euge want Cameron to be the coach in 2011?

I've been thinking for a while keeping Murray in 2011 might have been a mistake. It's really hard to judge his role without a better idea of financial constraints and meddling ownership.

B_T: I think if this team makes the playoffs, we definitely see Cameron behind the bench again next year.

Amelia: Maybe, maybe not. I think it's really hard to predict where things are going when there's a fair amount of instability in management right now.

Ary: I think the reason why the team can't bring in an outside voice is because of $$. Obsessed with local players and their development system; hope that loyalty will lead to reduced pricing. Idk

B_T: The other thing about saying he won't be coach for the next GM, is that we don't know who that will be, or when (though we're all assuming).

If it's Lee or Dorion, I think they stick with Cameron.

Amelia: Again, maybe, maybe not. Maybe once someone else hires MacLean that frees up some cash.

Ross: Maybe Peter I am underestimating the role of Melnyk. I just think if push comes to shove, if the GM wants a new coach, Melnyk will let them do their thing. But I could be wrong, and I desperately hope I'm not.