Same As It Ever Was: The Firing of Paul MacLean
Paul MacLean was fired on Monday, and the outcome for the Sens is negligible.
In case you were living under a rock at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, I'll start this article by saying that on Monday, the Ottawa Senators fired coach Paul MacLean and replaced him with Dave Cameron. It seemed to affect a lot of people, but I found the whole thing underwhelming. I waited a couple days before writing this to try to let the emotion subside. In my opinion, the firing of MacLean was almost a non-event.
Some seem to think that firing MacLean was the best way to turn this team around. I don't know about this. When I look at this roster, I see loads of problems. The biggest problem is lack of spending. The Sens are the lowest-payroll team in the league, so that means finishing anywhere above last place is overachieving. The Sens also haven't spent wisely. For example, the team has $8.4-million wrapped up in Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, and Milan Michalek. The team has gambled a lot on internal improvement, locking up guys like Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris to deals that now look great, and guys like Colin Greening and Mark Borowiecki to deals that look terrible. A budget team can't afford to lose 4.7% of its budget to a guy like Greening in the hopes that it's worth it.
Murray addressed in the press conference that the team's defence hasn't looked good this year, but he proceeded to add that he doesn't think it's because the defence is bad. Any casual observer of the team knows the defence is pretty bad. Erik Karlsson is a superstar. Marc Methot is a top-four defenceman. Young guys like Cody Ceci, Jared Cowen, and Patrick Wiercioch would be best-served learning on the bottom pairing. Eric Gryba is a solid bottom-pairing guy, and Borowiecki is a seventh defenceman who can rotate in when the coach wants some "grit". Phillips is barely an NHL defender at this point in his career. MacLean looked like he lacked a defensive system, but I doubt any system could make this defence look good. They could look better, but still far from passable.
I struggled to understand a lot of MacLean's moves. Why Alex Chiasson got top-line minutes before Mark Stone or Mike Hoffman made it off the fourth line is beyond me. Why Neil ever played on the powerplay or in the last minute of games is baffling. Why he thought Phillips was capable of career-high minutes is mind-boggling. But to say that removing MacLean fixes the problem simplifies the problem a lot. MacLean was one loose gear in the pile of broken parts that is this team.
Some people seem to take the opposite side, that MacLean should've stuck around, and that firing him was a huge mistake. I struggle with this opinion too. Like I said above, MacLean made a lot of poor decisions. Each of these things was small on its own, but together, they added up to quite a significant problem. He was not the coach to get the most out of this roster anymore. This move won't save the franchise, but that doesn't mean it's a bad move. I think most people were sick of MacLean's seemingly-baseless lineup decisions. His firing led to a surprising number of people saying they loved him, even ignoring the press-conference-crashing ones.
In the end, I think nothing has changed. The management team that put this lacklustre roster in place is still in charge. The internal budget that prevents Ottawa from having nice things is still in place. The "new coach" has been coaching this team since 2011.
The Michalek extension was championed as a sign that players still want to play in Ottawa. The Borowiecki extension was advertised as the team spending wisely to retain their young players on cap-friendly deals. MacLean's firing is being touted as the Sens being willing to do what it takes to win. It's one more in a long list of things on which I don't believe the spin. The team's still under a budget and still lacks quality defencemen. This isn't even a band-aid for a bullet wound; it's more like scratching your itchy nose instead of acknowledging the bullet wound. The saga that is this team in the Eugene Melnyk Budget Years will continue, unaltered.