With his team sitting at 11-11-5 and four points out of the final wild card slot in the Eastern Conference, Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray decided it was time for a change behind the bench Monday, firing 2013 Jack Adams Award winner Paul MacLean and replacing him with assistant coach Dave Cameron. Murray — among other things — cited a failure to communicate properly with his players as one of the main reasons he felt he had to make the move.
“I would say there was an uneasiness in our room without a doubt,” he told the media in a press conference Monday. “Some of the better players felt they were singled out a little too often, maybe. That’s today’s athlete. They want to be corrected, coached, given a chance to play without, I guess, being the centerpoint of discussion in a room.”
This growing disconnect with MacLean that Murray believes began last season was evident in his tendency to call out players both within the dressing room and to the media. It appears the final nail in the coffin for MacLean were these comments made to TSN’s Chris Cuthbert prior to a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh 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 I’m scared to death of who I’m playing.”
Not surprisingly that didn’t sit well with Murray and his staff — or the players. Murray made a point of mentioning them when discussing how he felt MacLean’s approach with his players had deteriorated to the point of no return.
“I thought when he came here he was a guy that related very well to the players,” Murray said of MacLean who leaves the Senators with a 114-90-35 record. “He had been a player himself, he understood what it took to play in the NHL, but it seemed that kind of drifted. Maybe it’s the pressure of the business here. Maybe you (media) guys are too tough on our people. But very definitely, he became more demanding of some of our players, more critical of some of the players.
He made statements (Saturday) like ‘I’m afraid of who I put on the ice’ type of thing, that kind of 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.”
Murray did not exonerate himself or the players of blame though. Since stepping down as head coach after leading the Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, Murray has now hired five head coaches. He didn’t dance around the topic when asked to explain.
“Good question,” he said. “I guess the other question that goes with this, do I over-estimate the players in the group? I think as a group, our staff, management, scouts, and coaches are included in every discussion we had. We all at the start of this year felt we had a very competitive hockey team, a playoff possible team, there was no guarantees ever because of injuries and things that do happen over the course of time, but we all felt we had a real competitive hockey team here, and we don’t play competitively every night.
Maybe I’m a tough judge in coaches, maybe in some cases I didn’t pick the right guy, but I feel you give the coach the opportunity, you try to provide the players that they feel will make it work for them, and when it doesn’t you have to do what you have to do.”