Is a Coaching Change Enough for the Sens?

On December 8th the Ottawa Senators fired head coach Paul MacLean and replaced him with assistant coach Dave Cameron.

MacLean was the Jack Adam’s winner for coach of the year in 2012-2013 and was rewarded with a three year contract extension as a result. Cameron has just two years of NHL assistant coaching experience under his belt (both with the Senators) and coached his first game as bench boss in a losing effort against the L.A. Kings on Thursday.

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With the Senators currently in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a 11-12-5 record, general manager Bryan Murray knew he might have to make a coaching change this season if the Senators were unable to play up to their 2012-2013 success.

There was a distinct vibe toward the end of last season and, so far, during the early stages of this one that MacLean’s hard-nosed coaching style was no longer the recipe for success, especially in the absence of such notable leaders and long-time Sens Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza who either absorbed the brunt of his verbal lashes or served as buffers to the rest of the team.

Whatever the former relationship between coach and player, Murray made it clear that MacLean no longer had the respect of his current, young roster:

“There was an uneasiness in our room without a doubt that some of the better players felt they were singled out a little too often maybe and that’s today’s athlete,” Murray said in his press conference. “They want to be corrected, coached, given a chance to play without being the centre point of discussion in a room.”

It’s easy to look to new captain Erik Karlsson, the 24 year old defensive phenom, as the source of this tension.  Karlsson has struggled this season and despite leading the team in scoring has the worst plus/minus at -12.  It is no secret that Spezza and MacLean had their troubles last season and in his absence, and with the added pressure of wearing the “C”, Karlsson was getting the brunt of MacLean’s frustration.

Enter Dave Cameron to try to calm any dissension between management and the team’s superstar.

There are a lot of unemployed coaches out there but on some level it makes sense that Murray stayed within the organization when looking for a replacement.  Cameron knows an effective on-ice system dictated by MacLean, whose 114-90-35 coaching record with the Sens is impressive and speaks to his knowledge of the game and his team.  If it was simply MacLean’s attitude that was no longer effective then bringing in a coach who knows the on-ice game plan seems like a good fit.

The trouble is that the Sens are out shot on most nights and are turning the puck over at an alarming rate.  Confidence is low and an attitude change might not be enough to turn the franchise around.  In Cameron’s debut, the team played better but were clearly out-matched by the reigning Stanley Cup champion Kings.  It will be an uphill battle to climb the Eastern Conference standings and perhaps the team would have benefited more from an experienced coach with a different system.

If the players are aware that they cost MacLean his job then they have no one to blame but themselves if they can’t pull some wins together.

At least, they pulled together a gutsy performance against the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon and won in a shootout.  Maybe things are looking up after all.

The Sens are on a three game road trip with stops in Buffalo on Monday and New Jersey to play the Devils on Wednesday.  They return home on Friday for a date with the Anaheim Ducks at the Canadian Tire Centre on Friday.

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