OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Paul MacLean was fired as coach of the Ottawa Senators on Monday, less than 18 months since he was the NHL’s coach of the year.
The coaching dismissal was the first in the NHL this season and comes with the team off to an 11-11-5 start. Team executives had problems with MacLean dating to last season when the Senators missed the playoffs.
Assistant Dave Cameron is the new coach, general manager Bryan Murray said at a news conference. Cameron has never been an NHL head coach and his first game behind the bench will be at home Thursday against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings.
“I’ve had some tough days lately,” said Murray, who is undergoing cancer treatment. “This is one of them.”
Murray said there was an “uneasiness” in the locker room.
“Some of the better players felt that they were singled out a little too often maybe,” he said. “That’s today’s athlete. They want to be corrected, coached, given a chance to play without being the center point of discussion in the room.”
MacLean, who previously worked as an assistant to Mike Babcock in Anaheim and Detroit, was in the first season of a three-year deal.
The Senators, widely believed to have the lowest payroll in the league, are 10th in the Eastern Conference. They have struggled since the retirement of longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was honored in a pregame ceremony last week.
MacLean wore out his welcome among his players with defensive tactics that led to many games in which the team was outshot. Through 27 games, Ottawa has given up the second-most shots in the league behind only the Buffalo Sabres.
In parts of four seasons the Senators went 114-90-35 under MacLean, making the playoffs his first two seasons. MacLean won the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL coach of the year in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Murray, who broke the news to MacLean on Monday morning, said he had grown frustrated watching the team’s careless play.
“We continue to be a big turnover team in our zone,” Murray said. “Our goaltending has been, to say the least, outstanding most nights to give us a chance to win hockey games. The chances against our team are, some nights, atrocious. I think there’s an obligation for a lot of people, the players included, to perform better than that. But the leader of the pack always is the coach.”
The Senators’ defensive tactics under MacLean allowed opponents easy entry into the attacking zone.
“I think positioning in our own end is a big, big issue,” said Murray, adding that he would talk to MacLean about the problem but “nothing changed in that area.”
Cameron has extensive coaching experience at the Junior A and AHL levels, including coaching the 2011 Canadian world junior team.
“I think he’ll relate a little bit to what we need here with some of our youth in particular,” said Murray, who acknowledged that communication with MacLean had become a “one-way street.”
“This sometimes happens when there’s pressure on people, they’re not as open to listen and take ideas and go back and forth in the communication part of it,” he said. “Players today more than ever need and want that.”
Murray said after last season he felt MacLean deserved a chance to redeem himself.
“I was really in his corner to come back,” he said. “Sometimes you have a bad year.”