• By: Ron Guillet

Firing MacLean Won’t Solve the Senators’ Problems

Photo credit: Toronto Star

You can’t supply a man with peanuts and expect a full course dinner.

That woeful idiom aside, the Ottawa Senators decided it was time to part ways with head coach Paul MacLean on Monday, Dec. 8, in what appears to be a scapegoat move to remove some pressure from the organization.

Paul MacLean
Paul MacLean during a press conference in the 2013 NHL Playoffs. Photo credit: Toronto Star

The Senators will now look to Dave Cameron, previously assistant coach, as the permanent solution behind the bench. But did MacLean’s tenure in the nation’s capital warrant blame for the Senators’ fall from grace after a hot start this season?

Hired in the summer of 2011, MacLean enjoyed early success with Ottawa, who were expected to struggle as a rebuilding club, as they reached the playoffs but were subsequently eliminated in the first round against the New York Rangers. In the following season, he won the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year in the NHL and helped his club to the second round of the playoffs before being trounced by the Pittsburgh Penguins. His third season, however, had him on the hot seat throughout the campaign, which culminated in general manager Bryan Murray stating the players preferred “the old Paul,” referring to his intensified approach with the struggling Senators.

In his 27 games this season, MacLean’s Senators posted an abysmal Fenwick For Percent—a statistic that measures puck-possession while even-strength—of 45.33 per cent, according waronice.com. The idea is the more a team possesses the puck the more shots they take, thus conceding less in the defensive end. In this respect, MacLean’s previous three seasons had his Senators post a FF% of 51 per cent or higher, well over the league average.

With that in mind, also consider that the Senators have the lowest payroll in the league with a whopping 19-million in cap space, according to capgeek.com. Even the cash-strapped Arizona Coyotes have spent more on personnel. So is it reasonable to expect MacLean to rectify the Sens’ defensive woes if the team is unwilling to spend money on external talent? Probably not, especially considering what he’s been able to accomplish from a statistical and tangible standpoint. After all, two playoff appearances certainly isn’t bad.

While the Sens relied on unsustainably hot goaltending in the lock-out shortened campaign, they still played technically sound hockey despite playing beyond their perceived ability. If the statistics teach us anything, it’s that this season is in the fact the outlier in MacLean’s short but impressive tenure behind the Ottawa bench. So will a new coach really make a long-term impact? It’s doubtful, unless the Senators decide to spend some extra money and insulate the young and impressive talent already in the organization.

The question, again, comes down to money.