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Senators fire MacLean, name Cameron coach

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- Breakdowns, on the ice and off it, led to the firing of Paul MacLean as the coach of the Ottawa Senators on Monday, replaced by Dave Cameron.

Senators president of hockey operations and general manager Bryan Murray said consistent turnovers on the ice and a lack of communication between MacLean and the players led to the coach's dismissal.

MacLean, hired in the summer of 2011, was the winner of the 2013 Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year after leading the Senators to a 25-17-6 record. He leaves the Senators with a 114-90-35 record.

Cameron has been promoted from assistant coach. Murray said it is not on an interim basis. Cameron has two years remaining on his contract.

Murray said he and his staff, the coaches included, judged this season's Senators as a potential Stanley Cup Playoff team. They are 11-11-5 and sit four points out of the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.

By making the change now and adopting a more aggressive style of play under Cameron, Murray said the Senators can still be that playoff team.

"We believed at the start of the year we had a chance to be a playoff team. By doing it at this time, I think … that gives Dave a chance to get this team skating more, playing the way he wants them to play, better, a chance to take a run at a playoff spot, for sure."

Murray said the Senators turnovers led to too many chances for the opposition. In MacLean's three-and-a-quarter seasons behind the Ottawa bench, the Senators ranked 29th, 23rd, 29th and 29th in shots allowed.

"We continue to be a big turnover team in our own zone. Our goaltending, to say the least, has been outstanding most nights to give us a chance to win hockey games," Murray said. "The chances against our team on some nights are atrocious. I think there is an obligation for a lot of people, the players included, to perform better than that, but the leader of the pack is always the coach and he's the guy who has to assemble a group or a style or a system that allows you to be good in your own and good defensively.

"It wasn't that we were bad defensively, it's just that we continually turned the puck over before we get it out of our zone and give second and third chances."

The defense, led by 2012 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, has received more than its share of criticism for the Senators issues in its own zone, but Murray said the Senators style of play under MacLean contributed to the struggles.

"I don't think our defense is that bad. I don't think a couple of the young guys have been brought along. I think positioning in our own end is a big, big issue. Many nights our defense gets the puck, whether it be Jared Cowen or Codi Ceci and the forwards are at the far blue line," Murray said.

"We've talked about that a thousand times. I know the red line has disappeared in our game and whether I like that or not doesn't matter, your forwards can't disappear and not give the defensemen options to make the play. We talked about it and nothing changed in that area. That's why I think our turnover numbers are so atrocious in so many games."

Murray said as the Senators struggled, there was less communication between the players and MacLean. That's the message Murray said he got talking to the players as recently as Sunday.

"I would say there was an uneasiness in our room without a doubt," he said. "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."

Murray said when people are under pressure, they are "not as open to listen and take ideas and go back and forth in the communication part of it. Players today, more than ever, need and want that."

Cameron is the fifth coach since Murray took over in June 2007 and the GM was asked why it's been difficult to find the right man.

"Do I overestimate 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 that we had a very competitive hockey team, a playoff possible team … we don't play competitively every night. Maybe I'm a tough judge in coaches. In some cases maybe I didn't pick the right guy."

Cameron has a history with the Senators. He was the coach of the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League for three seasons before returning to his roots in the Ontario Hockey League with the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, then owned by Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.

He left the Majors to join MacLean's staff in 2011.

Murray said he thinks Cameron's experience as a former teacher will help him in his work with the Senators young players.

"I see a man that will step up and will allow players to play, but 1-on-1 be able to relate," Murray said.

"I think seeing and going through what we've been going through for a year and a half, or a year and a quarter, he will recognize that we need communication, we need players to be empowered. We need a system and a work ethic that will be benefit our players. That's forecheck more aggressively, to me, get the puck going quicker, get our defense a little more help in their own end. Don't turn the puck over quite as often. That's all easy to say. To get it on the ice and get it in action will take a little time."

The Senators play the Los Angeles Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champions, on Thursday.

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