Commentary

Murray better hope this move gets Senators back on track

Updated: February 28, 2008, 10:27 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

If Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray made a mistake in taking the easy way out by hiring his old assistant John Paddock to be the coach of the Ottawa Senators, at least give Murray credit for recognizing that mistake and fixing it.

He just better hope he didn't wait too long to do it.

With the Cup-hopeful Sens in disarray after winning just seven of their past 21 games and being thumped in consecutive contests by Toronto and Boston, Murray fired Paddock on Wednesday and will take over the reins against Philadelphia on Thursday.

Some will suggest this action is like GM Lou Lamoriello getting antsy in New Jersey and canning Claude Julien with days left in the 2006-07 regular season even though the Devils were in first place in their division. And while neither GM liked the feel nor the vibe emanating from his room when he made the move to can a first-place coach, there are a number of significant differences in the Ottawa situation.

First, Murray coached this team last season, when John Muckler was sitting in the GM's office at Scotiabank Place. He guided them through a rough start and got them playing at a winner's pace by the time the playoffs rolled around. The Sens dominated Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo en route to their first Stanley Cup finals.

After losing to Anaheim in five games, ownership decided it had had enough of Muckler and handed over the GM job to Murray, a post which obviously appealed to him in spite of his successes in coaching the Sens.

The native of nearby Shawville, Quebec, had a choice to make at that time. Murray could have gone out and conducted a full-on coaching search and brought in somebody with experience and pedigree. But that would have meant a new personality behind the bench, a new system, a new ways of doing things.

Murray opted, instead, to go the comfortable route by promoting Paddock, who had been his assistant. Paddock had also been a coach at the minor-league level and had many of the Sens' players, including Jason Spezza, Ray Emery and Anton Volchenkov, under his wing. And, many light years ago, Paddock had been an NHL coach in Winnipeg. So, it was settled. Paddock was in, while Murray moved upstairs.

For a long time, it worked like a charm; a seamless transfer of power.

The Senators blazed out of the gate, winning 15 of their first 17 games. Some folks in Ottawa began putting the Sens in the same breath as the dynastic Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1970s.

That seems like an awfully long time ago.

The Sens have been wracked by controversy involving Emery, who has been late for a few practices, was involved in a couple of dustups with teammates and off-ice incidents -- including an episode of road rage and complaints by Emery he was being targeted by Ottawa police. On the ice, Emery has been pretty ordinary.

Martin Gerber, who some believe should be the starter but who doesn't inspire Stanley Cup confidence, hasn't been that much better of late.

While the goaltending situation remains in a state of flux, the offense has gone south, too. In the Sens' past eight games, they've scored just 13 goals (not counting shootout goals). It will take some time for Cory Stillman, acquired from Carolina to provide offensive depth, to get comfortable, but the rest of the lineup must produce more than that. Or it should.

After the Sens' 5-0 loss to Toronto on Monday, Paddock looked like a man who had been shipwrecked on an island for 10 years. In truth, he was just getting ready to be voted off the island.

For a long time, Ottawa was almost being given a pass to the conference finals given the mediocrity that afflicts the entire Eastern Conference. With Pittsburgh taking a bold step forward by acquiring Marian Hossa from Atlanta before Tuesday's trade deadline, Washington getting better and the New York Rangers improving, the Sens look more human, and their expected cakewalk to a conference final all of a sudden looks like a potential minefield.

Last season, Murray showed he is a fine NHL coach. He is no-nonsense. He can be biting when he believes it's necessary.

Now, he's got to clean up his own mess and get the Sens back on track before a season that began so full of promise ends up completely on the rocks.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE