Monday, February 25, 2008

When a good team loses, the coach is to blame

The Senators just lost 5-0 to the Maple Leafs. This is ridiculous. I didn't watch the game, thankfully, but I've seen enough of the Senators' recent games to sense the disturbing trend of a lack of motivation and interest. It falls on the coach to make sure the team is playing as well as it can on the majority of nights, if not every game.

Toronto, by all accounts, played well. In the same way a coach is to blame when a good team loses, a coach is also to be commended when a bad team wins; Paul Maurice deserves credit for getting his team to look past all the distractions (the captain being asked to accept a trade and refusing, four others following suit, being basement-dwellers far out of a playoff spot, having no idea if/when you'll be traded, and so on) and putting forward an organized effort to beat the Sens.

John Paddock deserves no such praise. The Senators started the season 16-3, and I'm beginning to think that has a lot more to do with players wanting to get another chance at the Stanley Cup than it has to do with anything Paddock did or has done. Since then, the coach has proceeded to build complacency and fatigue with top-line players who are overplayed and improperly utilized, frustration with third- and fourth-line players who are drastically underplayed and put in destructive sitautions, and disenfranchise both goaltenders to the point that neither is in the mental state to lead this team. When players fail to do what Paddock thinks they should do, he calls them out publicly instead of examining whether or not his tactics are appropriate.

The repertoire of responses Paddock has is very small and very ineffective. Calling players out has proven completely useless, and in fact may be counter-productive. When that doesn't work, Paddock continually plays the likes of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, or Jason Spezza until fatigue makes them ineffective. Or he just completely screws with line combinations with the faint hope that somehow, some way, something will work. But it doesn't.

The Senators had every reason to be motivated for tonight's game. It was against the provincial rival, even if that rivalry has faded in recent seasons. It was the night after getting knocked out of first in the East after something crazy like 138 days. It was the last game before the trade deadline. It was a few nights after a significant come-from-behind, third-period victory against the Penguins. But it was an embarassing, forgettable, regrettable outing for the entire team.

Heads need to roll. More accurately, one head needs to roll. Even if another player is added by tomorrow's trade deadline, the most important change might be a change behind the bench. Paddock might not even be a bad coach, but the bottom line is that the team is not responding to him, so a change has to be done to get the players playing their best again. It's unfortunate that GM Bryan Murray seems to have a close personal relationship with Paddock that complements his professional one, but as the general manager he needs to make the changes that will help the team win. And getting rid of Paddock seems to be the biggest and most effective change he can make at this point.
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