Fired Senators coach MacLean easing into the jobless life

Paul MacLean has lost his job but certainly not his sense of humor.

Reflecting on the odd scene of a woman breaking into his exit news conference earlier this week and screaming that she loved the fired Ottawa Senators coach, MacLean chuckled Wednesday during an interview with ESPN.com at the thought of it all.

"It was actually quite nice, to tell you the truth," MacLean said, laughing. "That doesn't happen to me very often. It was quite flattering, for that matter."

Although maybe a bit creepy, he also admitted.

As we speak, MacLean is in decompress and analysis mode, making sense of his firing after 3½ years at the helm of the Senators.

"Right now, what I'm doing is just trying to let everything come to me, reassess, make notes and get some other stuff organized in my life that I've neglected over the last seven years," he said. "It's great therapy just cleaning out filing cabinets."

The support from around the hockey world has been unreal.

"It's been very flattering. A lot of people have reached out, from the media world as well, and have been very kind," MacLean said. "I haven't had a chance to get back to everyone yet, but I really appreciate it."

Of course that includes other coaches from the NHL brotherhood such as Mike Babcock, who hired MacLean as an assistant coach while with the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings.

"I had a good talk with Babs the other day. He just said, 'Evaluate what you did, see where you have to make changes and then get back to the rink.' That's basically all he said. Conversations with Babs don't drag on," MacLean said, laughing.

Babcock is one of the first people I thought of when it was explained by Senators management that MacLean was fired partly because he was perhaps too harsh on the players.

Ask any player who has played in Detroit in the Babcock era just how tough he can be on players.

"Babs has won lots of games in this league," MacLean said. "If you're winning lots of games, you can coach any way you want. I don't regret anything I did or how I did anything. I did what I felt was the right thing to do to get this team to where they wanted it to go. They wanted it to challenge for a Stanley Cup and I did, too."

Senators general manager Bryan Murray declined further comment on MacLean's firing, letting his Monday news conference stand for now as his statement. In that news conference, Murray talked about the "Old Paul" and the "New Paul," saying the Paul MacLean who won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach two years ago had changed, becoming a lot harder on his players, according to the GM, to the point where there was too much uneasiness in the room.

"That's a little bit disappointing, I suppose," MacLean said of that assertion. "For me, your best players have to be your best players if you're going to have success, and you have to push them. I felt that I pushed them. Did I push them too hard? At the end of the day, that must be what they're saying, and what it is if I'm not working now. But I think it has more to do with me not winning games than anything else. If you're winning games in this league, you can coach any way you want."

The fact is, the writing was on the wall at the end of last season. Murray and owner Eugene Melnyk were upset with the team missing the playoffs and how, in their view, MacLean had changed his ways with his players. Truth is, he was nearly fired right then and there.

"Everybody was disappointed at the end of last year, Bryan expressed that," MacLean said. "In the end-of-season meetings, that's where it was expressed about the 'Old Paul' and the 'New Paul.' They said they would evaluate things after 20 games this season. We were in a playoff spot at 20 games but after Game 26, I was gone. When you lose five in a row, that's going to happen."

MacLean set the record straight when asked about reports of an apparent meeting last week with Murray and Melnyk, in which they shared their disappointment with the coach a few days before firing him. MacLean said that's just false.

"All I can say is that if there was such a meeting, I was not in it. I know nothing about that," he said. "I wasn't in any meeting last week where the door closed and told, 'You have to do this and you have to do that or else.' "

A Senators team source also confirmed there was no such meeting.

There's no denying the end game, though, which came Monday morning.

MacLean, who has two more years on his deal after this season, said he understands this part of the business.

"I'm doing fine," he said. "Just another case in point where you have to win. If you don't win, you have yourself in a vulnerable position and that's what can happen."

The fact the Senators have the lowest payroll in the league was not an excuse MacLean wanted to use.

"Those are circumstances as a coach where you don't get involved in that," he said. "We have good players, we had to work with them and make them better, and we didn't do a good enough job of that, which would allow us to win enough games and continue to work."

So, he will learn from it all, and come back better for it.

"I think that's what you have to do, you try to evolve as you go through it," he said. "If you're standing still, you become old pretty quickly. The advances in this game are moving along as quickly as the game is moving along. There are new things to try all the time, and if you're not willing to look at them and evolve [with] them, you're going to be left behind and you won't have success."

He will be back behind an NHL bench, of this we can all be sure.

"I'm going to be looking forward to coaching again, I believe that's something I'm going to be wanting to do," he said. "But I have to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the 3½ years I was here. You have to evolve and find ways to do things just a touch better."