PHILADELPHIA - John Paddock ran out of ideas and time as he tried to get the Ottawa Senators to play the way they did in building the Eastern Conference's best record.
With the Senators in a massive slump, general manager Bryan Murray decided the only solution for Ottawa to save its suddenly crumbling season was to go back: Back to when Murray was coach.
Murray fired Paddock on Wednesday with only 18 games left in a season that is in danger of falling apart despite a robust 15-2 start. Murray, who led the Senators last season to their first appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, is stepping back behind the bench for the remainder of the season.
"It's shocking really that it comes to this," Murray said. "It's disappointing from everybody's point of view."
Murray moved up shortly after the Anaheim Ducks beat the Senators 4-1 in the Stanley Cup finals to become the general manager last summer. Paddock went from being Murray's assistant to his replacement as head coach.
Assistant coach Ron Low was also fired Wednesday, a day after the team was shut out for the second consecutive game.
"It comes certainly because of performance lately," Murray said. "The results we've been having — or not having — was an indicator that some adjustment, some emotion had to be brought back to the team."
Murray will continue to perform his duties as general manager. Those demands should lessen since the NHL trade deadline passed Tuesday.
"It's always a surprise when a coach gets let go," center Jason Spezza said at the team hotel in Philadelphia, a day before the Senators played the Flyers. "We've been struggling, but as a team I don't think we thought it would come to the coach getting fired.
"It just shows the high standard we have in our dressing room, the city of Ottawa, and that our owner has. It shows how competitive a team they think we have."
Paddock was in his sixth season with the Senators organization. He posted a 36-22-6 record in his lone season as head coach. The Senators won 15 of their first 17 games and were first in the Eastern Conference until last weekend, when they were passed by New Jersey. They have since fallen behind Pittsburgh, too, in points.
Ottawa came into Wednesday with a one point lead in the Northeast Division over Montreal.
Things got especially bad on Monday, when the Senators were beaten 5-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game Paddock called a "total embarrassment." Ottawa followed that up a night later with a 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins.
"It's a difficult (decision), but it's the right one at the moment," Murray said. "Really since late December, we've seen the team not compete at the level we were close to competing at for most of the first part of the year."
Assistant coach Greg Carvel, goaltending coach Eli Wilson, conditioning and player development coach Randy Lee and video coach Tim Pattyson remained on staff.
Paddock, who coached the Eastern Conference in last month's NHL All-Star game, was offered another role in the organization.
"I thought there was something amiss with the group. Hopefully this will help," Murray said.
Murray also described the Senators as a "very passive group" over a stretch where they lost six of eight and 14 of 21. Paddock thought the undisciplined and unmotivated play of late could be corrected down the stretch.
"There were some players that maybe took advantage of him not being a real hard person at times," he said.
Daniel Alfredsson, who leads the Senators with 35 goals and 75 points, said the Senators were in a rut but did not quit or take advantage of their coach.
"There's no question we didn't," the captain said. "It kind of bothers me. He had the ears of everyone in the locker room."
A move like this is not particularly stunning in the NHL. Last season, New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello fired coach Claude Julien and took over with a week left in the regular season. The Devils advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals and were eliminated by the Senators.
The 65-year-old Murray has coached more than 1,300 games in the regular season and playoffs. He has a regular-season coaching record of 100-46-18 with Ottawa.
Murray began his NHL coaching career with the Washington Capitals on Nov. 11, 1981. He remained at the helm of the Capitals for over eight seasons and won the Jack Adams Award in 1984 as NHL coach of the year.
"Bryan and John share the same philosophy, so it's not going to change that way," Spezza said. "We've a good hockey club and we expect to win.
"We have to find a way to get winning games again."
Associated Press writer Bob Lentz contributed to this report.