OTTAWA - If John Paddock could have done anything differently during his time as head coach of the Ottawa Senators, he would have changed the way he handled goaltender Ray Emery.
Speaking for the first time since he was fired Wednesday, Paddock expressed his regrets over his dealings with Emery, who ran afoul of team management by arriving late for practice on several occasions and was often accused of not working hard when he did get there on time.
And without blaming the player directly, Paddock suggested his treatment of Emery was a key contributor in his dismissal.
"One of the things I would do over would be the Razor stuff," Paddock said Sunday morning during a conference call with Ottawa reporters.
"And it's not really the tardiness," said Paddock, who turned Emery away from practice at least twice, although he reportedly turned up late as many as a dozen times. "The tardiness has been there for the last couple of seasons. I don't think there was any change in that really, how he was handled or how we handled him. When it did come to being five minutes before practice or five minutes after, I didn't let him practice.
"But where I would have changed it was, and I told Razor this when he came to see me on Wednesday was, I should have put him off the ice some of those practices when he wasn't working. I'm not talking about coming out early, I'm not talking about staying late, it's just during the practice. Any of this accountability they talk about, that's where it really was inspired and one of the things I would do different."
With the Senators in Anaheim for a game against the Ducks on Monday, Paddock was back in Ottawa, reflecting on why his first NHL head coaching job since 1995 lasted just 64 games after he was promoted from Bryan Murray's assistant when Murray became general manager.
After a 15-2 start, the Senators struggled to play better than .500 hockey and when the Toronto Maple Leafs handed Ottawa a 5-0 loss at home last Monday, the day before the NHL trade deadline, rumours began swirling that Paddock's job was on the line. A 4-0 defeat to the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday night was the breaking point.
Despite a 36-22-6 record, Murray opted to return behind the bench of the team he led to the Stanley Cup final last season. Assistant Ron Low was also let go.
Paddock, who was in his sixth season with the Senators and had served as an assistant to Murray as well as coach of the team's AHL affiliate in Binghamton during his stay, said he wasn't caught completely off-guard by the decision.
"You know the team's not playing good and in those situations, anything can happen," he said. "On the other side, even though you sense that, it's very upsetting, and hard, and (there's) a little bit of disbelief at the same time."
When pressed to put a finger on just what went wrong, Paddock said there were a number of contributing factors, including a strong start that set unrealistic expectations and injuries to stars Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson in January that didn't help.
But without coming out and directly indicting the player he helped nurture in the AHL, Paddock admitted his handling of Emery may have cost him the respect of other Senators players.
"That was just a little bit of the fraying of the core team concept," he said. "It's a minor thing in a way to kick somebody off the ice during practice, but it's major in this."
Paddock met with Emery after his firing and said the goaltender did express regret.
"Yeah, he had lots," Paddock said, adding that he preferred to keep their discussion a private matter.
When asked if Emery realized that his behaviour may have contributed to the dismissal of the coach who'd helped him in the AHL, Paddock replied, "Maybe he has now."
However, he stopped short of saying he felt Emery owed him anything.
"I don't think it's fair to him," said Paddock. "I don't know if I need more respect from him that anybody else did just because I've been with him the last six years. I don't think he owed me anything more than what he just needed to do to be a pro."
After winning the No. 1 role from Martin Gerber in 2006-07 and helping the team reach the final for the first time, Emery inked a US$9.5-million, three-year deal despite needing off-season surgery to fix torn cartilage in his wrist.
Emery's recovery delayed the start to his season and the team's quick start with Gerber in goal kept him from automatically regaining the job when he did return. Paddock said that was a sore point for Emery, who reportedly spoke to Murray about the possibility of a trade.
"You have to put in the time to get your timing and everything else back no matter who you are," Paddock said, adding that he and Murray each met with Emery "three of four times" to discuss the situation, but it never improved.
He also indicated that other options, such as suspension or demotion to the minors, weren't realistic and would only have disrupted the team further.
"There are so many things you can't do, so your hands are always somewhat tied and you have to work with it the best you can," he said.
Despite the parting, Paddock has taken up Murray on his offer to remain with the club in a scouting-type capacity for the rest of the season and isn't harbouring any ill will toward the team or Emery.
"There's not a lot of things fair," he said. "Sometimes they just have to be done for the moment."