Draft MacLean Conference

“After a poor season, the need for change was obvious. I felt Paul fit the profile: he’s been a player; he’s been a head coach; he’s been an assistant coach in the National Hockey League; he’s been a winner everywhere he’s been. I think he brings energy, experience, expertise and people skills most importantly. When you make a change, you want it to be a positive one so without further ado, I would like to introduce Paul MacLean as the new coach of the Ottawa Senators.” ~ Bryan Murray

And with that, the Paul MacLean era in Ottawa was underway. As the fourth coaching hire of Bryan Murray, there’s hope that he can help stabilize a Senators coaching situation that has had more ups and downs than Brian Elliott’s career save percentage.

If anything, the former Detroit assistant coach could probably best be described as the antithesis of Clouston so it’s no surprise that one of the recurring themes from yesterday’s events was the emphasis on communication skills.

The former coach was dogged by criticisms by the players during their exit interviews.  There were the negative traditional media opinions were the norm once it became clear that he was not returning behind the bench. And who could forget the unintentional comedy that stemmed from his inability to break good news to Erik Karlsson without it getting awkward?

Listening to what was said by Murray and Eugene Melnyk, the message was simple: a NHL coach may have the best plan, work ethic, players or intelligence but if they lack the ability to communicate and capture the sustained attention of their players, it need not matter.

Fortunately, MacLean held his own yesterday – appearing at ease with the media and deftly handling their questions with confidence, poise and humor.

The more I listened to him speak, the more impressed I became.

“The NHL is a fast and a physical league and it needs to be played that way. The game needs to be played that way. The game is played in two hundred feet; it’s not played in hundred foot increments. You have to be able to skate the whole rink so we’re going to be able to skate the rink and play good defence. But we’re going to come out and attack the net and make sure that we’re putting pressure on the opposition to make good plays in order to have an opportunity to beat us.“

(As an aside, it sounds so… so… so good. I only wish that they had consulted this guy before inking Chris Phillips to a three year extension.) 

“I think it’s important in the NHL today is that the coach and the players communicate. Communication with the player is important in empowering them and having them invest in what you’re trying to do and what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s not me against them. It’s us – the Ottawa Senators – against the rest of the league and we have to work together to accomplish that goal. The players have to know what I expect from them and what Bryan expects from them and be demanded of that every day that they do it at the same time.”

Despite posting three 40-goal campaigns playing alongside Dale Hawerchuk, MacLean wasn’t shy about racking up the PIMS – reaching triple digits six times in his career. It’s this combination of grit and skill, MacLean that should allow him to relate to any type player regardless of whether they’re a Jason Spezza or a Chris Neil.

Not even some nonsensical questions about his mustache or Jason Spezza were enough to detract from what was otherwise an exemplary press conference that instilled some faith back in the franchise. (Incidentally, the highlight of the press conference for me had to be when Bryan Murray told MacLean not to talk to Earl McRae a lot. I don’t blame him for that either – by bringing up MacLean’s resemblance to Wilford Brimley, McRae’s stealing my shtick.)

As I told the Ottawa Sun’s Aeden Helmer for a piece that ran the other day, in the spectrum of fans, cynics will opine the fact that he hasn’t had any prior head coaching experience while the optimists will hope that he’s a Babcock prodigy – a coach whom many consider to be one of the best in the game. I’d like to think that I’m somewhere in the middle, leaning towards being on the tepidly optimistic side. Unlike some of his predecessors, MacLean should be afforded the luxury of patience and lowered expectations. And as a rebuilding team, there should be an emphasis on player development instead of the inherent pressures of short-term success.

Was it a smart hire?

Time will tell but after listening to MacLean speak, I’m definitely more optimistic. Of course it helps that he comes with a strong recommendation from Mike Babcock and there’s this hope that he can turn Ottawa into the Eastern Conference’s version of the Red Wings. Detroit’s been the NFL equivalent to the New England Patriots in the sense that teams are just looking to purge them of their off-ice personnel. As we’ve seen with New England being a Bill Belichick disciple —  Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Romeo Crennel or Charlie Weis — isn’t a guaranteed precursor for success and you can parallel that with the Red Wings. Dave Lewis flamed out with the Bruins while Todd McLellan has taken the Sharks to back-to-back Western Conference Finals.

Most fans would agree that a good coach hire is just one part of the puzzle to return the Senators to prominence. While management has done a good job of adding restocking the system, now that MacLean’s in tow, emphasis needs to be placed on improving management’s spotty trade record.

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