MacLean Speaks, Hits Nail on the Head

While some guy was skating for the first time in a Red Wings jersey, last season’s Jack Adams winner (damn, that feels good to say), spoke to the media for the first time in what feels like ages and addressed a number of important hot button topics. (Note: the MacLean quotes for this piece were pulled from articles that were featured on TSN and the Ottawa Sun.)

Daniel Alfredsson, Bobby Ryan, leadership and candidates for the vacant ‘C’, Paul MacLean touched upon them all after making an appearance during the final day of the Senators’ summer hockey camp for kids.

As someone who refused to let last season’s mounting injuries be used by his players as an excuse for poor play, MacLean was quick to let everyone know that they should get over Alfie’s decision to leave.

"I was disappointed like everybody. At the same time Daniel's earned the right to make that decision and he's made it and moved on and we're moving on. We're going to progress without him."

And even if Ottawa doesn’t progress as a franchise, we can always justify their poor performance by conveniently pointing out, “Hey guys, we’re only in year three of our rebuild. We weren’t even supposed to be THAT good this year. Really, if you think about it, we’re way ahead of where we’re supposed to be.”

Expanding upon whether Alfie’s absence will create a void in the leadership area, MacLean brought up the fact that leadership goes beyond one individual. Much like a team’s success, it takes a collective effort from the players within the locker room to buy in and do their part to lead.

"It's a great opportunity for a number of our players to step into that leadership void and show they can be a bigger part of the team than maybe they've been in the past.”

It’s a great point by MacLean. Players like Colin Greening (27), Kyle Turris (24) and Zack Smith (25), who although they both don’t have too much NHL-mileage on their bodies, aren’t really that young anymore; at least by relative NHL standards. Hell, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Greening’s only year younger than Milan Michalek.

Their lack of service time notwithstanding, there’s absolutely no reason why some of these younger types can’t step up and emerge as leaders now that they’re more entrenched within the room. Suck it Dave Tippett.

“It's not just one guy that's going to step up, one guy will represent as Daniel did with the captaincy, but leadership isn't just a one person thing or a three person thing it's an everybody thing. With me it's everybody and that's still going to be the expectation.”

The process to anoint Ottawa’s next captain won’t be done through a vote by his peers.

"The process that (general manager Bryan Murray) and I and my coaching staff have to go through is sifting through it and finding who's going to be the best guy to represent the whole group.”

Although he seems ready to embrace the opportunity and step into a larger role within this Canadian fishbowl environment, Bobby Ryan shouldn’t be expected to step into a leadership role right away, but he may get there eventually.

In the interim, MacLean will simply be expecting production from Ryan.

"He can shoot and he has the ability to score from anywhere, and that's something we haven't had in awhile … certainly for as long as I've been here.”

Despite this distinction, Ryan’s goal scoring prowess may not see him land on the wing with Jason Spezza.

"Who he has the best chemistry with is the guy we're going to play him with."

MacLean casually mentioned that Ryan could wind up playing with Turris, Spezza or interestingly DJ Z-Bad himself, Mika Zibanejad.

Haha, nice try Paulrus. You’re not fooling anyone.

Although it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to see MacLean dangle some incentive to forwards like Turris or Zibanejad, I don’t think there’s anyone who believes for a second that Ryan, the man the Sens acquired to help satiate the fan base and quell the unrest that was wrought in the hours following Alfie’s departure, will wind up anywhere but on Jason Spezza’s flank. Hell, there’s a better chance he winds up as Erik Karlsson’s defensive partner than there is of him playing on the team’s second or third line.

From a PR and on-ice success standpoint, the Sens need Ryan to produce and be a success; so naturally, they’re going to put him in the best position to do that by playing him with one of the league’s best playmaking centers.

This minor detail aside, it’s of particular note to see that MacLean and the organization have maintained a consistent message – they still intend on developing Mika as a center.

Just last month, GM Bryan Murray indicated that the team may benefit more in the long-term by having Mika develop as a center.

"We'll talk to (coach) Paul (MacLean) later in the summer about that," he said. "The kid's such a good skater and so powerful, if we could get him to really develop in the middle, we could have a real dynamic centre for a lot of years here."

Obviously the issue staring the organization in the face whether it is better to forego whatever short-term success Zibanejad could have by taking him away from the team’s better offensive catalysts and entrenching him as the third line center.

Both sides have their benefit. By playing him with the team’s best offensive players, it affords Mika the opportunity to get more ice-time, play a larger role and possibly put up more points. Furthermore, to their credit, the Senators have assembled a wealth of NHL-ready depth at the center position, so by slotting Z-Bad on the wing, it gives Zack Smith and a prospect like Jean-Gabriel Pageau, to slot in at center on the bottom two lines.

Conversely, there’s something to be said for developing Zibanejad as a center and sheltering him from the opposition’s top defensive pairings and forward lines.

As I discussed on the blog last July:

So why wouldn’t Ottawa want that skill on one of their top two lines?

Well, maybe Murray is just trying to downplay his hand in an effort not to create more leverage in trade negotiations – maybe after today’s David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi and a second rounder trade, the Oilers may be more amenable to moving Hemsky. Or maybe it’s just that they feel compelled to find out what they acquired at last year’s deadline in Cory Conacher. Or it could be possible that the organization feels that its strength within the system is its depth on the wings, so there’s no need to limit itself by having their best prospect Zibanejad there. Or perhaps the organization is simply willing to take the short-term pains by letting Mika develop as a pivot, so that he provides the organization some flexibility or insurance down the road in the event that Jason Spezza does not re-up with the organization and walks as a free agent at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season.

There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to develop Ziba at center and from the sounds of it, the organization seems to have the long-term interests of the prospect and the team at the forefront.

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