Paul MacLean Speaks

A day after Bryan Murray's first radio interview in months, Paul MacLean joined TGOR this morning as part of a whirlwind tour that saw him appear on Team 1200 as part of the Senators media blitz that is taking fold, trying to drum up and generate interest in a NHL product that has left such a sour taste in the mouths of fans. Fortunately for the Senators, MacLean comes across as such a candid and down to earth individual, he's a perfect ambassador to represent the franchise. 

Please note MacLean did hit on a few things that I did not bother to include in this post, so if you wish to listen to the full interview, you can do so here, or via streaming the embedded audio below.

As always, my thoughts will be in bold.

­­­­On the season being a spring…

“Well, for us it’s to get up to speed right away and be who we are. I think the identity that we forged last season is we were a hardworking, hard-skating team and we need to make sure that we get to that identity and we have to do it very quickly. There are things that we would like to improve on – our special teams and our defensive zone play. And this practice block that we have for this one week of training camp, that is probably the only practice block we’ll have for the rest of the season; we’re going to play every other night. The ability to fix things and practice things is going to be limited to pregame skates and the days between games, so this is the practice block where we have to really get everyone up to speed.”

That is one important practice block.

On having a general idea of how this team will look on night…

“I think we have a general idea of it and how they’re slotted in and who they play with. I think we have a place to start. But sometimes that chemistry that we think is going to be good on paper, once we put it on the ice, it doesn’t seem to work. We always have adjustable parts in the game of hockey and guys can move up and down the lineup. We know that Jason Spezza is going to play and get his ice-time. We know that Kyle Turris is going to play and Erik Karlsson is going to play and get his ice-time. It’s a lot of times, we have pairs that we know are going to play well together; it’s that third piece that we put together with lines. Getting a defensive partner for Erik Karlsson is going to be really important to do early in camp (to) find some chemistry with him and somebody because he’s a big part of our team.”

There you have it from the coach's mouth: the three constants are Turris, Spezza and Karlsson with everyone else being shuffled around. Should one of these players get injured for a prolonged period of time, have yourself a cold shower scene while listening to Boy George's The Crying Game. 

On setting up the camp and throwing any new wrinkles to the mix considering the circumstances…

“Well, we’re going to try and get our routine. Hockey players like routine. They like to do the same things at the same time a lot. We’re going to try and have our practice schedule the same, but I still have to have some conversations with Daniel (Alfredsson), Jason (Spezza) and Chris Phillips about the team and what they think might be important for us to do moving forward and those conversations are going to happen today. I think for sure, we’re going to do something where we’re going to practice in the morning and then scrimmage at night. Whether we do that one time or two times, I think that’s going to be important to get the players into the routine of having a pregame skate and then you’re going to have a game at seven o’clock at night. We don’t know what the timeframe of that is going to be, but I can see us doing something like that – just for the reason of getting players in a habit of going to the rink.”

Geez, you think the Senators organization will waste any time making these scrimmages open to the public at no cost? 

On Ben Bishop’s contract giving him an advantage in the backup battle with Robin Lehner…

“I think whoever plays the best is going to play. I don’t think it gives him any more of an advantage. Robin Lehner has been very good in Binghamton. The games that I’ve gone to see, he’s been the best player on the ice. I’ve seen Ben Bishop play down there and he’s been the best player on the ice. So both of them have played very well. Craig Anderson is our number one goaltender at this point in time and I think between the three of those guys, we’ve got two real good goalies and two of them are going to be here. I think it would be unfair to say that just because one player’s contract says this that they get the position over the (other) guy. I think the best player is going to be here.”

I'd like to think MacLean and the organization are going to decide this purely on merit, but what else is he supposed to say? It's a little more complicated than he portrays and the it's the new NHL, contract situations matter. The organization is not going simply going to move an asset now when: a) a shortened season exposes their players to injury; and b) it's in their best interests to let the goaltending market develop more demand so that they can sell an asset at its peak value. 

On avoiding long losing streaks and the goaltending leash for Craig Anderson being short at the start…

“The best guy is going to play and that goes for the first game of the season. If Craig is not ready to play and the other guys are, one of (Lehner or Bishop) is going to play. And as you said, in a short season, you cannot afford any letdowns and the best players have to play. The players all have to understand that going into it that there are going to be nights that if they weren’t going the night before, you might not be going the next night. We have a depth of young players that are playing very well in Binghamton and we have the ability to bring a lot them up and down. And we could have a shuttle that goes up and down. Some guys could potentially be playing five games in seven nights or four games in seven nights and that’s going to be hard on not only the older players on our team but on all of our players. At some point in time, we may have to shuffle our lineup just to make sure that we stay fresh and stay on top of things.”

Wonder how much Poppovich style star resting we'll see around the league?

On having enough toughness…

“Well, we feel that we do. Also, part of that element is still an important part of the game. And if we don’t feel that we have enough of that element, we’re going to address that because I think it is a real important element – that your team feels comfortable no matter where they play; that they go out and be able to play. But then again, in a short season, you really can’t afford to have the letdowns that we talk about and you have to be able to use everybody. I think there’s going to be a fine line. We’re almost starting at the second half of the season where that that type of player, his importance tends to get less as the season goes on and we’ll see where that goes. But we’re definitely going to make sure that we have our players comfortable.”

This reminds of the instance where the Sens were struggling down the stretch under Clouston, and they recalled Francis Lessard. He was a healthy scratch more often than not down the stretch for the NHL club, but while away from Bingo, that team went on a run – eventually capturing the AHL's Calder Cup. Just saying.

On having concerns at the defence position…

“Well the injury to Jared Cowen has been, we all knew it was a blow at the time. That would have given us a solid four. Now with Michael Lundin, now his injury is also (adds) a little bit of heat.  The opportunity for him to come in and take one of those four spots, he’s going to be a week or two into the season and we’re going to be into… so we’ll see how that affects him. But, the good thing is … good young players… Patrick Wiercioch has played very (well) in Binghamton this year and he just might be ready to come in and play. Last year with Jared Cowen, we gave Jared Cowen the opportunity. We kept putting him back out on the ice and that made him a better player as the season went on. Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki as well, he’s playing very well in Binghamton. And these young players, we’re still a team of opportunity for young players. We don’t want to lose track of that thought with the success that we had last year. Yes, we want to be successful and continue down that road, but we also want to be a team of opportunity for young players. This is an opportunity for Mark Borowiecki and Patrick Wiercioch to come in and say, ‘Hey, I’m a NHL player and I want to be an Ottawa Senator. I can do it and know what the coach needs me to do to play in this league and if you keep giving me that opportunity, I can.”

For all of the eternal optimism and PR spin that comes from a professional sports organization (cough, cough, Eugene Melnyk, cough cough), it's refreshing for an employee of an organization to be so blunt about the importance of balancing the long-term developmental interests of the future while weighing it against short-term pain in the standings. (Note: MacLean hasn't been alone in this. Listening to Cyril Leeder on 1200 today, he also shared the same sentiment.) I will always be reminded of Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney's quote when discussing Kyle Turris and the center's refusal to renegotiate a new contract with the team. 

“Well I think Kyle believes in himself. He believes he’s a good player in this league and we’d certainly like more opportunity for him to show it.

But we’re not a developing team, we’re here to win, we’re here to win now. He showed a step forward in the playoffs last year. That’s why we’d like to get him back. We’d like to show that process and that step forward and the production we need out of Kyle Turris to be a good offensive player. But it’s not there yet… You have to perform before you get paid.”

On maintaining that balance between development and winning…

“Well, I think the wins and losses would make the decisions either harder or easier. But we’re still, I think, a team we have to… just because it’s a 48-game schedule, we can’t get past the big picture of where we want to be and what the timeframe is at. We can’t really speed that up too much. The growth of our players is going to dictate when we’re at our best and be one of the elite teams in the National Hockey League. Is that right now? I don’t know that, but I know it’s down the road. It’s somewhere down the road. In order for us to become that elite team, our players have to develop. It’s hard to develop players in this league, but if our players are ready, we have to give them the opportunity. We lived with Erik Karlsson’s mistakes early in the season last year and we lived with Jared Cowen’s mistakes early in the season last year. We had a lot of mistakes early in the season last year and then things built. The 48-game schedule makes it a little harder to have that patience, but I think if we have that patience in the long run, we’re really going to like where we’re going to be at the end.”

If you cannot guarantee a winning club, the one thing that you can sell is hope. It's a great marketing job by MacLean. 

On Marc Methot getting the first opportunity to ride shotgun with Erik Karlsson…

“Yes, that’s what I would say right now. But we have to see if they can develop a chemistry to play together. We believe that they can and that they will, but at this point, we have to wait and see.”

They really need this experiment to work.

On managing minutes for the older veterans…

“Well, we’re going to try to play… the best way that we can do it is to play everybody. If we can play four lines and roll everybody out the door and win games, that’s the best way to do it. And if we get behind in games and have to shorten our bench and start to overplay our best players because every game is important – like you have to play every game like it’s a playoff game – and if you’re trying to come back from two goals, you’re going to shorten your bench and wear some guys out. If we can get momentum and get out there and get everybody playing and use everybody all of the time, that’s the best way we can manage their minutes.  And if we have to shorten our bench to win that game, then we’ll worry about how to (manage the minutes) the next day. We’ll try and get out and get everybody going. They might have to have games off, depending on the schedule.  That’s where the depth of our organization (is a strength) – with the Mark Stones and the (Mike) Hoffmans, the Shane Princes and the guys playing in Binghamton and playing well – those are the opportunities that we can give them to come up and help us win a game.”

Rolling four lines will be a key to keeping the forwards fresh up front, but it could be challenging to prevent the veterans from getting exposed too much on defence. With a depleted ensemble on the blue line, the pressure on Phillips and Gonchar to keep their heads above water will be immense; especially if it necessitates having to live with the mistakes that a rookie like Wiercioch will make. 

On any regrets having to give up Nick Foligno to get Marc Methot…

“Big regrets. Nick was really a good soldier for this team. And really did a lot of good things for us. He’s a player who I think is really on the verge of blossoming into the type of player that he believes he is and everyone believes he is. But at the same time, you have to give something up to get something. And we felt with the drafting of Jakob Silfverberg and being the player of the year in Sweden, Mark Stone coming in and playing in the playoffs and playing very well and Mike Hoffman’s play, we just felt that we had depth at that position at forward. We felt that we needed a top four defenceman to put into our mix with Filip (Kuba) leaving and that ended up being… we felt that we made that deal from strength and made our team better.”

Not too sure what kind of player Nick or everyone else believes he'll blossom into, but he looks and plays like a winger whose production will cause him to perennially bounce between the second and third lines. Which is why Howson was so eager to pay him.

On having Silfverberg play and the opportunity that the organization will give him right away…

“Well, we’re going to give him every opportunity to succeed. He’s a top six forward so we’re going to play him in our top six. Now whether or not he plays with Jason (Spezza) or Kyle (Turris) that’s going to remain to (be seen)… like the first day of training camp, he’s going to play with Jason (Spezza) and (Milan) Michalek but if there’s no chemistry developing, then we’re going to change that around too and find the mixes that are going to be able to work for us. But we believe… we know he’s going to be a top six forward and the best thing for him is to be over here in Binghamton. And their rink is even smaller than our rink, so he’s gotten out of the great big rink and he’s playing in an even smaller rink so we feel that that part of his game is having played the 28-25 games in Binghamton and it’s really going to help him step in and play. We’re not looking for him to be our best player every night. He’s a complimentary player for us and we feel if he can play and develop some chemistry with Jason and Milan… he can really skate and he can really hang onto the puck and he really shoots it. He has a NHL-shot, for sure. He can also play on the penalty kill situations as well as the power play. We can put him on the ice a lot. He’s a real trustworthy player and we think he’s going to help us out a lot.”

Like Methot being paired with Karlsson, there's no surprise here either with Silfverberg lining up and flanking Spezza. Importantly, this helps shelter Turris in a way because he'll be playing with Daniel Alfredsson. As I indicated in a previous post, having a more balanced lineup and playing Turris with Alfie helped the young center's numbers and created a strong puck possession/two-way line that MacLean could rely upon to play against the opposition's best players.

On the disappointment in having such a small camp, compared to normal years…

“That would have been nice. Really a player who kind of got lost in the shuffle who I was really looking forward to seeing at training camp this year was Stefan Noesen – who plays for the Plymouth Whalers. He came (to Ottawa to play the 67s) and he was hurt and couldn’t play, so I haven’t seen the kid play since really the development camp. And he’s a player who intrigues me. He looks like he could be a real good player to help us and again, he’s depth at forward for us. So you miss those opportunities to see those kinds of players. Even Cody Ceci, I’ve been able to watch him with the 67s and watch him with the Canadian team in the summer, but you never really have him yourself to sit down and say, ‘This is how we’d like you to do things,’ and have the chance to see him on the ice and skate with him on the ice. Those are the things you’re going to miss. We’ll have to wait and do it in the next year because of the process that we’re going through. The one good thing about this year is that, the players that are coming in here now, I know them all. They know me, so they know what the expectations are and I think that is going to allow us to get off onto a good footing and get ourselves together and get ourselves organized way quicker.”

In one of his interviews on the Team 1200, one of the radio hosts asked Tim Murray about how much input, if any, the Sens organization had in any potential Ceci trade. Well, considering the talent that came to the 67s following yesterday's trade with Owen Sound, it'd be pretty hysterical to see Ceci crack the Sens lineup and allow the 67s to fleece the Attack in the process. 

On designs to have Latendresse play with Turris and Alfredsson on day one…

“Yes, that’s the way that I see it for the first day. If things go (well), we’ll make some adjustments on the way but we believe that those are our top six (forwards) we have. We’ll have the ability to put… Colin Greening had an outstanding season for us last year, so we can’t forget that he was a good player for us and an important player for us. But, we also have to try to put the team together the best way we (can). Again, we’re a team of opportunity; we need to make sure that people have the opportunity to show us what they can do until they can’t do it.”

Curious to see what Latendresse's footspeed looks like, and if he'll be capable of skating as much as MacLean wants.

On Peter Regin and where he fits…

“Well, we’re great to have him back. I think we really missed him last year when he got hurt. I thought his training camp was going very well; he was really making a strong impression on the coaching staff as far as his abilities to get around the rink and do things the way that we like them done. He skated the whole rink and he could skate and make plays. The good part about his injury is that it forced us to go and get Kyle Turris, who we think is obviously a good player. Now we can play Peter either at left wing or center on that third line position, which is really important on a team that is going to be successful is that third line asset that has the ability to not only play well defensively and play the whole rink but they also have to be able to provide some offence. And we feel that he’s going to be able to do that with whoever he plays with on his wings – (they) are going to be able to provide us that third line offence that every team needs to consistently be winning.”

Considering Regin's unfortunate injury history, it's somewhat surprising to hear MacLean be so enthusiastic with his play. Now maybe I'm reading too much into what was said, but it legitimately sounds like he believes Regin will be entrenched on the team's third line – which is bad news for guys like Zach Smith or Colin Greening who will be competing for those third line center/left wing spots or Jim O'Brien who looks like he's on the outside looking in. 

Hopefully the Dane's shoulders can handle the draws.

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