On June 13th Bryan Murray announced the hiring of Paul MacLean as the team’s new coach. MacLean is Murray’s fourth coach (excluding himself) since becoming GM in 2007. This is the first coach since Craig Hartsburg (in 2008) who was hired after the usual process of interviews. Fans and the team have to hope the process has worked.
MacLean was an elite scorer during his NHL career (673 points in 719 games over 10 seasons) before entering the coaching ranks in 1993. Here’s a brief outline of his performance as a head coach:
1993-94 IHL (Peoria) 51-24-6; lost 1st round
1994-95 IHL (Peoria) 51-19-11; lost 2nd round
1995-96 IHL (Peoria) 39-38-5; lost 2nd round*
1996-97 (Don Hay’s assistant coach in Phoenix)
1997-98 IHL (Kansas) 41-29-12; lost 2nd round
1998-99 IHL (Kansas) 44-31-7; lost 1st round
1999-00 IHL (Kansas) 36-37-9; missed playoffs
2000-01 UHL (Quad City) 55-12-7; Won Colonial Cup
2001-02 UHL (Quad City) 57-15-2; lost 2nd round
2003-11 (Mike Babcock’s assistant coach in Anaheim and Detroit)
* the IHL franchise moved to San Antonio afterward; Mark Reeds was an assistant coach with MacLean for all three seasons (as he will be in Ottawa this year)
Neither the IHL nor UHL exist anymore (they merged with the Central Hockey League (CHL) to form a professional league that’s below the ECHL). When MacLean coached in the IHL was considered on par with the AHL and was still used as a location for NHL farm systems. Looking at MacLean’s resume what jumps out to me is: 1) he hasn’t been a head coach in nearly 10 years, 2) he made the playoffs in nearly every season he coached (7 out of 8), 3) he did not enjoy much playoff success. Needless to say, MacLean wasn’t hired because of the Colonial Cup he won in 2001.
When he was hired Murray talked about the importance of communication and being a winner, “I felt Paul fit the profile (of what the team needed). He’d been a player, been a head coach, 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.“ And “He’s got that presence about him of a guy that can take charge” (msn.foxsports.com/ nhl/story/report-ottawa-senators-hire-Paul-MacLean-as-coach-061311). MacLean himself talked both about communication and his system, “I think it’s important in the NHL today that the coach and the players communicate. Communication with the players 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 in order to accomplish that goal.” And “I don’t know if we’re going to play the Red Wing way, but we’re going to play a game that’s going to be played with some pace and tempo. You’ve got to play 200 feet, you’ve got to be able to skate, and if you have the puck, you can dictate what’s going on.“
Bruce Garrioch talked to a couple of league executives who had this to say: “Paul MacLean deserves the chance. He’s paid his dues. He’s won at every level. Now, it’s time to find out whether he can coach at this level”, And “He’s won everywhere — including as an assistant. He’s very knowledgeable and he’s very well respected. He took his time before looking for a head coaching job. He’ll be able to relate to the players. I’m not sure whether he can be the hard guy, but this is probably what they need right now: A teacher and a more patient guy” (www.ottawasun.com/2011/06/13/ report-maclean-new-sens-coach).
My belief is that MacLean was hired primarily because Murray is familiar with him (they worked together in Anaheim) and he admires Detroit’s success in the league. I don’t know what to expect from MacLean this year; he’s never been an NHL head coach and is long removed from his last coaching gig. The good thing for both MacLean and the organisation is that there is no pressure to succeed this year, so there’s time for him to find his stride.