OTTAWA – Paul MacLean left Detroit to take over as coach in Ottawa, but he didn’t leave without first taking a piece of the Red Wings with him.
The long-time assistant was introduced as the Senators’ new bench boss at a news conference Tuesday and says he plans on introducing a similar philosophy to the one he spent six successful seasons under with Mike Babcock in the Motor City.
“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,” MacLean said. “You’ve got to play 200 feet (of ice), you’ve got to be able to skate and if you have the puck, you can dictate what’s going on.”
MacLean takes over from Cory Clouston, who was fired April 9 after the Senators missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. The 53-year-old is the team’s ninth head coach since the modern-day franchise debuted in 1992-93.
He’ll be the fourth head coach and fifth person to occupy the role since Ottawa reached the Stanley Cup final in 2007 with Murray at the helm. Murray took over the GM chair from John Muckler following that season and promoted assistant John Paddock. He lasted less than a season, with Murray stepping behind the bench to finish the 2007-08 campaign.
Craig Hartsburg followed to start the 2008-09 season, but also didn’t last the year, with Clouston replacing him in February 2009. Clouston guided the Senators to a post-season appearance in his first full season in charge the following year. However, the Senators took a step backwards in 2010-11.
“After a poor season, the need for change was obvious,” Murray said. “I felt Paul fit the profile (of what the team needed in a coach). 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.
“When you make a change, you want it to be a positive one.”
Clouston was criticized throughout his tenure with the Senators for being too hard on his players and too rigid in his systems, prompting rumours that he wasn’t well liked by the team’s veterans.
The same likely won’t be said of MacLean, who scored 324 goals and 673 points in 719 regular-season games in 11 seasons with the St. Louis Blue, Winnipeg Jets and Red Wings.
“I think it’s important in the NHL today that the coach and the players communicate,” he said. “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.”
MacLean, who was born in Grostenquin, France, but grew up and still resides in the off-season in Antigonish, N.S., certainly made a positive first impression Tuesday.
He said all of the things Senators fans—and perhaps the players—probably would like to hear about how the team will approach the upcoming season.
“I think his experience with what he’s been through and especially with the players he’s been coaching the last while in Detroit is definitely going to be something that adds a lot to our team,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “If you look at the way Detroit plays, it’s a good team that has a lot of skill, but, at the same time, it’s a really good defensive team. They play with the puck as much as they can and I think I can see us doing the same thing.
MacLean, who has yet to name his assistants in Ottawa, was part of a Red Wings team that won five division titles and made two trips to the Stanley Cup final—winning in 2008—while he was there.
He also worked as Babcock’s assistant with Murray as GM for two seasons in Anaheim, going to the final with the Ducks in 2003. MacLean was also an NHL assistant in Phoenix and a head coach in the minors with Peoria and Kansas City of the IHL and Quad City of the UHL.
“I believe the National Hockey League is a fast and physical league and the game needs to be played that way,” MacLean said. “You have to be able to skate the whole rink, so we’re going to skate the rink, play good defence, but we’re going to attack the net and make sure we’re putting pressure on the opposition.
“The good thing about being with (Babcock) it that I was in on every opportunity that was done or madethe Red Wing way or the Babcock way … so I’m not stealing anything from him, I was part of it, so our system and the way that we play is probably going to be very similar.”
In Ottawa, he inherits a team that dealt many of the remaining holdovers from 2007 over the past season to stockpile draft picks and allow players from Binghamton to gain valuable NHL experience.
MacLean still has a core that includes Alfredsson, who says he’s making good progress in his recovery after recently undergoing back surgery, star centre Jason Spezza, veteran defenceman Chris Phillips and goaltender Craig Anderson. He’s got a good, young offensive blue-liner in Erik Karlsson and another older one coming off a disappointing season in Sergei Gonchar.
Murray interviewed several candidates for the job, including Kurt Kleinendorst, who recently coached the Senators’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton to the Calder Cup title.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk also went public with his desire to see Dave Cameron, coach of the Ontario Hockey League team that Melnyk owns—the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors—promoted to the role.
In the end, Murray felt MacLean was the best fit.
“He’d gone through that environment in Detroit, we went to the final in Anaheim and I know he played a big part in that and I knew he was ready to coach,” Murray said. “He’s got that presence about him of a guy that can take charge.”