Ottawa Senators head coach Paul MacLean met with the media on locker clean out day for the team to mark the conclusion of the 2013-14 season and fielded a variety of questions on the year that was.
Here's what he had to say...
On where things went wrong:
I think in the National Hockey League you have to play well enough, long enough to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs and we didn't do that. Why didn't we do that? I think we've documented many times how we turned pucks over, we lead the league in penalty minutes, we lead the league in turnovers, we're third worst in goals-against. I believe we're in the top 10 in scoring goals. We score enough goals we just didn't defend well enough and give our goaltenders a chance to win games as a result.
On if the defensive problems stem from personnel or others issues:
I think it's a part of the whole team. It's the forwards helping the defence, the defence helping the forwards, helping the goaltenders. We just didn't make a concerted commitment to doing it. We played well with the puck but when we turned it over below the circles in our zone it usually ended in a pretty good scoring opportunity which makes it hard for our goaltenders to be the goaltender. I think a combination of those factors led to our poor defensive play and the amount of time we played in our zone and the number of penalties we took.
On his performance as a head coach:
Not good enough. There's lots of blame to go around, lots of it can go on me. I think my job as a head coach is to find solutions and make the team better and the solutions we found weren't the right ones. We have to make sure we come back and work at those solutions until we find the right thing.
On his shortcomings this season:
It's easy to say it's the Jack Adams curse but that's easy to do and I don't think that's true. I think that in the third year as a coach I made the conscious decision to do some things differently feeling to grow as a coach I needed to do things differently. At the same time the team did some things a little bit differently. As we mentioned earlier the way we played, turning over pucks, putting our goaltender and defensive game under pressure, a lot of that stuff adds up to I have a share in the responsibility.
On where he went for advice this season:
I use my staff and I use my general manager and I use my captains... I don't think there's one button, we didn't do a good enough job in finding solutions to the problems we had whether it was making our players better or finding a better way to play. The bottom line is we didn't play good enough long enough to qualify.
On if he's worried about his future:
I worry about my future every day. I don't come in here for one day and not worry about my future. It's the same as when I played. It's a privilege to work in this league and whether you're a player, coach, media, whatever your job is in this league, it's a privilege to be here and you should be worried there's somebody who wants your job. I have that fear every day.
On if expectations of certain players were too high this year:
Under the new CBA with the rules of contracts and whatnot a lot of teams — we're like every team in the league, once a player gets to a certain level they become qualified and need waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League and you have to make a decision on can they play on your team or do you put them on waivers and potentially lose them. Those are good young players that you want to give the opportunity to play or maybe they're not ready to play right away and they need more time down there but you can't give them more time down there because you feel you're going to lose them on waivers. That forces every team in the league to play players that are younger and maybe not quite ready to play. Now you're forced to have them learn in this league and this is a hard league to learn in. It's a very difficult league to learn a position in let alone at defence or goaltender which are the tougher ones.
On if the system needs to be tweaked:
I think also under the new CBA the rules that we work under as a league, very few teams are going to be the exactly same as they were this year. The system that we play, we need to tweak it for sure. We need to do a better job of concentrating on the defensive zone from the first day of training camp, making sure we're better prepared to play in the defensive zone and we're better at the penalty killing side of the game. Those are things on the defensive side that we need to make a major focus coming into training camp, our preparations for training camp and in training camp is how we play without the puck. We score plenty of goals, we score more than enough goals to win, we need to tweak our system to find a better way to play without the puck.
On why the tweaks couldn't happen in season:
The other teams kept scoring on us. I believe we tried in practice and through video but it takes time when you're trying to do something a little bit different and your practice blocks within the National Hockey League aren't plentiful this year with the compressed schedule which makes it difficult. I thought we came out of the Olympic break with a focus on doing that. Our goals against, I believe, is better since the Olympic break than it was before but it's still a process and it still takes time.
On if he'll need to change his approach as a coach:
I think we'll have to change our approach and find somewhere in between. We also have to get to the identity of our team right away. We want to be a team that plays fast, that plays 200 feet and works real hard to get the puck back when we don't have it is what we have to add to our identity. We have to get to that right away, we can't be searching for it through training camp and can't be searching for it through the first 20 or 30 games, we have to get to it right away. We have to work defensively to get preferably 50-plus goals off our goals against and that puts us only average in the league if we do that from 28th. Those are two important things that we feel if we do those things our penalty killing will be better, the amount of penalties we take should be better, the way we execute should be better. If we focus on those things in our preparation through training camp and coming out of training camp, that's going to give us a way better chance to be the type of team we feel we are.
On shot blocking:
I think playing defence is more than just blocking shots and it's way more — that's just part of one aspect of being better defensively is blocking shots. For me it's a better structural game within the five players or six players including the goaltender that's on the ice in the defensive zone and being willing to use your feet to defend. That's way more important than just blocking shots is not having it happen to begin with.
On the impact of Alfredsson's departure:
I think the change in leadership, any time you go through that type of change there's going to be a time where it's a little bit unsettled and I think we went through that. We thought Jason came in and — it's not the kind of year you want to say you had as a captain obviously, but at the same time it's the first time he has been a captain, it's a learning experience for him and I think he learned a lot about being a captain. Any time you're replacing someone that has been here for 17 years, that's difficult to do, it's a hard thing to do and I don't think you do it in one year. I think it's something that's going to take some time. It's part of a process of the team continuing to build on a foundation that we've had here. This is another year to build on it and moving forward to be elite, we need leadership on a daily basis and not just from Jason and Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, we need it from everybody. We need it from everybody to have the courage to do the right thing every day.
On if he felt as comfortable this year as a coach:
I did, yes. I certainly wasn't, like everybody else, pleased with the way everything went as the season went on in times that we went through. At the same time I wasn't uncomfortable but I said after 82 games I'd be happy with where we were, I'm not real happy today.
On if he needs to reign in Erik Karlsson's play:
The commitment to defensive play is the most important thing I think with Erik and to defend him a little bit, the injury he suffered last year I think had more of an effect on him in a defensive role than it did in an offensive role where he's going straight ahead and just being explosive. Being the size he is, when he has to defend people he has to use his feet and when he got into that one-on-one confrontation with a bigger man, you could tell he didn't quite have that confidence in his skating and the strength in his leg to be able to defend. That's something we talked about going forward. He's going to have an opportunity with the two extra months to train and we really feel he'll be able to take his defensive game back to the level it was previously.
On the changes he made as a coach:
I felt in my third year I needed to be a little bit more demanding on what I wanted from the group and that was a change I felt would be good... I don't think it was too much of an adjustment, it was different though. I would say that.
On players who grew in adversity this season:
I think Kyle, again, had some great growth. I think Zack had some great growth again. Mika Zibanejad, not making the team out of training camp and going to Binghamton, coming back and getting 16 or 17 goals for us, I thought he had some great growth for us. Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba, I thought the adversity they faced earlier in the season being in and out of the lineup, learning how to play, learning how to practice, I thought at the end of the season the two of them played very well for us. The growth of Robin Lehner, playing the National Hockey League, we challenged him quite a bit, put him in some tough spots and I thought he came out of it in a very positive way. Out of this adversity we put upon ourselves is an opportunity for us to take a step forward from the disappointment of feeling we were a better team than we are right now. That disappointment can be a springboard to some serious growth next year.
On how to reduce the goals against and if they have personnel to do that:
To answer the second one first, we're going to evaluate that, if we do. How we do that? I think we feel if we have that concentration on our play without the puck right from the first day of training camp that it's going to become a habit that'll make it — I'm not going to say it's easy to cut 50 goals off of it — but when we look at some of the goals we've given up and how we've given them up. First of all if we cut our penalties in half, we're going to cut 15 goals off right away. There's things we can do to our game that'll make it easier to take the 50 off but that's going to be our goal.
On if there are long term concerns over Zibanejad's illness:
Every test that he has had, and I believe he has the last one today, has come back in a positive fashion and we don't anticipate that there will be any further concerns with it.
On if he has been contacted to coach at the Worlds:
All I've heard is speculation I was in the mix. I haven't talked to Rob Blake at any point in time or Bob Nicholson at Hockey Canada at this point in time. I would go if they called, if they're listening.
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