MacLean's time arrives as Sens' new head coach
Longtime Red Wings assistant 'the right choice' to take reins behind Ottawa bench
|Paul MacLean meets with the media at Scotiabank Place today after being named the new head coach of the Ottawa Senators after six years as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
With that thought never far from mind, Paul MacLean never wavered in his belief that he'd become a National Hockey League head coach someday soon. That day officially arrived earlier today, when the 53-year-old native of Antigonish, N.S., was named the head coach of the Ottawa Senators.
"I'm a pretty patient guy," MacLean, a Detroit Red Wings assistant coach for the last six seasons, said during a news conference today at Scotiabank Place after inking a three-year deal with the Senators. "I understand fully that there's only 30 of these jobs available to you, and there's lots of guys out there that are just like me and think they have what it takes to be a head coach in the National Hockey League.
"All they're doing is looking and waiting for an opportunity but the reality is, it doesn't always happen. I'm humbled here today to have the job because I've been in line before and never got that opportunity (until now). But today is a pretty good day."
MacLean was a finalist for the Columbus Blue Jackets job last year that eventually went to Scott Arniel. But Senators general manager Bryan Murray is convinced he's found the right man to take over a team that missed the playoffs last season, but believes a commitment to youth can right the ship going forward.
"There were a number of very good candidates for this job," said Murray, who has a previous affiliation with MacLean through their time together in the Anaheim Ducks organization. "I felt Paul fit the profile (we wanted). He's been a player, he's been a head coach, he's been an assistant coach in the National Hockey League. He's been a winner everywhere he's been. I think he brings energy, experience and people skills, most importantly. When you make a change, you want it to be a positive one.
"If you look at his resume, being a head coach (in the International and United hockey leagues) and being successful ... he was ready (to be a head coach)."
Murray talked extensively with the Red Wings and, in particular, head coach Mike Babcock, who first hired MacLean as an assistant in Anaheim during Murray's time there as general manager.
"Mike's a very willing guy to share information and when we talked about Paul, it just reconfirmed what I thought I already knew about him," said Murray. "He's got a strong presence, good personality, he's a very willing talker and willing to share with players. When you put it all together ... at the end of the day, it was certainly the right choice."
With all of that in mind, don't be surprised if the Senators end up emulating the Red Wings in terms of the puck possession style that has made them so highly successful. It's a system that MacLean was immersed in fully during his time in the Motor City.
"We want to have the puck, because it's way better to play and plan when you have the puck than if you're chasing it around," said MacLean. "If you're chasing it around, then something bad is going to happen eventually. I don't know if we're going to play the Red Wing way, but we're going to play a game that has 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."
But Murray, for one, also expects MacLean to be his own man, even if Babock and the Red Wings way have clearly rubbed off on him over time.
"I don't know if (MacLean's makeup) is all from Mike," said Murray. "But certainly, that experience and that environment, the fact you win, the fact you run real good practices, that fact that you communicate with your players and you include your players in lots of discussion and lots of planning ... I think Mike does that very well and Paul, in talking to him, certainly suggested that was his policy as well."
Indeed, MacLean knows he needs to have the Senators players — both young and veteran — on board to accomplish his aims.
"The players are an important part of the game," said MacLean, a former standout during the 1980s with the Winnipeg Jets, for whom he scored 41 goals and 101 points in 1984-85 playing alongside Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk. "You can't ask somebody to do things if you don't give them an opportunity to have some input into it. That's not to say they're always going to be right — in the end, I'm going to be right, but the opportunity has to be there for them to express themselves.
"I have to spend some time talking to them and make sure we're working together to move forward, not pulling apart on things. Communication allows everyone to work together and pull in the right direction."
He doesn't believe a turn in fortunes in Ottawa needs to be a lengthy process.
"Things in this league can change very quickly," said MacLean. "Every year, you see teams turn it around, so why can't it be us? No one picked Tampa Bay to be in the top four at the beginning of the year ... this league can change quickly and there's a lot of good players in it, but it doesn't change if you don't work at it.
"We're going to come here every day and work hard to be a little bit better. Not a whole lot better, but just a little bit better every day and I'm going to be here every day working hard to do that. That's what I expect my players to do — be professional, come here, be on time and let's get things done."
MacLean doesn't arrive in Ottawa without any connection to the area. He played junior hockey for the Hull Olympiques in 1977-78 and has a brother, Jerome, and sister, Karen, who call the capital home. He and his wife, Sharon, have three children — daughter Erin, who lives in Toronto; and sons A.J., who plays for the Dundee Stars in the British Elite League, and David, a Western Hockey League scout for the Phoenix Coyotes.