The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/15/11 at 12:34 AM ET
The best thing I can say about Paul MacLean’s tenure with the Red Wings is the worst thing I can say about his tenure with the Red Wings: it was a quiet one. In Detroit, assistant coaches decide whether they want to talk to the media, not the other way around, so while Todd McLellan was outspoken and engaging, we knew that Paul MacLean had a laugh as hearty as his moustache was thick and that he got along very, very well with his players and coach during a six-year run alongside Mike Babcock in Detroit, but we never really got to know him.
It’s just not how things are done around here. If an assistant coach wants to just work behind the scenes, he’s given a wide berth, and the fact that MacLean didn’t seek out the media doesn’t besmirch his character at all. It just means that we’re learning more about the coaching philosophies of MacLean as the Ottawa Senators’ new head coach than we did via his execution as (usually) the man in charge of the Wings’ forwards, and it should come as no surprise that, via the Canadian Press, when MacLean was introduced in Ottawa today, he suggested that his team would employ an up-tempo, Red Wings-like offense:
“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 also emphasized engaging his players in a Mike Babcock-like level of communication…
“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.
That’s the theory:
“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 made the 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.”
“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,” [Ottawa Senators GM Bryan] Murray said. “He’s got that presence about him of a guy that can take charge.”
MacLean also spoke to OttawaSenators.com’s Rob Brodie about his decision to cut the cord with a coach he’d worked alongside since the 2002-2003 season…
“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.”
And Bryan Murray made sure to point out that it was Mike Babcock who gave his now-former colleague the biggest endorsement:
“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.”
“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.”
And this little ditty, about the fact that MacLean believes the Senators can right their ship in short order, sounds downright Babcockian:
“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.
As the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch notes, MacLean also confirmed some basic tenets about the way that the Wings do business on the coaching and management levels—via committee:
“One good thing about being with (Babcock) was that I was in on everything that was done ‘The Red Wing way’ or ‘The Babcock way.’ Whatever way you want to put it. I was in there for every part of putting that all together, so I’m not stealing anything from him,” said MacLean. “So our system, and the way we play, is probably going to be very similar. You have to play fast and you have to communicate with your players. That’s one of the things (Babcock) does well: He communicates with his players, empowers them to be better.”
That’s interesting because it’s been noted that Babcock doesn’t make many moves without consulting Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom — including just about everything from practice to flight times.
It wouldn’t be hard for MacLean to strike up the same kind of relationship with Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson. For MacLean, working with Alfredsson will be easy. Coaching the Senators will not.
He’s leaving a team that boasts superstars like Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, for one that has a star centre in Jason Spezza and a blossoming blueliner in Erik Karlsson. MacLean said he has to get the most out of every player.
“I know Jason Spezza is going to be an important player on our team and has been an important player on our team,” said MacLean. “We’re going to spend some time (together). I’m going to spend some time with Daniel Alfredsson, Nick Foligno, Chris Phillips and everyone on the team. I want to get to know them and let them get to know me and find ways to make them important. They’re already important on the team, but we need to have conversations about my perception about the way they play and their perception about the way they play. At the end of the day, everybody just has to be a little bit better.”
Garrioch also filed a report which includes a video and photo gallery of MacLean’s introduction, Don Brennan’s conversations with Nick Foligno and Alfredsson as well as familial tales from Brennan and the Ottawa Citizen’s Ken Warren, more talk about MacLean’s style of communication from the Ottawa Citizen’s Allen Panzeri, Alfredsson talk from Panzeri and even a discussion with his billet mom from his days with the Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques from the Citizen’s Wayne Scanlan and a Citizen story with a video of MacLean.
As for the Wings’ press, the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan pointed out that the Wings have several candidates in line to replace MacLean and Brad McCrimmon…
Potential candidates to replace MacLean and McCrimmon include Bob Boughner (former Columbus assistant coach), Pete DeBoer (former Florida Panthers and Plymouth Whalers head coach), Dave Cameron (Canadian junior coach) and Todd Richards (former Minnesota Wild head coach).
And the Detroit Free Press’s Helene St. James noted the following:
“I agreed with how Babs did things,” MacLean said. “There were a lot of reasons we were successful in Detroit, from the way Mike communicates with players, how he holds them accountable, to the X’s and O’s. I became a better coach in Detroit, and now I’ve got the opportunity to show I was paying attention.”
MacLean, 53, is faced with turning around a team that missed the playoffs this past spring, which cost former coach Cory Clouston his job.
“There’s lots for us to do, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get things up and running,” MacLean said. “I’m confident we’ll get it done.”
MacLean dealt closely with the defensemen and the forwards while with the Wings. Though he’s moved to the Eastern Conference, he’ll naturally keep an eye on his old team - and he predicted big seasons ahead for four players in particular.
“Justin Abdelkader is ready to make some strides,” MacLean said. “He’s still got some growth potential. Darren Helm, too. And I think both Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson have room to grow. All of them, all the players, were a great group of guys to work with. Every one of them had a great work ethic.”
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.