In praise of knowing what you’re talking about. Which we probably don’t.

As well all know, and knew days in advance of the official announcement, Paul MacLean is the Ottawa Senators’ new head coach. In the days following the unofficial announcement by the Ottawa Sun (who always arrive prematurely, if you know what I’m saying), we’ve heard the overwhelmingly positive analysis – i.e. he’s been a part of a winning team, he commands respect, he’s a former NHL player, he’s a player’s coach, he’s a communicator, he has a moustache – and a few grumblers – he’s never been a head coach in the NHL, he…has a moustache. This post isn’t meant to fall on either side, but directly through the middle, into the creamy pit of mediocrity between.

Which is to say: do any of us, CCFR or otherwise, really know how to assess a good coach in the NHL?

Spezza had a brief comment at the end of the year about how important communication is and how it was an area where Clouston needed to improve, and now it’s on the lips of all armchair assessors of coaching talent. MacLean, we understand, is a communicator. And who better to assess his communications skills than Bryan Murray, who seethes with contempt for the media, and started the very press conference announcing MacLean with a joke that nobody understood or laughed at? Who better than Murray, who so thoroughly bungled the Heatley debacle in the public arena? Who better than Murray, who generally displays a lack of appreciation or understanding of the importance of effective PR in the overall perception of a franchise?

I don’t have the first clue how to assess a coach other than looking at his track record and assuming a correlation. Ottawa only had guys without head coaching experience and old timers who haven’t coached in a while to choose from, and they chose someone from a winning franchise, so I feel okay about it. But more to the point is that feeling okay about it or thinking it’s a terrible choice doesn’t mean a thing. It’s rare that you get someone like Guy Boucher, whose “I use an entirely different system than everyone else!” helps to distinguish him. The rest of the time we’re talking about assessing a person we’ve never met on their ability to be personable and communicate effectively. More often than not, when asked what sort of system they’ll employ, coaches will say something about work ethic and pressure on the opposing team creating turnovers. MacLean is no different, saying that he’ll speak to his players about playing “all 200 feet” of the rink. As if any coach in the league doesn’t preach hard work and a strong forecheck / backcheck. Does Bruce Boudreau not understand the importance of hard work because he has Alex Semin on his team? (P.S. Jeremy over at Black Aces had it right: how many questions into the presser did we get before MacLean got his first question about teaching Spezza defence? Two?)

 Over the course of a season we see a little bit – a very little bit, actually – of how a coach’s strategy plays out. We learned that Clouston insisted on playing Gonchar on his wrong side, for example, and we can blame that for Gonch’s career-worst season, though we might not be right. (i.e. he’s also 64 years old.) And we can look at Guy Boucher’s unorthodox tactics and attribute Tampa’s success to it, though again, we might not be right. (i.e. Dwayne Roloson.) So I submit to you, dear reader: if you count yourself among the apparently very many people who approve of MacLean’s hiring, why is that? What is it about Paul MacLean (who I personally had never heard of until about two weeks ago) that has you excited?

6 thoughts on “In praise of knowing what you’re talking about. Which we probably don’t.

  1. I think most fans who approve of this move(myself included) gauge this against what the general media and the interwebs has to say on the matter. The general concesus that I’ve read on non-Sens specific webs is that MacLean appears to be a good fit and isn’t short on the skills needed to be a successful head coach. I like the move now and reserve the right to modify that judement in the future.

    Go Sens Go.

  2. FYI: that’s Larry Hopkins on the hockey card. They put his picture on Paul’s rookie card. But…i’m sure you already knew that…

  3. I suppose I am excited about Young MacLeezie for similar reasons that I am excited about David Rundblad. As a fan of a lottery team I think I gotta take excitement as it comes. Is there risk? Definitely. Will there be an adjustment period that will require patience as a fan? Bet on it. Will the Sens go 82-0 thanks to this addition? Probably! No, seriously they wont. BUT BUT BUT does the addition of MacLean, like Rundblad, look like a positive addition until further notice? As a fan, I say yes. I am excited but understand that hockey is like a forest of Gumps. You never know what your gunna shrimp boat captain. Again, similar to Rundblad, the pedigree is in place up to this point. I hope that it works out. People seem pretty realistic in their expectations. Thanks especially in part to a lot of changes in the lineup, prospects on the horizon and the potential for getting a promising 6th pick (or higher? …prob 6th) and the addition of a UFA winger for the top 6. . . I dont expect the moon but I think that the 2011-2012 Sens aren’t quite as bad as the 2010-2011 Sens record indicates. I think the Sens are fast becoming an exciting developing young team. Maybe one of those fringe teams like St. Louis where it can go either way. I really do feel that way. I think it starts from the net out. Brian Elliot had a trashbag of a year. His confidence was obviously destroyed about halfway through the season. Why else would we have given NHL starts to a 19 year old who less than a yeah before was playing for the SOO Greyhounds? The team in front of Elliot’s confidence was also clearly shot. Anderson came in and, though he’s not going to be perfect, played a few really inspired games that Elliot was just not capable of. The team in front of him improved too. Also, I think this time of easy ragging on Spezza’s is fast passing by. Let’s give this guy some credit when he deserves it. What more could he have done this season? People forget that he started the year out of the lineup with groin and back issues. Yes he makes a lot of cash…have you ever tied your shoes and then run with these injuries let alone play NHL hockey? He had a slow start. Got some time to really recover (where the Sens won a whopping one game without him) and then motherfucker comes back, plays on the suddenly outstanding PK, plays d and puts up basically a point a game+ the rest of the season. To me its clear Spezza has turned a corner in his career and WANTS to get better as a player. For now, it’s time to shift the focus off him when he plays like this. So to answer your question: Coaching, right guys? I think the 24/7 series showed how much the Penguins respect/react to/want to win one for Bylsma. I’m sorry but Clouston was never that guy. MacLean seems like he can be if he plays his cards right. Sometimes I wonder if intangibles like that are just as important as showing Xs and Os to dudes who have been playing high hockey for decades in some cases. Before I went to jail, I always worked hardest selling crystal meth for the people I could level with, respect and most importantly LIKE. I think Clouston has good coaching chops but has a lot to learn in terms of being a meth dealer…I mean boss who can light a proper fire under his employees and to know when to lighten up on them. Until further notice, I have a feeling that MacLean will have less work to do in this area. Next comment wont be so short (promise!)

    • Except that we know how we’re assessing Rundblad. He scored more points in the SEL than any other defenceman, so we presume he’s good. Makes sense. What is it we’re using to assess MacLaren? Maybe it really is that he’ll do better because the team (might be) better.

  4. Pedigree in place up to this point is what Im saying. Rundblad has done well up to here, MacLean has done well up to here. He was an assistant on very good Detroit and Anaheim team and got coach of the year in some bling blong league i cant remember. Its not like Assistant coaches dont do anything. But the assessment seems to be he’s done very well and won at the various levels he’s coached/assistant coached at so we presume he’s good…now he makes the jump to head coach. . . and we see from there.

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