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?