According to a number of reports, the Ottawa Senators are expected to name (likely now-former) Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean as the team's new head coach. But who is Paul MacLean? Most importantly, will he be more successful than the four previous coaches that have been behind the bench during Bryan Murray's time as the Ottawa Senators' general manager?
The first question is much simpler to answer. MacLean comes to Ottawa after nine years as an assistant coach in the NHL, mostly with the Detroit Red Wings but also with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and one year with the Phoenix Coyotes. He's also got 10 years experience as a player in the league, most of which was for the Winnipeg Jets.
It's tough to predict what kind of coach MacLean will be, considering an assistant rarely gets the opportunity to put his stamp on an NHL team. It seems reasonable to assume, though, that his many years spent with Mike Babcock will mean he's got a similar no-nonsense approach as the Red Wings' head coach. If that's the case, look for a responsible style that emphasizes a commitment to defence while also working toward a quick counter-attack through good transition play through the neutral zone.
If that's to be his game plan for the Senators, the team's got some good pieces in place. A counter-attack game relies heavily on two things: Defencemen who can pass the puck effectively out of the defensive zone, and a speedy group of forwards.
In the first category, Ottawa looks good--or certainly better than they have in the recent past. Erik Karlsson leads the group, but Sergei Gonchar is close behind, and if Filip Kuba can rebound, he'll be an asset in that category as well. Brian Lee has also shown to be capable of moving the puck effectively, although he needs to prove he can do so with consistency. Then there's David Rundblad, who is an offensively capable defender who may make the roster next season. That leaves Matt Carkner and Chris Phillips, both of whom can make an easy pass out of the zone, and both of whom will be paired with one of the aforementioned blueliners who can make a more difficult pass up and out.
Up front, the forward group features speedy players including Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno, Colin Greening, and--if he's re-signed--Ryan Shannon. Guys like Jason Spezza, Peter Regin, Zack Smith, and Jesse Winchester may be a little slower than that first group, but they've all got good speed which will enable them to counter-attack quickly and effectively. Best of all, each of the players mentioned aren't one-dimensional guys; they've all shown a commitment to defence that is a necessary component of any good transition game.
There are some fair criticisms of the hiring of MacLean, pretty much all based on the fact that he's unproven as a head coach in this league. It's fair for Senators fans to be reluctant about a rookie head coach considering some of the past hires, but even the best coaches in the history of the league were rookies at one time. Time will tell what category MacLean falls into.
(Some interesting Senators connections about MacLean: As a Jet in the late 1980s and early 90s, MacLean was coached by John Ferguson, Sr. and Rick Bowness, but left the team just before John Paddock (seriously) became head coach in 1991. And when he became an assistant with the Mighty Ducks, Bryan Murray was that team's GM.)