This season, Paul Maclean fell from grace with many Ottawa Senators fans, as we often found ourselves questioning his decisions. Based on his interview on Monday, I think he realizes that he contributed to the team's lacklustre play. He held himself accountable, saying "There’s lots of blame to go around, lots of it can be on me," so I think he will take this season as a lesson and learn from it. The following are some of my thoughts on coaching and Maclean.
The Complexity of Coaching
Coaching is no easy feat. It requires having a thorough understanding of the game, as well as strong social skills and intrapersonal understanding. Probably one of the toughest aspects of coaching, additionally, is that there are no set guidelines for how to coach and you're employment based predominantly on wins. Not only do coaches have to know a lot and win a lot, they’re expected to – at least in team sports – bind the players and build a cohesive unit. All of these things put a lot of pressure on coaches, especially ones who’ve had previous success, like Paul Maclean.
Now, having a strong leadership group helps a lot when a coach is trying to get the team to act like a team. The captains help to liaise messages between the coaches and players and help keep the coach current on what’s going on and what the players would like. The Ottawa Senators had one of the best leaders in the game – a proven captain of 14 years in Daniel Alfredsson. Well, things changed and we had a new, very green captain who had to learn the ropes. This, no doubt, impacted Paul Maclean’s style. I suspect Maclean didn’t trust Jason Spezza enough (if it ever happens now) to let him help.
I’d also like to point out that even if a team is built of almost the same players as the year before, a loss of a couple players (especially the "face of the franchise") and the addition of some new faces can have a big impact on team dynamics. The coach has to now get to know the new players and learn what works best with the players he has. Trades and free agency can also impact players who stayed. For example, Erik Karlsson lost three of his best friends in Alfredsson, Jakob Silfverberg, and Peter Regin. That can influence a player's attitude and in turn, impact the coach.
Altogether, my point here is that a lot of factors contribute to the success or failure of the coach. Oh, and don’t forget that Maclean also takes orders from his general manager (although I think Bryan Murray trusts him for the most part) and the owner, which may or may not impact his coaching and player usage. I’ll leave it at that.
The Players' Teacher
When Bryan Murray was asked in his interview on Tuesday about Maclean, he said "My note to him today was the players liked the old Paul. They liked the guy that sat and talked to them, that treated them in a more easygoing fashion, that taught and not confronted." Maclean himself said that he decided to be more demanding of his players. This could very well be the reason why Maclean had success in his previous two years and seemed to have the players buy in compared to this year.
I like to think of the old Maclean as a teacher – the kind that inspired you to learn and work hard. The kind that you knew believed in you and wanted to see you succeed. Sounds nice (maybe nostalgic for some), doesn’t it? It's possible that the Senators want a democratic, collaborative coach as opposed to an authoritarian (see John Tortorella for details). It appears to me that the Senators want their old teacher back - you know, the lovable fisherman from Antigonish?
A major benefit of having a coach who is "down to earth" is that it helps the younger guys feel more comfortable on the team. The Senators are a young team and many of them are trying to figure out the NHL. Having someone who works with them and brings their confidence up, even if they make a mistake, can do wonders for a young player.
Altogether, Paul Maclean has a lot of reflecting to do in his lengthened summer. I am hopeful, however, that he will figure it out and get back to business. The organization seems to have faith in him too. Maclean is a relatively new coach in the NHL, so no doubt he has room to grow and learn, just like young players.