If, as expected, the Ottawa Senators name Paul MacLean as the ninth coach in franchise history tomorrow, his hiring will represent a sound choice - and a bit of a departure for an organization that last handed the reins to the untried Cory Clouston three years back.
Like Clouston, MacLean will be handling an NHL team for the first time in his life. Unlike Clouston, who was a rising young star when promoted to the top job after Craig Hartsburg was handed his walking papers in the 2008-09 season, MacLean has been around forever, diligently learning his craft and developing a solid reputation as a smart hockey man and highly respected coach. It's why not much is known about the 53-year-old MacLean, outside of the industry itself. But he has been a career coach ever since retiring from the NHL in 1991 after a solid 10-year playing career, in which he scored 673 points in 719 games. MacLean was a John LeClair or Dave Andreychuk type, not the fleetest of foot, but with good hands and a willingness to dig in and take punishment in front of the net to make the power play go. In 1984-85, playing for Winnipeg at the outset of the Gretzky era, he had a 101-point season for the Jets.
MacLean also played for Canada's 1980 men's Olympic hockey team, the one that went to Lake Placid and didn't win a gold medal, even if they won four out seven pre-tournament games against the eventual champions from the United States. That's where our paths crossed the first time - and over the years, there hasn't been anyone better to talk hockey with. He is a smart, well-schooled coach, a big reason why the Detroit Red Wings have been consistently successful in the six years he was there as Mike Babcock's primary assistant. MacLean was also on Babcock's staff for two years with the Anaheim Ducks when they went to the 2003 Stanley Cup final and lost in seven to the New Jersey Devils.
MacLean's anonymity stems largely from the fact that all his head-coaching experience came in the minor leagues. Once his playing career ended, he spent three years scouting for the St. Louis Blues and then switched to coaching their affiliate, Peoria of the now defunct International Hockey League in 1993.
In his second season with the Rivermen, he was named the Hockey News' minor-league coach of the year in 1994 - and it seemed then as if it would be a matter of time, not 17 years, before he stepped into an NHL head-coaching position. MacLean spent one year as an assistant with the 1996-97 Phoenix Coyotes, then went to Kansas City (IHL) for three years and Quad City (UHL) for two, a time when the Mallards posted a 112-27-9 record and won the 2001 Colonial Cup championship.
To sum up, MacLean has a habit of winning wherever he goes; has a history of working well with young players; and should bring the same sort of intelligence and stability to Ottawa that another former Babcock assistant, Todd McLellan, brought to the San Jose Sharks.
With Craig MacTavish, another candidate for the Sens' position, poised to join the Minnesota Wild later in the week, the NHL's coaching vacancies are slowly starting to fill up in advance of the NHL entry draft.
MacLean represents a first-rate hire by Ottawa, and if given the chance, should steer the young Senators back onto the right track, after three years of moving sideways and backwards under the previous regime.