As Paul MacLean strode to the microphone for the first time as head coach of the Ottawa Senators today at approximately 11:00 a.m., and began speaking in his husky but authoritative voice, you could almost feel the entire organization settle down for a moment, like the way a teacher quiets a classroom when he walks in and puts his briefcase on the desk and writes his name on the chalkboard in big, bold letters.
Mr. MacLean has arrived, and even the class clown, Earl McRae of the Ottawa Sun, couldn't get him off-message with a silly question about his moustache.
The words "composure" and "focused" come to mind. In fact, there were a lot of buzzwords and phrases that we kept hearing from MacLean. Words like "attack", "skate", "communication", "respect" and "200 feet".
Perhaps the most indicative of all, in the context of having two-way communication with his players, MacLean casually slipped in the words, "In the end, I'm going to be right", and let a slight smirk play across his face.
In essence, this wasn't a coach trying to play the tough guy for the assembled media, trying to let everyone know he was going to be tougher than the last coach, or make players "more accountable", probably the most over used and meaningless phrase in the past five years. That approach is old news. Out with the negative posturing, in with the positive program. MacLean looked like a natural up there, and was completely convincing in saying that it wasn't him versus the players, but instead "us against the rest of the NHL".
And isn't that the whole point here?
Already, MacLean is building bridges, and when confronted with the inevitable question about how he will make Jason Spezza better, he flipped it around quite easily and said he would sit down with Spezza, but he would also sit down with Daniel Alfredsson, Nick Foligno and Chris Phillips among others. In the past, the focus has been on the guys with the biggest contracts, with everyone wondering why, in times of failure, they are not leading the team out of the wilderness all by themselves.
That's not the Detroit Red Wings method, and judging by MacLean's system that he briefly explained, it won't be the Ottawa Senators method going forward either.
When asked what he would take from his time with Mike Babcock in Detroit, MacLean bristled for a moment, and then pointed out that he wasn't going to steal a thing from Babcock. That's because MacLean was a vital part of the Babcock system from the ground up. The philosophy is as much his as it is Babcock's.
Stars in Detroit like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg play all "200 feet of the ice" and every player on that team has an integral role in the success they've had for over 20 years now. You never hear about locker room strife in Detroit. You never hear about veterans at odds with the coaching staff. You never hear the coach being at odds with the general manager. In Ottawa, that's all we've heard about since the now distant Stanley Cup run in 2007.
As GM Bryan Murray said in his opening remarks today, it was "time for a change" and by bringing in Paul MacLean, Murray imported some much needed experience and a calming presence to an organization that has been at war with itself ever since the failure of 2007.
Another good sign, although it means we have to wait, is that there was no rush to sign any assistant coaches to introduce with MacLean at the press conference. When asked, MacLean said there were people they were talking to, but no timetable was laid out when there would be any conclusion to the process.
This seems to indicate that MacLean is going to get the guys he wants and if it takes some time to do that, who really cares? It looks like MacLean is not going to be saddled with assistants that perhaps the owner would like to see standing beside him on the bench, or guys given the opportunity out of consolation for not getting the big job.
Maybe it will be Dave Cameron or Kurt Kleinendorst after all, but if we can read between the lines here, it looks like it will be MacLeans choice and no one else's. That's how it should be, and MacLean made a point to say that he knows how important it is to have an assistant you trust and can work with because he was in that role for so long under Babcock.
You'd be nuts to think you can foresee how the following season is going to go just from a few casual observations from a press conference in mid-June, but the whole thing just feels right for a change. It didn't feel right when the mild-mannered John Paddock was pressed into service. It didn't feel right when the perpetually scowling Craig Hartsburg was brought in to clean up the locker room mess, and it can only be described as surreal when the inexperienced Cory Clouston was shuffled in mid-season to try and save everybody's jobs. He did well for a while and worked harder than anyone, but the weight proved to be too much.
Paul MacLean has presence. He's got experience. He's got a moustache. And he can actually speak to the media without looking like he wants to pull out a cattle prod and start swinging like a paranoiac when asked who's going to start in goal.
The sun is out today. Birds are singing. The buses are running on time. And the Ottawa Senators finally have an NHL coach.
Bring on the draft.