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New Coach, New Team, New Direction

Posted By Mika Oehling On Jun 15 2011 @ 12:09 pm In Ottawa Senators | 4 Comments

The Ottawa Senators are looking to the future and while it still looks highly uncertain, there’s little doubt that it will be better than the last. After the dismal results from last season and constant rumours circulating about Clouston’s tactics in the locker room and then the virtual blow up of the team in the last few months, the key word for Ottawa will be new. Ottawa just announced its new head coach, Paul MacLean, who is coming in to his job with an uncertain cast, low fan morale and the promise to communicate effectively with his players.

The Ottawa faithful can take heart in the fact that MacLean comes from Detroit, the team that has seemingly found the winning formula under Yzerman and Babcock. This will be MacLean’s first time in the driver’s seat, so expectations will have to be somewhat tempered. But it’s hard these days to think of Detroit without images of Stanley Cups running through one’s head. It could happen- but it will be a long time coming yet.

Part of the problem will be assembing a team for MacLean to coach in the first place. Ottawa’s roster has dwindled to four key players (Spezza, Neil, Phillips and Captain Alfredsson) and scores of young players, some of them who have yet to be signed. Sergei Gonchar has a no-movement clause and will be around when the season starts, as will Craig Anderson between the pipes. Other than that, though, Ottawa’s working with a skeleton crew and there will likely be a lot of movement before July 1st to fix that problem.

It will be interesting to see what new direction MacLean will take when the 2011 Draft comes around later this month. Will he and Murray be focused on trading up for Landeskog, or will they sit pretty at number 6 and let the chips fall where they may? This early decision could be the foundation for the rest of the season. It will be crucial for them to make the right decision at the draft.  If they aggressively recruit talent at the draft and decide to take an NHL-ready player now, it shows that they are interested in rebuilding now. If they passively let fate decide for them who will be left in their current slot, it shows that they are interested in a slow, methodical rebuilding process, which may be good for the franchise, but will be a bitter pill for the fans.

While fans are generally not a key factor in rebuilding a franchise, they may have to be in this case. Ottawa cannot afford to lose fans left, right and centre. With a stadium sitting well outside centretown with few viable mass transit options, the Ottawa fans need to make a clear cut decision to commit to their team and support them; something which is harder to do when it’s -40 out and the team’s losing to boot. Unlike Toronto and Montreal, whose die-hard fanbases are willing to prop up a losing team with sales, Ottawa doesn’t have that kind of affinity, history or luxury. As well, the media scrutiny in Ottawa is no less intense than that of those two other major cities. MacLean does not have a smooth ride ahead.

Nevertheless, he says that he feels privileged to be in this position, as he understands that head coaching jobs are a rarity. With only 30 such positions to be filled, and Ottawa’s recent bad history of rotating coaches, the experience will likely be bittersweet for MacLean. Apart from the skeleton crew, the fan base and media, MacLean will likely be judged for one of his first acts as head coach: the Captaincy. Will he retain Alfredsson for another season, despite his surgery and his age? Will he keep Alfie in the Captain position as a purely symbolic move? Will he mentor another key player, such as Spezza, for the position and give him more responsibility in the interim? To be fair, this decision will largely be out of his hands, as it will depend on key factors such as Alfie’s own health and mindframe over the course of the summer.

But Ottawa fans will be watching….and waiting….and judging. No doubt about that.

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