PITTSBURGH -- Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma didn’t have a vote for the coach of the year award, but if he had one, he’d have cast it for his counterpart with the Ottawa Senators, Paul MacLean.
The Ottawa coach was named as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for the second straight year, and while his fellow finalists Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks and Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks are more than worthy of the recognition, it will be a surprise if MacLean is not the eventual winner of the award voted on by the NHL’s broadcasters.
"He deserves it," Bylsma said.
"You talk about last year with his team, coming into an Ottawa Senators team that he didn’t know what to expect or where they would be at, he did a great job last year. But this year, different challenges for his team and his group, and they dealt with some injuries and still [were] consistently a good hockey team without some of their key guys and with some of their key guys. I would have cast a vote for him," said Bylsma, who once played for an Anaheim Ducks team when MacLean was an assistant coach.
MacLean is the first to be named a Jack Adams finalist in his first two years as a head coach since Terry Crisp was nominated in 1987-88 and again the following year for his work with the Calgary Flames. Last year, MacLean finished third in the voting behind winner Ken Hitchcock of St. Louis and John Tortorella of the New York Rangers.
MacLean downplayed his role in the Senators' second straight unexpected playoff appearance, crediting the team’s scouting and development staff for providing players who could fill in for injured regulars so admirably. He also praised the coaching staff of the Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton as well as his own coaching staff.
"In reality, I’m the organizer, and they were the ones that carried it out," MacLean said. "I’m just a representative of that because I’m the head coach."
If there was a watershed moment for the Senators this season, it was the loss of defending Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson to a lacerated Achilles tendon after an altercation with Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke less than a month into the lockout-shortened season.
MacLean said he simply told his team that there were 30-something games left on its schedule, "and we’re going to have to play them. We’re not going to take the games off. And it’s important to play them as well as we can."
"People came in and took advantage of the opportunities the injuries presented them," MacLean said.
Veteran defenseman Chris Phillips said he and his teammates are pleased for their coach.
"We’re with him day in, day out, on the ice and off, and I think we’d all say that he’s more deserving of it," Phillips said.
As for whether he did a better job this season because of the team’s significant injury issues, Phillips said MacLean did a good job of not letting it become a crutch for the team to lean on.
"I think that’s one of his strengths; he has his ways and he doesn’t let too much affect it, and that rubs off on us. I think that with the team we have and being a young team, that’s where it really paid off was to not let things like that become distractions or excuses, and just keep pushing forward. That was probably one of his biggest strengths this year," Phillips said.
On the injury front, the Senators will be without defenseman Eric Gryba in Friday’s second game of their second-round series against Pittsburgh. Gryba was rocked by a big hit from Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik in Game 1 and played just 8:40 in the Sens’ 4-1 loss. Defenseman Andre Benoit will draw into the Senators’ Game 2 lineup, while winger Guillaume Latendresse will also play. Latendresse has not been in the lineup since Game 2 of the Senators’ opening series against the Montreal Canadiens.
Also, MacLean seemed much more hopeful than in the past that Spezza was nearing a return to the lineup. Spezza did not accompany the team to Pittsburgh but has been skating in Ottawa. He is expected to skate with the team at what likely will be an optional skate Saturday afternoon, and MacLean said they’ll get a better idea of Spezza’s potential availability after that.
Game 3 is set for Sunday night in Ottawa.