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Paul MacLean makes return to NHL

Paul MacLean of Antigonish on the bench for his first game as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ organization. Jamie Sabau (Blue Jackets)
Paul MacLean of Antigonish on the bench for his first game as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ organization. Jamie Sabau (Blue Jackets) - Corey LeBlanc

Antigonisher joins Columbus Blue Jackets as assistant coach

ANTIGONISH – Paul MacLean has made his return to the National Hockey League (NHL).    

“It is fun to be back in the game,” the Antigonish product said in a Nov. 26 phone interview.    

A couple days earlier, the former head coach of the Ottawa Senators joined the Columbus Blue Jackets as an assistant coach. Although his focus will be improving the power play, he will also contribute in other areas of the organization.    

In mid-November, while in Sweden as a presenter for a two-day coaches’ clinic as part of the Globes Series, which featured games between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres, MacLean said his phone rang.    

John Tortorella – veteran head coach of the Blue Jackets – was on the other end.    

“He asked me if I would be interested in joining the organization. I told him I would certainly be interested in discussing the opportunity more,” MacLean said.    

The former high-scoring forward in the NHL said they talked some more, while he watched some game film of the team from this season.    

“I saw the quality of the players on the team and the potential for growth,” MacLean said.    

He described having an opportunity to work with Tortorella and his staff, on a daily basis, as “very attractive.”    

After coming to an agreement, MacLean officially joined Columbus Nov. 21 and was behind the bench for a game against the Detroit Red Wings, an organization he both played and coached for during his career.    

“He’s been in charge of many successful power plays around the league,” Blue Jacket general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a story on the team’s website – BlueJackets.com.    

“He has a lot of experience both as an assistant and a head coach. It gives us another experienced view of things and what we can be doing better.”    

While assessing the strengths of the players who take the ice with the man advantage, MacLean noted it is about melding those with his approaches in creating a successful special teams’ unit.    

“You don’t want to make things too complicated – keep it simple,” he explained.    

In his first two games overseeing the power play, the Blue Jackets scored five goals.    

This stop is the latest in a career behind the bench for MacLean spanning more than two decades, one highlighted by a head coaching stint with the Senators, from 2011 to 2014, where he posted a 114-90-35 record and made two playoff appearances.    

He was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 2012, while capturing the honour in 2013.    

MacLean launched his NHL coaching career in 1996, as an assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes, before moving to Anaheim for a three-year run with the Ducks, from 2002 to 2004, where he worked under recently dismissed Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock.    

The pair made the move to Motown and the Detroit Red Wings, from 2005 to 2011, where they were part of a Stanley Cup victory in 2008.    

After his four seasons with the Senators, MacLean returned to the Ducks as an assistant coach from 2015 to 2017.    

“I think so,” he agreed, when asked if being in the league, after a more than two-year absence, would be beneficial in securing a long-term position.    

MacLean added “I think I have more to give, more to offer [at this level].”    

Describing the position with Columbus as a “situation that came from out of nowhere,” he said it is a “good fit.”    

“I am really excited about his opportunity,” MacLean added.    

At the time of the conversation, the Blue Jackets were 10-9-4 mark, placing the club second-last in the Metropolitan Division.    

“It is still early in the season and there is great potential for growth,” MacLean said of his new team.    

He added the “quality of prospects” with the organization bodes well for a bright future.    

The Blue Jackets, which made their deepest playoff run in 2019 that included a four-game sweep of the regular-season champion Lightning, have a different look this season with the  departures of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, along with high-scoring forwards Arteri Panarin and Matt Duchene, via free agency.    

“Even with those losses, we have a strong line-up and I think we are going to find our way,” MacLean said.    

Before heading down the coaching path, in his NHL playing days that included stints with the Winnipeg Jets, St. Louis Blues and Red Wings, MacLean collected 673 points, including 324 goals.    

His deal with the Blue Jackets covers the rest of the season.    

“We will go from there,” he said of the pact potentially extending further.    

In between NHL coaching stretches over the past couple years, MacLean and his wife, Sharon, made their native Antigonish home.    

“It was a great place to be and everyone, as usual, is always so good to us. We loved being home,” he said.

   

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