OTTAWA - It was Patrick Lalime’s second season back in the minors, after the record-setting splash he made as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He was with a different organization — the Anaheim Ducks back when they were Mighty — and he could not know when he’d get another shot in the NHL.
The Ducks sent him and any self doubts he might have had to their IHL affiliate, the Kansas City Blades. His goaltending partner was J.S. Aubin. His coach was Paul MacLean.
“I totally enjoyed working for him in Kansas City. I think he was awesome for me,” Lalime said Monday from Buffalo of MacLean, who this week will be introduced as the ninth bench boss in the Senators' modern history. “In the minors, you don’t have a goalie coach. I played a lot when I was down there. He played me all the time. It’s a good feeling when a coach has confidence in you.”
Lalime worked in 66 games that season. He led the league in wins, minutes played and saves. He was the IHL goalie of the month for March and a first-team all-star. His confidence was fine.
So impressive was Lalime that even in the minors, he attracted the Senators' attention. They traded Ted Donato and Antti-Jussi Niemi for him and, after a season of splitting the duties with Ron Tugnutt, Lalime became Ottawa’s No. 1 goalie.
In four years with the job, he set franchise records he still owns.
MacLean’s success with the Senators will depend largely on the team’s goaltending. He’d probably not even be here right now if Pascal Leclaire wasn’t injury prone or had Craig Anderson been obtained in October rather than February. In either scenario, especially the latter, the Senators might have made the playoffs and Cory Clouston could still be coach.
Will MacLean be able to get the best out of Anderson? It will be a key to next season. Lalime says MacLean knows how to treat goalies. And the other players, too, for that matter.
“It was 13 years ago, but I thought he was a good players' coach, the kind of guy who respected the job you are doing,” said Lalime. “If you do what you’re supposed to do, you get the ice time. He’s an honest coach, he’s easy to talk to.
“All the guys loved playing for him. We didn’t have a great team, but every day he made it fun to go to the rink. It was an awesome year. I loved it.”
Maclean was interviewed for at least one other NHL coaching vacancy, but most believed he was at or near the top of Bryan Murray’s list from the outset. He meets the GM’s criteria.
“He’s a great man and a good teacher,” said one Western Conference executive. “He’s a good hire.”
Still untried as a head coach at the NHL level, however. And because of that, there have to be question marks.
“I know Paul as a person, he’s a great guy,” said one coach. “As a coach, how will he be? I have absolutely no clue. I don’t think he (shows) too much emotion. It’s going to be interesting. Now that he’s the big boss, I think his real colours will come out.”
The hockey world is a small one, indeed. Lalime, who has spent the last three seasons in Buffalo, is not expected to re-sign with the Sabres. At 36, he’d like to continue playing. He has bought a house in Ottawa and he and his family will move into it this summer.
Coincidentally, the Senators have yet to sign a backup for Anderson. Lalime would be interested in talking to his old coach about the job.
Even if there’s no spot for him, Lalime thinks the Senators are in good hands.
“I think Mac is a very good call,” said Lalime. “The guys all played for him. They responded to him. It was a good environment.”