OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean and forward Bobby Ryan are looking at evolving their identities this season.
For MacLean, the NHL's coach of the year two seasons ago, it's a softening of the edge he felt was needed last season, but one that turned out to be too sharp.
For Ryan, who is coming off surgery for a sports hernia, it's an expanded role as he enters the last season of his contract and ponders his future and how he might fit into the Senators' picture over the long term. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 season.
How well the two grow and adapt to changing roles will go a long way toward determining the Senators' success this season, and, ultimately Ryan's future with the team.
As the Senators prepared to take off Friday for Newfoundland and a doubleheader of preseason games against the New York Islanders on Monday, MacLean was asked how he could be a better coach this season.
"Win more games?" he said. "Besides that? I think I just have to be myself. We ask the players to be themselves. I think it's important that I be myself and do what I do."
MacLean admitted he got away from being himself last season.
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After guiding the Senators to a 41-31-10 record in his rookie season in 2011-12 and a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, MacLean followed with a 25-17-6 record in 2012-13 and a first-round win against the Montreal Canadiens. He won the Jack Adams Award as the coach of the year.
To improve as a coach, he decided he needed to be more demanding last season. The Senators slipped to 37-31-14 and missed the playoffs.
In exit interviews with Senators general manager Bryan Murray, a few players told him they wanted the old MacLean back.
"They like the guy that sat and talked to them, treated them in a more easy-going fashion. That taught, not confronted," Murray said.
MacLean said he made the decision to be more demanding, "to have things done the way that I wanted them to be and not just accept or let the players just play hockey and see how things would go. Or just be more demanding of what I wanted and what my expectations were … it's not the only reason why the team didn't have some success, but I think it had an effect on the team."
MacLean could sense his tougher approach wasn't paying off but wanted to carry it through to the end of the season and evaluate at that point.
It sounds like the players will get something closer to the "old Paul" this season. The coach said this season he will be "a hybrid" of the coach he was the first two seasons in the League and the coach he was last season.
Ryan, who has deferred contract talks until he gets a feel for where he fits into the picture this season.
With captain Jason Spezza traded to the Dallas Stars in July, there is a bigger role there for the taking for Ryan, 27, on and off the ice.
MacLean has talked about Ryan being in the mix for the extra five minutes each game which goes to the offensive players who are on top of their games that night and for a role killing penalties.
Ryan ranked fifth among Senators forwards in ice time last season at 16:52 per game and tied for third with 23 goals.
"The only thing I would say for Bobby is that he has to be prepared for it too, and something has to happen when he's out there," MacLean said on the eve of camp. "The best players play. If you're one of the best players in that game, you're going to get that extra five minutes."
Contract talks between Ryan and the Senators have been ongoing. Ryan said he's taking and a wait-and-see approach.
"At the end of the day you're hitching your wagon to a team for seven years," Ryan said. "It's OK to take some time to realize that it's really what you want or not."